Juno award-winner Sam Roberts knows to take inspiration from whatever comes his way: at home with his three young children, on long walks through his hometown of Montreal, or in strange dreams featuring Leonard Cohen. As a result, he’s enjoyed 11 years as a professional musician, recorded five LPs, and released one of the bestselling independent Canadian EPs of all time, The Inhuman Condition (2002). Having recently welcomed a new son into , Sam talks about family, its impact on his work, and his brand new album, Collider.
How has parenthood affected your songwriting?
There’s a huge shift that takes place within you when you become a parent. Your focus changes from yourself to your child and where their world is heading, and whether or not the future will be welcoming to them. I think my songwriting is bound to follow that change in perspective.
Do you write with them in mind?
Absolutely. Sometimes I put one of my songs on to see if it gets any dancing or not…they’re a good barometer. There’s such a repetitive nature to writing and recording, they might hear the same things over and over again. If I hear my daughter humming a melody or guitar riff from the song that I’m working on, then I know I’m on to something.
Is music the centerpiece of your household?
Ours is a loud household, but in a great way. There’s always something going on. The kids love to dance and love having music on. My daughter plays violin now and we take lessons together. I try to make music a part of their daily lives.
Do you hope it’ll be part of their future as well?
I’d be very, very happy if they have an ongoing, meaningful connection with music and I do hope they play it. And that’s a parent’s responsibility. You can’t leave it up to a five-year-old to decide whether they want to continue taking their lessons or not. My parents never gave me an option. They were like, ‘You’re going to do it and you’re going to like it.’ Sure enough, it ended up meaning so much to me.
What did they start you off playing?
The violin. I really loved it. Then piano, and then guitar. I just picked them up on my own and I became very passionate about music. When I was a teenager, I started writing songs and it became a great outlet for me to be able to express things I couldn’t express otherwise. I continue to be reliant on songwriting as a way to vent and keep myself level.
How do your songs come to you?
Sometimes I’ll sit in front of the TV with the guitar in my hands and let my subconscious mind do its thing while I’m not too focused. Sometimes I’ll go for a long walk and jot down lyrics or musical ideas that come to mind – I always bring a Dictaphone with me wherever I go. You take your inspiration in whatever way it comes to you.
What are you most excited about with Collider?
It represents an interesting shift – if not a departure – from our previous records and lends itself to changes in the live show that we all embrace. There’s a far more rhythmic focus to it. When you’re touring with a record for a year and a half, it has to stay fresh from the beginning until the end, if your show is going to be any good.
And what songs are the most meaningful?
There are a couple that are closer to home and those are the ones you’re always most protective of. Songs like Partition Blues and Without a Map are less about universal ideas and more about personal… fears. I think on any given day you have a different relationship with the songs. Your mood completely influences how you interact with them and how they interact with you.
The album is littered with references to battle. Why?
You don’t have to look very far to find that imagery in the world. In fact, that’s practically all that’s available when you pick up the paper. It’s a dominant force in the human experience. I wanted to acknowledge its role in some way, but also take it away from that statistical bloodbath we witness everyday and put it into a more human context.
In I Feel You, you describe a dream featuring Leonard Cohen. Was it a real dream?
Yeah (laughs), it was real. Very strange, strange things happen when you’re sleeping. I’m a huge fan of his music and that’s probably how he got in there.
Have you met him?
No… in all these years in Montreal I’ve never seen him or anything. I’m happy to keep a distance, though… I just like his music.
Collider by the Sam Roberts Band is available in stores and online now. For a list of upcoming shows, check out www.samrobertsband.com.