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The Weakerthans

Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Stephen Carroll, am: 23.12.2003 ]

Noch große Worte über die Weakerthans zu verlieren, ist eigentlich absolut überflüssig. Jeder kennt sie, die meisten lieben sie und das absolut zu Recht. Niemand sonst vermischt Pop und Country mit einer gewissen Punksozialisation so berührend und faszinierend wie die Kanadier. Auch das letzte Album „Reconstruction Site“ gehört zweifellos wieder zu den besten Alben des Jahres. Grund genug mit Gitarrist Stephen anlässlich ihrer Europatour endlich ein Bierchen zu trinken und etwas genauer nachzufragen. Wir sprachen über Clear Channel, Winnipeg und Weihnachten.

 

Musicscan: Just tell me a little bit about the tour this time around?

The Weakerthans: Well, this is the last of three tours that we are doing for “Reconstruction Site” as far as album support tours are concerned. It started in the UK this time and we haven’t really played there very much, so it was pretty rough going for the first week. We were all jetlagged, nobody knew us, we had no press. They were all pretty small shows. It was still an interesting experience, a challenge and an adventure, but draining and a lot of work to start the third tour. But once we cleared that hurdle, we came back to Germany and things have been great and really fun. We went down to Italy for a couple of shows and had some adventures with our crazy Italian tour manager. It was so out of control, the biggest freak we ever had in the van. And now we are coming to the end and we are still somewhat sane.

Musicscan: Are there any countries that you particularly look forward to playing in Europe?

The Weakerthans: On this tour I was interested in trying to play the UK and Italy, because we never did a proper tour there. But as far as being the most enjoyable experience of playing for us, Germany is definitely our favorite, because we have a lot of friends here. We understand the music scene, because we feel we are part of it rather than just foreigners because we have toured here so much and we are so close to many musicians, people who run labels and magazines.

Musicscan: Do you think you are perceived differently in the respective countries?

The Weakerthans: I definitely think we are perceived differently. It all depends on how you have been advertised and marketed and how your press has been and what themes they pull out and project to other people or what ideas or preconceptions the audience has. And that is fine. I find that there are certain countries that are definitely more open, more open to the idea of our band. Because I don’t think we are very acceptable.

Musicscan: You don’t think so?!

The Weakerthans: No, I don’t think so. I mean what the hell are we doing? Look at that mishmash of music, changes every five minutes. Never the same style twice, but at the same time there are unifying factors, but I find that actually Germany is one of the stronger places for us. Especially when it comes to how we are perceived. People just accept us here, rather than try to analyze us and what we are doing, which is more pleasurable.

Musicscan: What do you hope people to take away from a Weakerthans show?

The Weakerthans: I hope it is a fun, moving, rock’n’roll good time. There is some kind of shared experience that is pleasurable for the audience and the band and maybe it is remarkable to the audience in some way and maybe it is remarkable to us. Generally I am mostly concerned with logistical issues like “Is that working? Why isn’t that working? Why is it not working right now, I really need it to”. I am always thinking about how they are experiencing the show. It is always interesting to talk to people about it, because everybody has such a different experience at a rock show. I heard this really weird quote today about music. There is this music company that basically controls all fields of arts and entertainment in North America and they are starting to work in Europe as well. They are called Clear Channel and they are taking over everything. They own radio stations in North America and the own every venue in some cities. They are buying out independent promoters. So they were interviewing some kind of CEO of the company in a magazine and he was saying “this is a really important media for us, tying our business to rock shows, because people when they are listening to music are feeling an overwhelming sense of emotion and that is when they are most vulnerable”. That is pretty true, it can be a very powerful experience. In that quote it is quite evil, because of the infiltration of this ultra-capitalistic marketing company. It is a monster that not even employees understand.

Musicscan: Do you play Clear Channel venues in the States or Canada?

