Over the course of four studio albums and countless concerts, Sam Roberts of the newly rechristened Sam Roberts Band admits to having made plenty of mistakes – albeit not all of the unhappy variety. He also humbly claims that his own limitations are what spurred him to mix things up with several guest musicians on the brand new, rhythmically-rich, Collider. Alongside bandmates Dave Nugent (lead guitar), Eric Fares (keyboard, guitar), James Hall (bass) and Josh Trager (drums), Roberts has set about pushing the limits of their sound, successfully creating something inspired, charged and deeply satisfying – for both the group and their fans.
You’ve rechristened ‘Sam Roberts’ to ‘The Sam Roberts Band.’ Why?
[Our dynamic] is a big part of how these records get made, therefore the acknowledgment on the name front is important. And it’s not just now; it’s always been that way. We’ve been working together at this for so many years now that I can’t really imagine doing it without them. It feels like we’ve been the Sam Roberts Band for a long time – especially on the live front, so it’s really a ‘Why didn’t we do it before?’ thing.
What inspired you to bring in so many guest musicians this time?
Well… just our own limitations (laughs). Any time you can bring someone in who shakes up your formula – and you do develop a formula even though you don’t realize it sometimes – it’s a positive thing. You bring in someone like Stuart Bogie or Ben Masserella who have no relationship with the music whatsoever and it’s like a blank canvas to them. They came up with some really, really great parts. It makes it so that we’re able to have a new look at the songs that have almost become solidified in our minds. They were open and liquid again and we could reinterpret them. That’s very valuable.
At what stage do you bring them in? Is there a ‘right time’?
It can be any time and that’s a good question. It can be in the beginning, and you can build up the song around it, or – and this is what happened in our case – you can bring them in at the 3/4-mark after you’ve already worked out the song’s structural framework, and have them do their thing, with time left to reevaluate after they put their stamp on it.
Do you feel like you get closer to the best music you’ve made with each album?
You know, I listened to Chemical City for the first time in years recently, and I can’t say that our records are better now – just different. As long as I’m inspired by what I’m writing and not playing to our own history as a band, I feel great. We try to learn from the mistakes that we’ve made in the studio – because there have been plenty – and we try to learn from the mistakes made on the road – and there’s been a heap of those too – and we apply that with every subsequent record we make. Of course there are new mistakes made each time and that’s just a part of the process, but if you feel like you’re just retreading the same ground then that’s very unsatisfying.
Certainly each one must serve as a time-stamp of exactly where you were in your life at the time.
Absolutely. I remember so clearly all our sessions: the struggle that went into making the record, to finding the songs and the panic of that moment of feeling like, ‘I have to make something out of nothing’ and the incredible joy that comes with overcoming that.
You mentioned making mistakes. What are some of your happiest ones?
It’s hard to say exactly. With life on the road, the unexpected is such a big part of your daily life. You just have to learn to adapt to every moment – and your reactions are often not the right ones right off the bat. Finding our new drummer, Josh, was a great thing. He’s completely changed the tone of our band and that just happened completely by accident.
Josh was an ‘unplanned’ addition to the family?
(Laughs) Yes, he was unplanned. But it happened and I’m glad. And you know, it happens all the time, too. It can be a guest musician or picking up an instrument and creating something completely counter to what you were supposed to be doing, and you realize you’ve somehow come across something better.
I’m sure flukes happen a lot in the studio?
Every five minutes. That’s how records get made. They never, ever sound like how you first picture them in your head. They always come out as something different, for better or for worse. It’s just part of the experience.
Collider by the Sam Roberts Band is now available in stores and online. For a list of upcoming shows, check out www.samrobertsband.com.