By Keith Sharp
Sam Roberts is aware that sounds and appearances can be deceptive
When informed that his band’s latest release, TerraForm appears to be an up-beat collection of 11 danceable tracks, the native Montrealer challenges his listeners to delve deeper into the lyrics.
“You never know what is buried in there.” he warns. “You may find yourself dancing around for the first 15 times you hear it. Then you realize after the fact, one late night when you have the headphones on, that the song lyrics are quite depressing.”
Recorded at The Tragically Hip’s Bathhouse Studios near Kingston Ontario this March with Holy Fuck’s Graham Lewis co-producing, `TerraForm’ is Robert’s sixth studio release and maintains a schedule of producing a new album every two or three years. Delving into the concept of creating life on other planets, the album’s lyrics pose the question of whether future life will be a cataclysmic one or a rosy one. “Overall it’s about trying to make life work, asking how you cope with the problems life throws at you. It’s about death by a thousand cuts (or death by a thousand taxes if you live in Ontario).”
Roberts sees TerraForm as a continuation of expanding the definition of what his band is about creatively. “It’s about what kind of music are we making now, and what kind of music we intend to create in the future, that’s what fuels our creative fire. We are always looking down the line towards tomorrow and we rarely look back at what we’ve done before.”
For someone who had to wait almost 10 years before succeeding with his 2001 independent release, `The Inhuman Condition’, Roberts has somehow maintained the band’s a consistent stature despite music’s cyclical nature. “You have to coincide with what is happening at the time,” he observes. “Sometimes you catch things on the upswing and sometimes it hits you on the downswing. Your intention can’t be to just make music at the right time, and just be the flavor of the month. You have to accept the fact that when you are off blazing your own trail, you aren’t always going to be walking in the same direction as everyone else.”
As an artist who enjoyed a creative breakthrough with his first two major albums; his 2003 “We Were Born In A Flame” and follow-up 2006 “Chemical City, both which spawned a series of hit singles; “Brother Down”, “Don’t Walk Away Eileen”, “Where Have All The Good People Gone”, “The Gate”, “Bridge To Nowhere” earning him six Juno Awards (including three at the 2004 Junos), Roberts his fully aware that the music industry as a whole has changed rapidly over the past decade.
“To say things are constantly changing doesn’t do it justice,” Roberts allowed. “It rapidly changes from one week to the next. When you record an album every two or three years, the landscape shifts several times during that period. At the beginning there was a defined step-by-step process you followed in recording an album but that process doesn’t apply anymore. This leaves some people scratching their heads, but to others it isn’t a problem at all. If you want to succeed in the music business these days, you have to learn to communicate with people in their own terms.”
Yet understanding most established bands, cannot get the same radio attention they did in the past and record sales are virtually a thing of the past, Roberts is asked what fuels his creative fire to record new music, knowing that achieving exposure for new material is a daunting task.
“It’s true that a lot of bands and artists have pulled the plug on their creativity,” he allowed. “They’ve stopped being elastic, they are stuck in that 20 Golden Oldies mould, they just don’t feel compelled to be creative anymore. For us to even contemplate just playing the same old songs over and over again would be like hell on earth. If we couldn’t add a new log to the fire every couple of years, we’d find it difficult to continue.”
Roberts and band mates Dave Nugent (guitar), Eric Fares (keyboards, guitar), James Hall (bass), Josh Trager (drums) and Chet Doxas (woodwinds) can feel justifiably proud of their latest achievement. “You look back over the collection of songs and that one song, “TerraForm” reflects the idea of renewal; of being pushed to the brink and finding a way to start over, that’s the heart of all of the songs in a sense. Each song in itself is a like a separate planet, they have their own rules and their own boundaries.”
And as Roberts pointed out at the beginning of this conversation, the record’s debut single “If You Want It”, is superficially an infectious dance/pop track but lyrically it’s about going to hell and back – hopefully!
Roberts plans to debut the new opus with a a brief tour of the Eastern Seaboard, kicking off in Sherbrooke QC November 2nd and taking his band through the Maritimes and down to New York although he also plans to drop by Ontario and the West later in 2017.
“For the past couple of years we have been playing the same venues so we’ve made a conscious effort to change up the venues just to make sure we are in different rooms,” allowed Roberts. “The whole idea is to get out there, play six of seven new songs and present our new chapter; we want to feel not just musically different but physically different as well. Sometimes you just have to flip the coasts and start in the East instead if the West, but one thing is for sure – we are not going anywhere, you can’t get rid of us that easily.”
Upcoming US and Canadian Performances Dates (Announced):
November 2 Sherbrooke, QC (Théâtre Granada)
November 3 Quebec City, QC (Imperial de Québec)
November 5 Saint-Casimir, QC (Théâtre La Taverne)
November 16 Moncton, NB (The Centre at Casino New Brunswick)
November 17 St. John’s, NF (St. John’s Convention Centre)
November 18 Halifax, NS (Forum Multi Purpose Centre)
November 19 Charlottetown, PEI (Murphy’s Community Centre)
November 25 Boston, MA (The ONCE Ballroom)
November 26 Philadelphia, PA (Boot & Saddle)
November 28 Washington, DC (Rock & Roll Hotel)
November 29 New York, NY (Bowery Ballroom)