Most of the world is having to change the way that they do things right now. For a lot of us that means a complete shift into an online world, musicians included.
We got on the phone with Gordie Johnson from Big Sugar to talk about their new album, ‘Eternity Now’ and he told us about the way he and the rest of the band have been going about recording and playing live shows during the pandemic. We also got to talking about life, loss, keeping a healthy mentality, and much more.
Eternity Now came out a week ago today, what has the response to the album been like so far?
Well, so far it’s been great. It’s just been an unbelievable increase in… it’s funny because you don’t get that face to face response from people at your concert now. So I guess we are able to gauge it by the engagement on social media, to use a well-worn phrase. Our statistics on our social media have completely exploded, off the charts. There’s this line that goes from the mid-2000s all the way to January of this year and all of a sudden it goes off like a rocket, so that’s good! I’ll entertain people any way they want to receive it.
It must be a weird transition though because like you said, you’re so used to live shows and that’s such a huge part of what you guys are as a band – the live performance. It must be weird to see that switch.
Well, in a way it’s okay too because making a record, you get in studio headspace, you get in a studio mood which is a different mindset. So I’ve stayed in that mindset here in my studio playing guitar, entertaining people on YouTube, but it doesn’t really satisfy that strut out onto a stage and crank the amps and turn on the amps and leap about for two hours and entertain people. It doesn’t really satisfy that urge. But there’s still… it’s more like you find out when the compositions work and all of the musical cues work on people, even over the wire. That’s still gratifying to see.
Yeah, you’re so used to having the rest of the band on stage with you too and a big crowd in front of you. How do you keep that momentum, like when you were doing the album release show by yourself? What was that like?
It’s kind of weird because I’m used to a band that follows me. When I was doing our record release show, I am fortunate enough to have my own studio so I was able to take all of the tracks for the album and strip my guitar and vocals off and play along live with the record, so it’s kind of live. The rest of my band isn’t playing live, but I am. I’m used to them following me, *laughs* I’m not used to having to conform to a set programme or how long a solo is, or how long anything is. So that was a bit of a stretch *laughing* that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s getting more fun to do. I’ve now done two, or three, or four of these things, where I’m playing along with the pre-recorded stuff that I’ve done. I’m getting more used to it.
I didn’t think of that actually. When you’re in that set time with the pre-recorded material you are playing to, you can’t go off on a solo. Even though your part is live so it all feels live.
Yeah, we’ve never been… we never stick to the script when we play live. Everything is ready to go off in any direction, any night. This song was a framework for that. I can make different versions of the song, but I still have to think of it ahead of time. There’s a lot of work that goes into making it change for you, so I still have to think of it, it’s premeditated as opposed to free-form inspiration.
Like you said, cranking the amp I think is probably… I mean I’ve been going to concerts since I was in my mum’s stomach, but it’s probably the loudest show that I’ve ever been to, which I love but it must be so weird to have to have that controlled sound.
That is also kind of weird. *laughing* But again, I keep my studio head-on. Because of the studio, I’m never playing at those concert volumes. To be fair, our sound has changed over the decades. Not that it’s mellowed, but I think the sound is definitely coalesced into an easier to digest package if that makes sense. I don’t think… when we were young and full of spit and vinegar, I think the volume took on a very… it was an aggressive quality to what we were doing and I think now it’s more about the groove and it’s more below the waist. The bottom end is very compact and very effective and there are no shrieky sounds to assault your ears. That aspect of the group has definitely matured.
Yeah, I think you took on more of the dub sound, it was always there, but especially with this album it’s more centred around the rasta kind of bass sounds rather than the long guitar sound.
Yeah, it’s definitely been evolving that way over the last decade and a half, it’s not like we took a left turn on this record. Which is interesting, because on Eternity Now, it’s really not a reggae record. We’ve made dozens and dozens of reggae recordings recently, but this record was meant
to be more of a theme, it’s a single story encapsulated in nine songs. It tells one specific, episodic tale and musically it stays within that context.
How would you describe that, if you were able to put that story in a nutshell?