The Weakerthans: We are lucky enough that we only had to play on Clear Channel show in the US on all our North American dates, which is incredible, because they have infiltrated everything and have bought out most independent promoters. We are at a crossroads with our decisions about working with that, because honestly it was never an issue until this year for us. It never came up, we never ran into them. I had heard about them and we had played a show with them, but I had no idea who they were at the time. It is also a very blurry line between who is what, but now it has become clearer, which is good. We are making our boycott, we are trying to at least. We are just developing our strategy with regards to how we are going to deal with this new enemy.

Musicscan: What is the biggest difference between “Left And Leaving” and the new album for you guys? Did you approach it any differently?

The Weakerthans: I think there were some differences that were apparent to us when we set out to record this record. We knew that we were going to have a trilogy of songs and that they were going to be the sonnets that encapsulate the record, which are the songs one, seven and fourteen. They are all similar, they have the same melody, same chords, but different lyrics. That set up a framework for us to work within and made it very obvious that this was going to be a different record than “Left And Leaving”. Sonically we wanted to not recreate what we did with “Left And Leaving”, we wanted to work with a different mixer, because the mixing really shapes a record. You can do whatever you want in the studio and have the best time, but when it comes to the mixing, it seems that it is the most crucial stage for deciding how your record is going to sound. We decided to go with somebody who had more pop sensibilities and that could also bring more balance and shoot for a record that sounded maybe like a record between “Left And Leaving” and “Fallow”. A combination of the artistic and experimental sounds and textures of “Left And Leaving” and the more straight up sounds of “Fallow”. I think we sort of achieved that.

Musicscan: You did work with Ian Blurton again, though. What impact did he have on the record?

The Weakerthans: This time he played a more important role, I would say. He had more impact on this record than on “Left And Leaving” though he really helped shape the sound of “Left And Leaving”. Here he actually worked with us on songs. We did preproduction with him and he is simply a great guy and fun to be with as well as a wealth of musical knowledge and history.

Musicscan: The new songs sound a bit more precise and straight forward to me than some of your older songs. Was that a conscious effort on your part or did it evolve naturally?

The Weakerthans: I am trying to remember. I don’t think it was very conscious. The songs that we have on this record are songs that we have probably worked on a lot longer than most of the other songs. Half of the other songs were written over the course of three years and the other half was maybe written over the last year. We had more time to think about them, maybe even too much time.

Musicscan: Would you say you would sound differently if you weren’t located in Winnipeg or hadn’t grown up there?

The Weakerthans: Definitely, for sure. We are greatly influenced by the community of friends, artists and musicians we have there. Those are the kind of people that inspire us most and the people that we feed off of and we have most exchanges with. Without them I think we wouldn’t be a band really. We really come from the offshoots of decades of punkrock in Winnipeg, decades of bands. I mean I was watching Jason’s old band play when I was sixteen and thought they were the greatest. He is a couple years older than me. John Samson’s old band Propagandhi was a huge influence on my old band and John and I were first together in bands since we were sixteen. It is a long time coming.

Musicscan: However, it seems like you have a strong love/hate relationship to your hometown?

The Weakerthans: Yes, of course. I think that is the nature of the beast of our town. It is not an easy place to live. There isn’t an awful lot of rewards.

Musicscan: Why is that?

The Weakerthans: It is a relatively empty city with very few cultural events or interesting clubs or venues. It doesn’t have a vibrant arts culture. What it does have is a really strong one. It is very small and close knit and they work really hard and because of that people tend to do what they do very well because they have so much invested in it. We have one of the few artist run galleries in Canada and we have a fantastic video editing and independent film production company. We also have good access to government funding there. There is a lot of government funding for arts projects, which really helps the arts community. At the same time it is cold and boring a lot of the time and there is really nothing to do. It is a little bit like living in Braunschweig. See your laughing, you know what I mean.

Musicscan: So when you were a kid, did you wish to leave and move to a big city?

