/ FACES Magazine January 2017
Jim Cuddy was with me when I experienced my first kiss. He wasn’t actually with me, but 5 Days in May was on the radio and provided the musical backdrop. I will never forget that kiss. Not because it was exceptional – in fact, it was an awkward mess – but because I fondly relive that moment every time I hear 5 Days in May. I suspect I’m not the only person who has experienced a life moment with Blue Rodeo providing the soundtrack. Part of it is because Blue Rodeo is like your favourite, old pair of jeans: comfortable, reliable and making you feel damn good. Part of it is because Blue Rodeo is so talented that they consistently make damn good music. It’s this unique but simple blend of reliability and talent that has made Blue Rodeo enjoy continued success.
These rock cowboys have shared their music with every corner of Canada, and have lived the lives of true Canadian rock-stars—complete with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, touring across Canada over 30 times and a compelling 15 studio albums.
Blue Rodeo comes to Ottawa to perform back-to-back shows at the NAC on February 18th and 19th.
Blue Rodeo’s music has a special connection with Canadians. What do you think it is about your music that makes it such a special part of Canada’s musical fabric?
That’s a really difficult question; we’ve always just played the music that we like. We’re like a merger of “folky-country-rock-jazz” music. We didn’t do it because we thought everyone would like it; we did it because we knew we liked it. Canadians are very loyal fans - if you go to their towns, play in front of them, keep putting out your music and give them a chance to listen to it, they’ll stay with you. I don’t think that that’s the same in every country. I think there’s a reason why there are so many Canadian bands with such longevity. The music fans of this country are very loyal with high standards.
What is your creative process as a band?
We try to find a different environment or some type of different guiding principle. This time, we talked about writing as if we were a 1978 British pop band like Brinsley Schwarz, Elvis Costello, Nick Glow, etc. I think that what that did was inform us of the guitar sounds, the energy of the record and ultimately, I think we added our own country/rock take on that. Importantly, we worked with Tim Vesley, and Tim is also the bass player of the Rio Statics. The fact that Tim was opinionated but not oppressive was amazing. He would offer opinions when he thought we needed it. He gave some very poignant suggestions on this record. He was very helpful and he helped to define the sound of the record as well.
After crossing Canada roughly 30 times, do you ever get tired of touring? How has it changed?
When we were first touring, we were touring like mad; we were touring everywhere, taking every opportunity. We were always exhausted, as things were poorly planned. Nowadays, everything is very well planned. We love to have these big tours where we can have real control over the sound and lights and we know the places we’re going into. We like our little winter ritual too. Going out there in the winter when pretty much nobody tours. We loved going to all of these different places and getting a glimpse of what their winters were like in that year. At the end of the day, we’re musicians, we like to play, we like our new record and we like to create a show. Those things never get tiring because that’s just what we do and we enjoy what we do. We’re lucky that we get to do it.
Blue Rodeo has enjoyed some unique experiences in Ottawa - in our city you and Greg received the Order of Canada, and the band has performed here countless times. You were also inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame on April 1, 2012. What do you like best about coming back to Ottawa?
Well Ottawa has a lot of great things about it. First off, there are a ton of great music fans. Second, we really enjoy playing at such great venues, playing in the arena as well as the NAC, which we haven’t done for a long time. Bluesfest is a riot too. I love coming in both types of weather - I love skating on the canal, we often bring bikes to take around the lake systems, there’s great restaurants, we have lots of friends there, good radio support, there’s really no downside to Ottawa for us.
Blue Rodeo will be coming to Ottawa on February 18th. Do you have unique stories about past trips to Ottawa? Or maybe places you always visit when you come to town?
The one time I’ve ever been sick on stage was in Ottawa. Warner put on a dinner for us and as I was walking back to the venue, I knew there was something wrong with me. We were playing at a small club around The Market and I remember I got on stage, I played 3 or 4 songs and then I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I’m going to faint”. I tried to come back a couple times but I just ended up lying in the dressing room, I was really ill. It was in the middle of the winter and it was one of those typical, cold winter nights in Ottawa.
I was really weak at this point, somebody walked me to the car so that we could get a move on to where we were going next, but that person realized they forgot the keys, so they went back, left me there and didn’t come back! I was in the middle of the parking lot, freezing cold and very weak until finally my team started calling my name and they found me all bunched up and weak. That was definitely one of the more memorable nights for me for sure. I’ve still never missed a gig due to sickness other than that one night.
Your new album comes across as a bit more up-tempo, but certainly with some social commentary; I’m thinking specifically about Superstar. Tell us a little bit about Superstar and how that track came to be.
We went to L.A. a year and a half ago for a few days and Colin and I just rented a couple of road bikes and we started riding from our hotel. Immediately, we’re in Beverly Hills. I’ve been in L.A. a million times, I’ve seen the opulence and the excess but for some reason, when you’re riding by houses on a bike, you realize that it’s crazy that people need houses that big. There’s a lot of stereotypical behaviour in L.A., so I just started writing this very sarcastic song about all of the clichés that we musicians are prone to, and how nobody buys records and how we’d have to start another business. It was really just meant to be a laugh. I have no hard feelings towards L.A., I think it’s a great place but clichés do hold true and there’s a reason they’re clichés.
Blue Rodeo’s studio, The Woodshed, started as a way for the band to record music in its own environment. It’s now evolved as a studio for other artists. Does it still feel like home when recording?
Oh yeah, for sure. I would say that 90% of the time when there’s someone recording there that isn’t us, we know that person or group, or somebody in the office knows them. It’s supposed to be a great place that’s relatively inexpensive for our friends to record in. It’s been great. I think we all really enjoyed making this record there. It’s so comfortable for us and our office is upstairs. Plus, knowing that you own the place means that you’re not fighting the clock all the time and there’s no other things going on unexpectedly, so it really does still feel like home.
Looking back on nearly 30 years as a musician, what is the number one thing you wish you could change and also wouldn’t change?
There’s nothing that I would change, I think that when I give advice to other bands, one of the things I say is to not rush, especially when you’re experiencing success; take the time to enjoy it. If you’re going on a major talk show in the afternoon, don’t work that night; take that night off. Your career isn’t going to falter because you didn’t work that night. I think that bands work themselves too hard too often. They just take every single stupid opportunity and it has a very negative effect; you start to feel very uncomfortable with what you do. I think a good manager should look at that and realize when a band needs a break and when bands need to work harder. I think that’s the only thing I look back on and the funny thing is that when I look back, I think the thing that I’m most proud of is how hard we worked. If you work 270 days a year, you’re going to be a good band that performs really well. You’re going to learn each other’s playing styles and you’re going to be able to really put the pieces of the puzzle back together. I admire that about a lot of Canadian bands.
Canadian bands don’t have the opportunity to just throw a record out there and have everyone saying they’re fantastic and to not bother touring. We have to go to all of these little places and really take our act to everyone’s backyard. I like that about Canadian bands because normally, when you see a Canadian band, they’re going to be good. When you watch The Sheepdogs, they’ve done a ton of gigs; they’re good. 4-40, they’re good. The Tragically Hip, they’re good. I admire that and I think that’s a good feature in bands and in Canadian bands in general.