The record comes out of a period in our life where we really had to examine why or what we were even going to do. We suffered through a lot of personal crises, just with my own mental health and life, the relationship with my marriage, my children, [and] my bandmates. A family member suffered with cancer, a band member died from cancer, there were a lot of things that all dropped on us in a very short [period] of time. We got betrayed by some people close to us and we got sued for our name and this is all, *laughs* if I start making a grocery list of all of the shit that fell down on us in about the same 18 months, it doesn’t even sound true. We really should make a movie about it. Instead we poured that experience into writing the record and my wife
and I sat down with the express purpose of “hey, are we going to let all of this define us and rule us, or are we going to take it and make it inspiration for writing a record and we’ll spit it out and the record can tell the story for us and we’re done with it?” Let’s be done with it and move on. That was really great. I’ve got to credit her with verbalizing that and putting that out there as our mandate. She’s like “come on, get yourself a cold drink, we’re going to go down to the studio and we’re going to sit there until this is done.” *laughs* “Alright honey, let’s do that.”
I like that. That’s a lot of the reason most people get into either the creation or the passion for music is that release. Letting it out there, even writing in any form, is a release where you can take it and say this happened but I’m not going to let it rule my life, I’m going to have this way of expressing it and then put it out there and then it’s going to be out.
Yeah, that really did work for us. We definitely find ourselves in a much better place. Interestingly enough, with the pandemic dropping on everybody, we’re sitting here going “oh.” For us it’s kind of the same old, same old. A giant, life-altering crisis. We’re getting pretty good at those. “What are we going to do now? We’re going to roll with it, we’re going to do what we need to do to get to the other side of it and help other people while we can, the most that we can.” We can’t go out and do for ourselves.
We’re not going out on tour, we’re not selling a ton of merch, we’re not doing that thing that we do, [so] let’s instead of just sitting at home and looking in the mirror at ourselves, try to help some other people. Volunteer at an animal shelter because they’re short-staffed and under budget, because their funding is going to dry up. We’re just looking at things like that. People who live on the streets, any help they were getting, they’re not getting it now. So dropping off a box with a dozen submarine sandwiches and a carton of oranges at an underpass every once in a while didn’t hurt, to try to take care of others a little bit.
That’s one of the many devastating things about this, walking down the street and seeing that and there’s absolutely nothing in place to help. We can spring to build hospitals in this time, but we can’t spring to build shelters when it’s needed. It’s really sad to see that. I like that you said that about the boxes full of submarines because I take out care packages during winter time because it makes a huge difference to put out a box with socks and leg warmers and toothpaste. It’ll change someone’s month.
Yeah, every little thing that we can [do to] help each other. It seems like a tiny drop of water, one teardrop into a giant salty ocean, but if we all did that it [would] ease the pain a little bit.
Like you said, the album talks about a lot of things. Self-growth, coming to terms with and overcoming the holds of depression, addiction, self-destructive habits. Your past albums have featured songs that speak to struggle, like ‘Diggin’ A Hole’ for example, but this one has more of a hopeful sound. How would you describe your road to redemption?
I would describe it by making a record about it. *laughing* That’s not what you meant though.
I like it, though.
Not to get too philosophical about it, but it really was centred around changing one’s mind. That’s such a common expression that it’s easy to take for granted. I’m going to change my mind, I’ve changed my mind, people say it all of the time. But, the ability for the human mind to change is really a remarkable miracle of biology to me. When you understand that that’s an actual physiological thing that happens, that you can change the wiring of your brain, you can re-route your thoughts and your responses to your thoughts and emotions, you can control it. You can’t always… I think the misconception is that people think that they can control those urges in the moment. Why don’t you just quit something, quit smoking drugs, or quit smoking cigarettes, or whatever you’re doing – just stop?
Changing one’s mind is something that happens, it’s like planting a garden and watering it and tending to it and leading it and watching it grow and making a healthy environment for the plants to grow. Changing one’s mind on the physiological level requires patience and diligence and a willingness to wait it out and reap the benefits of putting those together and building on that and it really is… The song ‘The Better It Gets, The Easier It Gets To Get Better’ that’s kind of like the theme song of the record if I had to pick one.
I find this interesting, it’s kind of like the law of attraction in a way.
The Law Of Attraction, it’s almost what you were describing. It’s a term for… there was this movie called The Secret that changed my way of thinking. It’s a little far fetched in the movie, they say if you don’t think about the bill it’s not going to come and that kind of thing, but it’s more just changing the way you think to think positively and that bringing on a positive outcome because you’re changing the way that you’re thinking and not becoming a hindrance to yourself by always being negative and bringing negative things towards yourself because of that.
