Sam Roberts calls it his `three-year cycle. The time it takes for him to write, record, release and tour a specific record before he has to do it all over again. This, according to Roberts, is also why he always seems to be on a perpetual comeback.
“It seems my plan to release one or two albums a year has failed miserably,” laughs Roberts over the phone has he prepares to launch a mainly U.S mini tour in support of his new record titled “Lo Fantasy”. “I don’t know how other artists did it back in the day. Think of how many records The Beatles released in just eight years and here’s me on my one record in three-year cycle.”
“At first I didn’t like restricting my input,” Roberts continued. “But now I’ve come to appreciate the time I take to prepare for a new record. Considering all the time we spend on the road, making a living, this creates a challenge for me to write new music. I’m a collector or an archivist of ideas, I gather material as I go but I need the time to bring these ideas to life and this only happens so often.”
When asked to describe exactly what category of artist he falls into, based on his new record, Roberts is stumped for an answer. “I really don’t know. Which is an answer that might inconvenience a music journalist,” cracks Roberts. ““To easily categorize my music is not my intention. A lot of records I listen to defy that categorization. We don’t purposely try to go off in different directions but I try to always define a specific centre with each album. I try to create a thread which binds the material together. This could be a song palate, or a lyrical thread or a rhythmic thread; I like to create a variation that keeps me interested from one song to the next.”
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Recognizing that faced with formatted radio airplay, restrictive record sales and social media which has diluted the potential to secure major record sales, Roberts still sees the value of creating new music, even if it’s for the simple pleasure of performing new material on stage.
“On paper, it makes less and less sense to record a new album but the reality of creating new music is different,” notes Rogers. “The excitement of creating new music on stage is what performing is all about. Not just one or two new songs but a body of work that’s a complete vision that captures a musical period of your life.
New material re-invigorates the audience, re-invigorates the band. So much of our life revolves around touring that you have to keep things fresh and if you get seven or eight new songs in a set, suddenly your live show has a whole different feel.”
Despite being a prodigious lyricist, Roberts, a native Montrealer, found the going formidable with his two initial bands’, William and Northstar before pulling the plug in 1999 to go it alone. Roberts experimented with a home recording of a debut record “Brother Down” producing just a handful of copies for family members and close friends, but as he gained additional writing experience he was able to record a six-track EP, “The Inhuman Condition” which was eventually released by Matt Smallwood’s independent Maple Music Recordings.
“The irony is that EP contained three of my biggest singles ever (`Brother Down’, `Don’t Walk Away Eileen’ and ‘Where Have All The Good People Gone?’) yet when I initially pitched it, it obviously didn’t hit the record companies between the eyes,” explained Roberts.
However, that indie EP chalked the most sales in domestic history stirring Universal Records into action and in 2003, they gathered together tracks from the EP and from his original solo “Brother Down” release and cobbled this material together with a few new songs to produce Roberts’ first major solo release “We Were Born In A Flame”. Songs that had been kicking around for years suddenly took on a new life at radio and sparked by Universal’s powerful marketing machinery, Roberts emerged as a triple Juno Awards winner for `Artist Of The Year’, ` Album Of The Year’ and `Rock Album Of The Year’.
In reflecting on that early success, Robert feels it was just a matter of coming out at the right time. “I had tried to do the same thing for several years previously, but nothing was happening,” he noted. “Then all of a sudden, the door opened for me. I think my music identified a void that was missing at the time. My songs seemed to speak to people.”
Powered by a new single “Where Have All The Good People Gone?” plus renewed interest in `Brother Down’ and `Don’t Walk Away Eileen’, Roberts enjoyed platinum sales of over 100,000 units plus extensive touring, which then launched his one record every three years cycle.
Roberts’ next release in 2006, “Chemical City” earned a Video Juno for “Bridge to Nowhere” and his 2008 release “Live At The End Of The World” earned him two more Junos for Rock Album and Top Artist. Of the Year plaudits.
“Collider”, released in 2011, is viewed as a career re-adjustment as he started to focus on being part of a band instead of a solo artist and he says that re-adjustment allowed The Sam Roberts Band to achieve a strong rhymic feel to his current Lo-Fantasy release “The music environment totally changed at the time of recording Collider,” noted Roberts. “What helped me was that we were able to sustain longevity because I decided to focus on being part of a band. It wasn’t just one man in the spotlight; we weren’t coming up with new ways to make me look like Rod Stewart.”
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Roberts agrees that because of this three-year cycle, every record seems to spark a comeback, yet it also allows for a full cycle of activity to kick in again. “I’m really proud of the new record, there’s a great rhythmic feel to it, it’s definitely our best band effort to date,” he notes with the anthemic `All in This Together’ ( adopted as a theme song for the National Hockey League) summarizing the band’s new collective sound.
A brief U.S tour is currently on the agenda with a few Canadian dates sprinkled in the itinerary as Roberts kicks off his latest cycle of activities. My Canadian exposure has always been because we were the right band, at the right time with the right song, but exposure in the U.S has always been a challenge so I want to regenerate that interest as quickly as possible.
As for Canadian dates, The Sam Roberts Band is set to appear at the prestigious Squamish Valley B.C Music Festival August 8-10 which will position his band on stage with the likes of Bruno Mars, Eminem and Arcade Fire.
“Yes it’s an eclectic bill and I guess we are an eclectic band,” summarized Roberts. “ I take this acknowledgement as quite a compliment.”