by Sheldon Binie
Corb Lund has been around the independent Canadian music scene for over two decades now. Touring extensively in the 90s with heavy Edmonton alt-rockers the Smalls, and ramping up international success as a solo country & western artist since the late 90s, Corb Lund knows the value of hard work, good songs, and good friends. He took some time last month to chat over the phone with Stylus about his new record Cabin Fever, and his band the Hurtin’ Albertans’ upcoming Winnipeg show. While some technical difficulties appeared throughout our conversation, you’ll find the bulk of it below. Giddyup!
Stylus: This new record has a real cohesive quality to it compared to some of your other records. What was different with recording Cabin Fever?
Corb Lund: We really did it loosey –goosey this time, just did it in Edmonton and got drunk with my friends. We used the same producer, Harry Stinson, for the last four records, and he’s awesome. He makes really good country records. But we decided just to change up the script a little bit. We did it at home in Edmonton at a buddy’s studio and just drank a bunch of beer. It was really like loose. No click tracks or overdubs. Just live, other than vocals. So it has a bit more of a live feel to it. We play so much live every year that its kind of awesome. Not all bands could do that, but we play live so much we just banged it out… Other people have agreed, it’s got a bit more of a band sound too it. A little rough around the edges.
Styus: What’s been the reception so far to the new tunes live?
CL: Really good. It’s been great. It’s kind of fun, because we played some of the stuff live in Canada before the record came out. We played it a bunch in the States. We usually like to wait a month or two before we do a big Canadian tour so people can live with the record awhile. It’s been great. The Americans really liked it. We’ve got some great press that we never got before. The Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR. Well, Canadian press too, but we haven’t played here yet. I’m really excited to play this shit live.
Stylus: When you’re writing, do you think about the audience? Or do you just think about the song itself?
CL: My art doesn’t really live in a vacuum. I make records, but the record isn’t really the art of it. The art is playing live. So actually it is important to me that I’m reaching people with my lyrics and the arrangements. The whole artistic process is the actual exchange between me and the audience when I play live. So yeah, I do actually care what they think. I still write what I want, but I try to present it in a way that will draw people in and give them a bit of an up and down ride.
Stylus: Shifting gears a bit, you and Ian Tyson have been friends a long time, and this year you played the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. What was that like being part of that?
CL: It was awesome. I had a great time with Ian. We’ve been buddies for years, but I’ve never worked with him like that. Like we’ve hopped up and played a song together and stuff, but never really played a show together. We put a lot of work into it, rehearsed each others songs, and had a good time with it. It was kind of cool too, because our event wasn’t officially sanctioned by the Stampede, we just did it on our own. Stampede is awesome but it’s kind of big and corporate now. What we did was all about the history of the stampede, and western cowboy culture in Alberta. It was kind of cool… Every night was sold out, so it was definitely cool. We’re going to do some shows in Ontario I think in March.
Stylus: You’ve done work now with Ian Tyson, and you’ve recorded with him and Tim Hus and Hayes Carll. What’s it like recording with your pals?
CL: It’s fun. It’s great. Once you get to the point where it’s not your first record anymore and you’re used to it, if you’re friends with the person it’s just the same if you were hanging out with your buddy doing something you like to do. I don’t know, fish or whatever. We’re all familiar with the process, so it turns into a lot of fun… I’ve never been able to write with people I don’t know. I never really cowrite much to begin with. If I do, it’s always been with a friend, someone I already know. In Nashville, it’s kind of weird, they make appointments with each other, drink coffee and make up songs. But I can’t really do that. The only way I can do any co-writing is if I have something that’s partly done and I show one of my friends. I did some of that, there’s a couple of songs that I did with my buddy Matt Skinner on the new record, and Hayes. Me and Ian are gonna write some songs, but we haven’t really gotten around to doing that.
Stylus: Is there anyone you’ve been itching to cowrite with that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
CL: Me and Ian have had a chance, but we just haven’t got one that works. We will eventually. Who else? I got a song I’d like to pitch to Tom Morello. You know who that is? The guitar player from Rage Against the Machine. He does folk records now on my label, on New West. I got one I’d like to cowrite with him. I gotta get a hold of him. That would be pretty cool.
Stylus: No kidding! You’ve come a long way since the Smalls, obviously, playing in basement bars and such. Do you feel you still have a lot to accomplish as a performer? Where do you see yourself going as an artist from here?