Well, my belief is that those things are neither positive nor negative, they just are. All of that same stuff is happening to everybody who lives and breathes. In the same proportionate amount of good and bad. There was a time in our lives where it just seemed like there was this unbelievable landslide of negativity. I had sown a lot of negativity over a long period of time and that was the harvest, so to speak. So there’s nothing remarkable about it. It’s easy to look at one’s situation and go ‘this is remarkable and singularly awful. I’m the only one going through this’ and that’s just not ever true.
Now that I think of it and start to take stock of it, in equal proportions of good and bad, things happen to you every day. Frustrating things, even mundane I can’t find my car keys to I crashed my car or I lost my parent. These things will just continue to happen, how you respond to it and deal with it is the only thing that’s different. The only difference is your response and reaction to these things. It’s beyond your control. You can’t stop these things from happening, but the part you can control, take control of it.
Yeah, it’s how you deal with it that makes you who you are.
I believe so.
You gave a lot of thanks to the SIMS Foundation for helping you and your family through your struggles when you partnered with them the other day on that live stream, which was great by the way. What would you say sets them apart from other organizations and furthermore, what impact do you think being in the music industry or being a family member or friend of someone who is has on people’s respective mental health?
I don’t know of another, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I don’t know of another organization that’s specifically set up to deal with musicians and their families in times of mental health crisis. I know there’s… the Canadian health care system is completely different from what we have here anyway… a lot of times for musicians they are not usually the people who are best set up for health insurance and a support system or anything like that. They’re usually the least prepared people in the world. So the fact that someone is taking the time to put together an organization to raise money and get a bunch of health care professionals on board to take care of a specific group [is amazing].
Of course, it’s based in Austin and [there’s] no better place because this has traditionally been a centre of music in America and it impacts the rest of the world and the resonance is felt out there in the rest of the world. Eventually, musicians are influenced by these things, so it’s interesting to me that someone was inspired to put that together. It was definitely something that was needed.
It’s really interesting because I hadn’t seen anything like that before and I sent it off to countless people when I saw it because I’d never seen another foundation garnered to a specific group, especially musicians. Like you said, they’re not going to be in a position, for the most part, to be accessing health care. There’s no 401K really when you’re playing in a bar. I think musicians, a lot of those people are turning to music because they have mental health issues or addiction issues, or it’s an outlet for some issue that they’re having a hard time coping with. So they put it out and it ends up helping other people because they’re dealing with the same thing and they get to hear and relate to the person through their own struggle. I think it’s really needed in that industry specifically because there’s a lot of pain that goes into music.
It’s also high risk, you have to admit. *laughing* Musicians, traditionally, there’s a very long list of casualties.
You put yourself out there, you leave yourself exposed and then at the end of it, you’re still sitting there alone with the thoughts in your head.
Everyone else left the venue having had an awesome night and you find yourself still just stuck with what you had before you got there. I can’t speak for every musician and everyone’s experience, but there definitely is a common storyline for a lot of musicians.
This month is Mental Health Awareness Month and while it’s been recognized in America since 1949 as a month, it’s only really been in recent years that the world has opened their eyes to how many people fight their own battles every single day. How would you say that
mental health has affected yours and your family’s lives and what does this month mean to you, personally?
I suppose having a month to raise people’s awareness, the main thing with that is normalizing and de-stigmatizing it because it’s really hard to ask for help. If you’re struggling mentally it is really hard to ask for help because the world looks at you differently. There is such a stigma attached to people who are schizophrenic, depressive, any of the terms we have for it. None of them sound very positive and it makes people run the other way, so it’s really hard to get help and if you’re suffering from it you’re the last person who is capable of finding resources and making an action plan. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, it feeds on itself and there becomes this real negative feedback leak where it’s really hard to put yourself out there and ask for help. Even when you’ve done that, it’s hard to get effective help.
Therapists are not miracle workers and there’s not like there’s a pill they can give you to make it all better. There’s medication out there that can help people get a leg up, but it is such a complex thing and it’s so misunderstood by so many people that still to this day it’s not easy to put one’s self out there and talk about it. I kinda feel like I need to because I would just hate… I hated feeling like that and I would hate for anyone else to ever go through that and with me talking about it for five minutes and risking my own reputation *laughs*. If I can just weather that storm, maybe one other person goes ‘okay, that’s it, I’m going to get help’. Then you know what, great. I don’t care if it’s just one person, that still makes it worth it.
