Parts of downtown Toronto's vibrant music scene became a violent battle zone last…
- Posted on Jan 19th 2012 4:00PM by Jason Schneider
As frontman for the Weakerthans since the band's formation in 1997, Samson's lyrics have often exposed harsh truths about life in and around Winnipeg. But over the past two years, Samson has been edging even closer into Springsteen-themed territory with solo recordings directly inspired by Manitoba roads. These now provide the backbone of 'Provincial,' Samson's first full-length solo venture since a 1993 cassette recorded while he was still a part of Winnipeg punk institution Propagandhi.
"My idea for this record was, if someone had a couple of days free, they could come to me and I could take them to the site of each song," Sampson tells Spinner, noting that much of the album's subject matter, such as the notorious history of the Ninette, Manitoba tuberculosis sanitorium, and a petition to get Riverton, Manitoba NHL star Reggie Leach into the Hockey Hall of Fame, was ultimately fleshed out by his unquenchable thirst for gathering details.
"The kind of writing I'm interested in sort of gently distorts the places we're from and makes you perceive them in a different way. Despite the acceleration of culture, I feel that we can still have a lovely exchange with one another based on the fact that we're all from somewhere."
Samson says that another important factor in his decision to make 'Provincial' was being invited to participate in the National Parks Project, the 2011 documentary that captured a host of Canadian songwriters in the wild. He, along with his wife Christine Fellows and Sandro Perri, filmed their segment in Ontario's Bruce Peninsula Park. Paul Aucoin [the Hylozoists, brother of Rich] was in charge of recording what went down around the campfire, which led to him making the top of Samson's list to work on 'Provincial' as well.
Samson is quick to add that the Weakerthans will begin working on new material soon after he completes his upcoming North American spring tour with most of 'Provincial''s core band in tow, including Constantines drummer Doug MacGregor and singer-songwriter Shotgun Jimmie on lead guitar. Although the Weakerthans have always worked at their own slow but steady pace, fans are surely eager for a new studio album after nearly a five-year gap. The band's last release was 2010's 'Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre,' another gracious tip of the hat to Winnipeg.
This past year hasn't been all smiles and sunshine between Samson and his hometown, though. While most were giddy over the return of the Jets hockey team, Samson was one of the few to publicly express his displeasure over the militaristic design of the new Jets logo. It drew a fair amount of flak, but he believes tensions have since cooled.
"I'm as excited as anyone in the city, despite my misgivings about the logo, and the name actually," he says. "[The team] is a wonderful thing to focus on, but it doesn't fundamentally change anything. I'm not one to diminish the effect of morale, or just feeling good about something, because it does make a difference. But there are some very real problems in the city that continue to exist."
Samson continues, "I'm not as concerned about that as I thought I would be, though. I think that people are still really alert to that fact, maybe even more so. That day of the first game, there were more stories written about Winnipeg than in probably any other day in the entire history of journalism. It was thrilling to know that the New York Times sent a writer here; it was a great day for the city."
Likewise, Samson was impressed by Winnipeggers joining the global Occupy Movement, noting in particular how a group took the extra step of staking out turf outside of New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Pat Martin's office to protest the Federal Government's omnibus crime bill. The current political climate has had an impact on Samson's current outlook, which will surely be reflected in the next batch of songs he writes.
"There are obvious flaws and drawbacks with the movement, but in general I've been really rejuvenated and inspired by how what started in New York City has been spreading all over the world," he says. "It's been a long time coming, and I think it gives a new twist to future events. For example, I, for one, have been dreading the Enbridge pipeline dispute, thinking that it will be totally steamrolled through. But now I actually have some hope that people are already taking some cues from Occupy in order to fight it."
It's easy to fall in line with Samson's worldview, given his calm, measured way of both speaking and singing. It's not much of a surprise then, that when asked to name his favourite road song by another artist, he doesn't immediately blurt out 'Born to be Wild,' or even 'Born to Run.' Instead, after much deliberation, he names Aimee Mann's 'I've Had It,' from her 1993 solo debut, 'Whatever.' The influence on Samson's own work is clear in the bittersweet lyric concerning life on tour, words he says he's only come to admire more the longer he's been on the road.
"I've tried to write what it's been like for me to be on tour, but it's really hard," he says. "I think she captured that experience perfectly in that song. For me, it's the final word on the subject."