CL: Uh, well you always want to keep growing, right? We do alright, but we have a long way to go yet. Playing in the States we don’t do as well as we do here. So there’s always room to grow there. And I have this thing, not much of a career move, but I want to start playing in weird places. Like, if I was big, big, and I could do whatever I want… Like, if I was Kenny Chesney I’d play like in, I don’t know, Tahiti and Iran and Isle of Mann and Greenland, the Congo. I’d play in really weird places, that’s what I’d like to do. But there’s not much of a career move in that. I have a crush on Christiane Amanpour… She’s older now, but she’s that news anchor with the British accent, always reporting from Gaza or Beirut, Sarajevo or something… I got some ideas for songs about combat journalism. And I don’t know if it’ll be one or two, or a bunch. I’m not sure yet. We’ll see….
Stylus: Are you working on any songs now? Do you kind of take a break between records?
CL: They’re percolating in my brain, but I haven’t been playing guitar much these past few weeks we’ve been home, just trying to get things ready for tour. But, I’m always picking a way at things. I have a bunch of projects on the go right now. I wanna make a record called Songs My Friends Wrote, which will be me covering a bunch of my friends tunes.
Stylus: Who do you have lined up for that one?
CL: Hayes, and Ian. A guy named Doug Moreland from Texas, and John Evans from Texas, he produced the new record. A Luke Doucet song, Ridley Bent maybe. Yeah.
Stylus: That sounds like a fun project.
CL: Another fun project on the go… You know Hayes Carll’s shit, right?
CL: Me, Hayes, and this John Evans guy, we have a band on the side called the Ego Brothers. You know, “ego” like we think we’re awesome or something. [laughs]
Stylus: Taking a step off your most recent shit here, I first saw you play in the Beach Club Bar in Wasagaming, Manitoba with the Smalls back in the day.
CL: Oh yeah? I remember that place!
Stylus: What were some of those early tours like, compared to the way you tour now?
CL: It was down and dirty man! Living in a van, printing your own t-shirts, booking your own shows. Eating Kraft dinner and stuff, living in a band house together. Pretty crazy. It was fun though. I enjoyed it. I mean doing the Smalls thing for ten years permanently altered my songwriting. I think that’s probably what gives it the flavour it has. We’ve been talking about doing a Smalls reunion for years, but we just haven’t had time to.
Stylus: Compared to those first tours, how have the audiences, say in Winnipeg, for example, changed, if they have at all?
CL: There is actually a lot of cross-over, more than you’d think. A lot of the people that used to come see us in the Smalls have grown up too. Just about every punk rocker that starts getting older starts liking Johnny Cash, right? Or Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard. In western Canada, no matter how urban, or punk rock, or goth you might be, chances are pretty good that your dad, or your grandpa, or your uncles had country music in there. It’s not too much of a stretch, no matter how urban you might be, you can find country just under the surface if your dad liked it or you heard it growing up, right?
Stylus: Exactly, that’s my background too. Grew up listening to punk rock, but listen, mostly, now to country western. Now, SNFU I know has always been an influence on you earlier on. What’s your favourite SNFU song?
CL: Oh, shit! That’s hard. I like “Mind Like a Door” quite a bit, and “Snapping Turtle.” And “Seeing Life Through the Bottom of a Bottle.” I’ve wanted to cover that one, but SNFU is hard to turn country.
Stylus: Is there anything else you’d like to share? That’s all I got here for ya…
CL: Nah, just Winnipeg has always been a special city for me. Winnipeg is the city where we’ve played more different venues than any other city, even Edmonton. We’ve played so many different venues there. Not only that, but I think Winnipeg has the one bar we’ve played the most times, too. Well, me anyway, if you combine both bands. I’ve played the Albert so many times that, I think that holds the record in my career for the most times at the same bar. I’ve had some wild nights there. I even got in a fistfight on stage there…
Stylus: Jesus! Was that with the Smalls or as Corb Lund?
CL: Corb Lund, yeah, I think I was on my own up there. Pretty early on, maybe ‘98 or something. This drunk guy got up, I had to deal with him. There was no bouncer, I guess. Anyway, yeah, we’re excited to play Winnipeg. It’s going to be good. Go Jets!
Corb Lund & The Hurtin’ Albertans play the Burton Cummings Theatre Monday December 3rd.