That’s a weight and a gift at the same time for musicians or public speakers or writers or anyone who is doing exactly what you just said, putting their own self at risk to try to help someone else. I think that that is a weight that a lot of people don’t recognize and a lot of
the reason that a lot of musicians stop being able to handle it because they put so much of themselves into it that it feels like there’s nothing left.
Yeah, I’d have to agree with that.
Back to some of the stuff that you dealt with before this album. Your long-time friend and bandmate and your son’s godfather, Gary Lowe, he passed nearly two years ago now. What was it like for you, continuing with such a visceral part of not only your life but the sound and the band?
We were… it was pretty daunting at first but there’s also… we had a long time to prepare for it mentally. We knew that Gary was not well. We had known for a long time that we would be facing that challenge. It comes down to how you feel about it, is the only difference. I couldn’t stop it from happening but how I dealt with it and how I felt about it was the only thing that I could control. So we decided, wilfully, to take a positive approach. To take inspiration from Gary and to take some love from Gary instead of being… it’s pretty agonizing to ponder all of that stuff, so rather than bask in agony and sorrow we decided to pour a lot of that inspiration and emotion into music because that’s what Gary was doing right up until he couldn’t. Every time I say Gary’s name or think about him I get a smile on my face because I’ve got to. He left me with so much inspiration and happiness. I let myself get overwhelmed with gratitude and overwhelmed with rhythm. There’s so many nicer things to be overwhelmed with than sorrow so I try to emphasize that.
I had my own experience with someone passing with that disease and I think it can almost be harder in anticipation when you’re watching them go through that and knowing that the time is going to come but not knowing when. It’s a relief not that they’re gone but a relief that they’re not suffering anymore.
When he was with us, we didn’t live like that though. We didn’t think that way because that doesn’t help, wondering when you’re going to get that phone call. I never sat and thought, until we got that phone call it was a shock but up until that point we were hopeful. We took a stance of believing that until we hear otherwise we are going to stick with the idea that Gary is going to get better because he believed that.
That’s good, it’s really hard to do.
Yeah, it isn’t easy, but you decide what you’re going to do with your mind and what it’s going to do for you.
The Wicked Think It’s Over was his last song and it was said to have been on this album, but it wasn’t there. Can we still expect that to come out?
That song and that track… like I said, the Eternity Now record, we made it twice, almost three times and things changed and it got delayed and delayed again and it got delayed some more. Heck, it even got delayed two more months because of COVID-19, so we had remade the record so many times that there was certain aspects of it that I didn’t want to just throw a bunch of songs onto it. There were three or four songs that were recorded that didn’t fit the narrative of the record.
A lot of the stuff that we had done with Gary lives on, on hard drives and in session files all over my computer where I’m able to make new songs with Reggae rhythms, old songs that we wrote together, songs that we can do with other artists. At the moment I’ve got about a dozen Reggae artists who are all singing on these songs and these rhythms and that’ll be something that we will put out later in the year. So that continues to… that lives on. Eternity Now is just one record and it’s the story that happens in this period of time and then we move forward, we keep on creating stuff. Believe me, I’ve got more songs to mix than I have days in the week.
Another long-time friend of yours, Alex Lifeson, he’s been a huge influence on you musically and you said that his contribution to the album came on organically when you sent him a text to say something along the lines of hey this is a really Rush-y album. What was it like to have him, who has also acted somewhat as a mentor to you, to contribute to the album in a way like that?
He’s just such a good-humoured person, that any exchange with him is just peppered with good humour and wit and is always funny. It’s always very uplifting, no matter what the conversation is about, there’s a level of humour but also some love and familiarity there. As much as he’s been an empowering giant of inspiration for me from when I was a teenager to the present day, he’s also one of the most down to earth guys who keeps you level and humble and doing it for the right reasons.
He was a cat I was going to be in contact with anyways but when that title track came together I was like oh man I’ll be *laughing* explaining this to somebody at some point. I thought I’ll put it out and the next phone call will be ‘dude I’m right here! You think I don’t see what you’re doing there? I see what you did.’ I thought I would call him in advance and say what do you say if we’re going to go there let’s just go there and do the whole thing. There was not even any discussion about it, he was just like ‘I don’t know if I can get to it this week, can you wait a week?’ Yeah, I’ll wait until next year if I have to, yes I will wait a week. Yeah okay geez dude I guess I can wait a week for Alex Lifeson to play a guitar solo on my record. *laughing* So I waited a week, I didn’t even wait a week, like three days later he sent me guitar solos and banjo tracks and acoustic guitar tracks and weird Turkish instruments and all kinds of overdubs and I was like wow this just got really Rushy.
