Blast From The Past: Sam Roberts Band

The Herald cycles back through our history for must see interviews and spotlights with famous artists and more. This week we revive a chat with Juno winner Sam Roberts, originally posted in the fall of 2016 (Nov 6-12,2016 issue)


You’ve just released what can be described as one of your most experimental and layered albums in Terraform. How do you feel now that such a trying and complex record is in the bank?

The honeymoon is over basically. At this point we’re changing gears from studio mode to touring mode, and with that comes a renewed sense of anticipation and panic that you now have to pull your act together and be able to play this record that you worked so hard making. Now you sort of have to take it to the stage and make it work live in front of an audience. As of next week or so we’ll  put it to the test. Hopefully by the time we get to St. John’s we’ll have smoothed out not too many of the edges. You still want there to be a bit of unpredictability about your performance. You want there to be that feeling that the train can sort of go off the rails at any moment. I find that exciting to play and I find that exciting to watch as well. At least we’ll know if we can get through a set from start to finish by the time we get to St. John’s.

 With the idea of terraforming (finding life and rebuilding on a new planet or world), would you consider the album to be a concept album? Or is that just a more of a coincidental title?

I think when I’m thinking of an album title it usually comes about after I’m done writing all of the songs. Instead of coming up with a concept and then writing all of these songs to sort of meet this criteria I try to go back to the songs and find the threads or thread that weave their way through lyrically or musically. One of them in this record is about starting over and about renewal and rising out of the ashes of mistakes or old lives to start over again and to feel that sense of hopefulness at an unwritten future.

 Obviously your career has been full of successes – Juno wins, MMVAs, etc. Do you find yourself striving to reach a benchmark of those earlier successes or do you take each album as a single entity?

I kind of take it one album at a time. I feel like we’ve won awards for records that aren’t as good as records that we’ve made that we’ve lost for. I can’t really use that as a benchmark. All I can do is focus on the work I’m doing at the time and try to make it as good as it can be.

Even in that, that sort of effort in not trying too hard to make it good, in that sense you have to trust your musical instincts above and beyond anything else. What makes you feel good in what you’re doing, that to me is sort of a green light. Do I feel good in the music that I’ve made? It could be a melody or a rhythm. Do I feel that sort of emotional response to it? If yes then I continue and I pursue it further. If no I turn back and I look for another way. Oftentimes the grand scheme questions don’t sort of come to mind because you’re so focused on what is in front of you.

 With an album like Terraform it really feels like you’ve broadened and matured your sound in many ways. Is this something yourself and the band have noticed in recent years, and certainly with this record?

We notice a transition in retrospect but not really when we’re in the moment. I think it’s that we’ve allowed ourselves to expand the pallet that we draw from.

There are more colours in the pallet then there used to be I think and I hope that is just a part of life in general. It’s not like you focus in on the three colours that you like – I like to think we’re always bringing new shades into everything that we do. If you keep that open-mindedness, not just in the present but what’s coming down the line, then your possibilities in the music that you make grow exponentially, rather then feeling like you’re always on this linear progression. The evolution becomes a natural part of what you do if you just broaden your spectrum.

 Of course you’re returning here on November 17th with the fantastic Adam Baldwin. We love how you guys consistently make Newfoundland a priority during touring. 

We love to play music in Newfoundland and I love visiting, even just as a tourist spending a bit of time out there. Although you’re never made to feel as if you’re a tourist. That’s maybe part of why I love being there so much. It was a place I had never been before we played our first show there at Club One back in the day. Something happened that night that set the hook in all of us. It’s never been something that we look back on and questioned in any way. It’s a given to us that we’re coming out there and we’re going to play.

 With a more matured sound and such a united and cohesive touring lineup, what can we fans expect from the Sam Roberts Band on Nov 17th?

Somehow we look younger then we did 10 years ago. It’s a miracle. The music, especially the last record or two, there’s been a bit of a shift and that’s made us play differently or look for things in the way we perform. Not to get into anything too specific, but I think the rhythmic nature of our last three records that the shows just feel differently. They’re more about getting people tophysically participate in it. Not just by singing along, but actually moving and dancing. I find that we feed off of that in a lot of ways.

The movement has changed. And we have less hair. I don’t mean that we’re going bald, but we’ve chosen to cut our hair shorter.

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