It portrays really well on the album because you hear it if you’re looking for it I think. I don’t know that unless somebody was really familiar with Rush and quite familiar with your music I don’t know that it would’ve come out but you really do hear the similarities and it’s really cool to hear both of those together. Especially as someone that’s from Canada.
We came by it honestly. It’s funny because when I was a kid I didn’t know Rush was Canadian. I didn’t like them because they were Canadian, I just liked them better than Led Zeppelin. If I had to pick a favourite band as a teenager, I liked all kinds of rock music and I just thought well who
has the best songs, the best album covers, the best bass playing, the best guitar sound, just the best everything and I thought well it’s Rush. It wasn’t until much later that this whole Canada thing. I didn’t know that. I saw them in Detroit when I was a kid and I thought they were from Detroit. That’s what you think when you’re a kid. Well, I saw them in Detroit so that must be where they’re from. Every time I drive by Cobo Arena I’d think well they’re probably in there practicing. *laughing*
I’ve noticed that with them too, they really translated to a universal ground. Everybody knows Rush and I think unless… I think maybe it was because I was so into them that I looked them up and found out that they were Canadian but I’ve noticed when you talk
about bands to Americans, nobody is going to know who the Tragically Hip are, but when you say Rush they know who they are and are shocked that they’re Canadian. Nobody has any idea.
Yeah, I’ve never… I liked a lot of bands from England when I was a kid and still do but I don’t like them because they’re from England. Where you come from isn’t necessarily why I like stuff. I like music from Detroit but I’ve seen some really shitty bands from Detroit *laughing* so it doesn’t get you a pass.
No, definitely not.
I can appreciate that ZZ Top is from Texas and I can appreciate that about them but it also helps that they’re super badass. *laughing* It wouldn’t matter where they were from if they weren’t any good. I don’t think it’s… People are like ‘who are your favourite Canadian bands’ and I’m like ‘I’m not checking passports at the door here’. I don’t categorize that. It drives me crazy a little bit, to be honest, the whole ‘you guys are Can-rock.’ Why, because I was born in Winnipeg? Is it something to do with the sound? Because it doesn’t sound like other Canadian
bands. A lot of Canadian bands don’t sound like other bands. There definitely is a thing if you come from Nashville there’s an aesthetic, there’s definitely a Texas sound, but I don’t think there’s a Canadian sound. It’s too broad. I think we’re categorizing it for the wrong reasons. I guess it’s well-intentioned but it drives me nuts, frankly.
Yeah, I’ve never really known how to… I’ve noticed since moving here that people ask me that a lot and I had to really think about it because I have so many favourite bands. I mean god I have like 320 records, I couldn’t tell you where every band in those crates are from. Maybe during the pop-punk time there was a bit of a Canadian sound, but I don’t think so because Green Day sounds like that too and they’re not from Canada. It’s not regional.
Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s not like there’s even a western-Canadian sound. Canadian country music, how is it any different? It isn’t. Canada isn’t a sound.
If it was, then why is Neil Young now American?
I’m not ashamed of it, I’m kind of neutral on it, it’s never defined my sound. When I’m playing O’ Canada I play it because I’m proud and I like the song and I play it really well and people really like it. That’s it, I play it, there you go. Diggin’ A Hole has nothing to do with Canada or when it was written… you don’t think about that when you’re making stuff.
Yeah and even as a Canadian I had no idea that you were Canadian until I was at Calabogie Blues Fest and I saw you guys live and somebody told me you were from Winnipeg.
I left Winnipeg when I was six, so I’m not sure how Winnipeg informs the sound of Big Sugar either. *laughing* That’s about as connected as it gets right there.
Were you still in Canada or did you leave Winnipeg and move to the States?
No, my dad was in the Air Force and he worked for the Chrysler corporation for a while and we moved all over the place. We lived in a bunch of different places. Really, when I came of age and discovered music was in Detroit. I found myself in Detroit. When I left home I moved back to that region and started playing gigs in Detroit, going to shows in Detroit, and eating food in Detroit. That was where I grew up and that’s the culture that I grew up in.
I’m a Canadian citizen [though] and I moved to Toronto when Detroit started to really fall apart. I lived in Toronto for a while and discovered that the West Indian community in Toronto was the most vibrant and interesting thing I could find there. So I dove deep into that and into the music and the culture. It had a big influence [and] because I was in Toronto, it had a big influence on what we sounded like. Somebody else’s experience in Toronto could’ve been completely different and void of any reference to… I don’t hear that in the Barenaked Ladies’ music and they came out in Toronto too. Not a quality judgement, that’s just what I took from it.
It’s a personal experience, not necessarily relative to the place. It’s what you’re experiencing, it doesn’t really matter where you are. But back to the album, can you tell me a bit about the title?
It has a lot to do with marching forward. I love the late… in the 1960s, those space-race propaganda posters for the American space program and the Soviet space program and that marching forward to the Cosmos ‘“we’re going to go to the moon, we’re going to go beyond that.” I loved that optimism and that whole rhetoric and art that went with it. There was a little of the… I also grew up in the punk rock era so there’s a little of that punk rock ethos of if you grew up with that music in the time of the Cold War, the whole Space Race thing also fed into that Cold War paranoia of ultimate destruction, so live it up now because there might be no tomorrow starting tomorrow.
All of those different aesthetics filter into our own experience of leaving everything that was in our wake behind and marching forward. We want the future and we want it right now. There’s a little punk rock irony in that statement too, in that it’s also the name of a Calvin Klein fragrance, which to me is hilarious. It’s so stupid, it’s so vapid. The new fragrance by blah blah, Eternity Now! Are you kidding me? *laughing* That’s what you’re going with? Okay. That’s the… if you must know, that’s where that comes from.
You said you recorded it three times, what was it like finally getting it out there?
As of last week, it doesn’t even seem real, I’ve been living with it for so long in so many forms that it’s quite a relief actually, now that it’s left home. It’s packed its bags and it’s gone out into the world to live its own existence. Now it’s not up to me, now people trip over it and discover it and take what they want from it. When you buy the record you’re going to be able to read the lyrics, but you’re going to interpret them however you want, not necessarily the way I gave it to you. I’ll be interested to see what comes back from all of it.
You’ve been pretty active online since the Stay At Home orders have been in place, posting a soundcheck episode almost every week for the last month and the live streams as well.
One actually came out today, woo-hoo!
That’s fantastic, I’ll have to check that out after.
Have you been having fun with that. You’re supposed to be on tour right now, so that must be kind of tough.
*laughs* No! I’m not having fun, it’s a full time damn job, it’s crazy! Just to do a live stream, we wanted to do more than just a guy with an acoustic guitar sitting in his living room. Those are intimate and I can appreciate them for what they are but there’s just been millions of them on YouTube for the last couple of months so we wanted to do better than that. We tried to innovate a little bit and get a better audio interface and using the actual studio sound of the record. Getting all dressed up and putting up lights and being in a nice looking venue. Trying to put on the show.
Oh my god, man. It’s days of preparation, hours of freaking out over the technical incompatibilities with the internet and software and an iPhone and this and that. Every one of these things is just such a nail-biter. It’s so easy to just put on a rock show apparently. Don’t listen to me winge about rockstar problems but man I’ve had a guitar tech for a long time and all of the sudden I’m like oh this doesn’t work, why isn’t it working? Get a toolbox, some WD40, ANNIE, HELP! *laughing* I’ll tell you what, I really appreciate the people that make those shows happen, lights, sound, promoters, all of them, I love you man! I miss those guys. *laughs*
Yeah, I can’t really relate to the tech and stuff, but we were setting up a music room in our apartment and we’ve put it up and taken it down a few times because there’s a lot of instruments floating around here. I took down the drum set last week and oh my god, did I grow a new respect for touring drummers. That’s intense, I’ve never.
Yeah! You know, tear it all down, put it in the back seat of your car, drive around for four hours, stop and smoke a cigarette, drive around for another four hours, take it back home and set it all up again. Then go to bed, then at the end of it, pack it all up, drive around for four hours, have a cigarette, drive around for four more hours, take it out and set it up again. Do that for a month and then feel awesome about Rock N’ Roll. *laughing* Hey man, that’s somebody’s life every day. It’s that times ten. I don’t know anybody who just sets up a drum set, the amount of work that goes into that stuff is pretty crazy.
You said that it’s been a normal, not too much has changed in your household because of the restrictions. What have you guys done to keep a schedule, or keep to normal without being able to really go out and do things?
Here’s the truth of it, I wasn’t going out and doing anything before. I only recently started leaving the house to go and play a bit of music. I play Cuban music with Ray, our Congero who is in Big Sugar. He has a band that plays Cuban music in Austin so I was going and playing bass for him every once in a while. That was super fun, it’s a night out. I go out and play some Cuban music, no responsibility other than to go out and play music and sing in Spanish. Then I would
go out and play with a jam band on Monday nights in Austin so I’d go out and play there to get my bass playing on. I started getting into 80s Electric Funk music so I got an electronic drum kit and I was playing drums with a bunch of dudes just playing two-chord party funk jams and entertaining a bar full of people and people getting up and rapping and singing.
These are not career moves, this is just recreational going out and playing. Only in the last year and a half I started doing more of that. Other than that I just get into my studio, power up and get to work. Everything I’ve been doing lately has been centred on the studio. We live in the country so I don’t even see my neighbours. The only place I’ve been in the last couple of months is the grocery store and that’s the only place I had been for several months before that. I’m actually okay with it and I like the fact that I get a dark sky at night, I can’t hear the highway from my place, things are… I feel like society needed to slow down anyways. Everybody just take a break for a minute.
I don’t think I ever would’ve seen the stars in New York City if it wasn’t for this. I saw three or four stars the other night, it was fantastic.
You’re no stranger to putting covers on your albums, what was behind the decision to put the cover of Gary Wright’s ‘Love Is Alive’ on this one?
We’ve kind of established a reputation for finding really wicked cover songs that people didn’t think of, forgotten jams. We put out [a version of] ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’ there were a lot of people who thought that was our song. To this day, they still go hey I heard your song in a movie, someone else was doing it! [I go] Traffic, is that who was doing it? *laughs* They go oh, yeah, those guys do an awesome version of it. Let It Ride by BTO, that was a huge influence on me. Nobody was thinking about it when we put it out. There was a little of that, I heard the song by accident at a used clothing store in Red Deer, I was in there just looking at old hats and ties and the lady who ran the store had a cassette deck and she was playing a cassette tape of the Dream Weaver record. It wasn’t that song yet, but I was in the store and I heard the record and I thought how do I know every song that she’s playing, what is this record again? I couldn’t remember until Love Is Alive came on. That’s a good one. So we pretty immediately set about making a version of it. Lyrically it stayed on topic with the script for the story line for how it plays out. The lyrics of the song make a good chapter for the record, so it wasn’t like we put rock n roll all night and party every day on the record. *laughs* We weren’t just picking out some rock song,
we picked it very specifically. True to form, I’ve gotten so many text messages from friends in other bands saying oh dude I was going to do that one! Yeah, but you didn’t, you didn’t.
You snooze, you lose.
I’m sorry Black Crowes, I’m sorry, you could have but you didn’t. Colin James, sit down, you didn’t. *laughing*
It really does suit the flow of the album. You don’t feel a cut, whereas if you put something like closing time on there it would be like woah where the heck did this come from but it suits the flow very well.
I’m glad you noticed.
I like to finish off my interviews by asking for a funny quirk or character trait or something of that sort from the person that I’m speaking to because I feel that gets lost in a lot of interviews. Is there anything that you can think of that would surprise people that you haven’t talked about publicly before?
You really should ask my wife and my daughters that one, I’m sure they have a long list of things people probably didn’t suspect. *laughing*
I love my lawn mower. You don’t even understand how much I love my Kubota Zero Radius lawn mower. I’ve got a giant landscaper, I could start my own landscaping business with it. The year that my wife bought me my mower, I wept. There’s nothing I love better than gassing it up. We have a huge property, just getting out here and mowing it! That’s *laughing*…
So you’ve got the guitar amp and the mower, the two loves of… other than your family of course!
I’ve got a guitar collection that’s very enviable and I love my guitars, love to play them, that’s all good and well, but there’s nothing that stirs my emotions like pulling the cover off of my Kubota and running it across the property. In fact, you know, we had a bit of rain lately. I feel like I might have to get out there after this! You shouldn’t have gotten me started.