The Weakerthans: We used to drive down to Minneapolis at least once a month, which is about eight hours away. That is were we would go to see bands, we had to drive that far. We did have a lot of good times, though. We went to our one bar and we played this club called the Royal Alberts Arms Hotel and everybody played there all the time. It was the only place where you could play, except the West End, but that wasn’t very fun. The Albert was wild. It is like an old man hotel, for old men and people that want to get a room for twenty bucks a night kind of place. Holes in the wall and stuff and we’d always play there would be crazy, crazy shows. Really fun times.

Musicscan: What is the situation like when you are not on the road, since I believe John and you still live in Winnipeg, but Jason and the other John live in Toronto? Do you see each other regularly during that time, do you rehearse on a regular basis. How does your life look like then?

The Weakerthans: I can’t remember going two weeks without seeing them for the past year anyways. We try to have breaks, but we usually get together a week before we go on tour to rehearse. We tour regularly, so we see each other quite often.

Musicscan: Do you still feel connected to the punk scene or have you transcended that in some ways?

The Weakerthans: No, I don’t think we have. It’s not like we could even transcend it. The punkrock scene is part of our band. I find it is one and the same, I hope at least. I hope we are still part of that community. We try to be. It has changed a lot, though. It is a different world now, the network has become so formalized that it is a circuit now. It is all formal, organized and clean sometimes. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. So you can take the punk out of the punkrock scene, but you can’t take the punk out of a punk. Punkrock it is the only way I can explain why we are a band and what we do and why we have these relationships and why we organize the band economically the way we do. For us it is a formal experience, a guiding factor for our band. The rules and applications of punkrock and how you do your business and how you do music and how you treat people. So it is really important to us. Everybody has a different idea of what it is, but for us it represents the moral fabric of what to do and how people should be treated. You shouldn’t do everything for money, you should do it for your friends and you should do it for free. My friend Karsten who runs Blurr Magazine, we had a lot of conversations about what punkrock is while drinking and being on tour and he said that it is punk if you do it for your friends and if you do it for free. So we try to do that once in a while. We did a free show for him and his friends.

Musicscan: Would you say the goals of the band are still the same as when you started the band?

The Weakerthans: Strangely enough, we are not that overt of where the band is going. We don’t actually have an open mandate or a manifest for what we are doing and we never had. We just do what we are doing. It is always like “well, we have these songs and I guess we should put them on a record and I guess we should go on a tour”. To me it is a very similar experience to how things have always been done. With the guys living in Toronto, I spend a lot of time practicing by myself rather than with the band, but other than that it is pretty much a similar experience. It is something that keeps us sane, too, because having too many goals and to think about things regarding a band too much is not healthy. You shouldn’t try not to spin your wheels and work on things that you find pleasure in within the band.

Musicscan: When did you first realize that music is something that you wanted to pursue in life?

The Weakerthans: I don’t think I have yet. I was just thinking what I was going to do when I am back home. Am I going to get a job? What am I going to do?

Musicscan: Do you still have to take on “regular” jobs when you are home?

The Weakerthans: Yes, I probably will.

Musicscan: Doesn’t the band pay the bills yet?

The Weakerthans: I lived off the band for three years. I am always thinking about what I am going to do when the band ends, though.

Musicscan: Here is a Christmas question for you. Do you celebrate Christmas? What does it mean to you?

The Weakerthans: I am close with my family. I have two brothers and my parents in Winnipeg. We all get along really well and it is just an excuse for us to get together. Usually we have a really good time and eat a very good meal. We are not religious at all and we all grew up to be atheists. Our Christmas dinner, though, has turned into a very cool event. It is an open invitation to whoever wants to come and eat. If somebody doesn’t have a place to go, they can come. So we always have a couple of strangers at the table with us. We also have a vegetarian meal and the traditional turkey. It is a huge spread of Moroccan dishes, Eritrean dishes, curries and whatever. It is a dinner for everyone. I am not selling to Christmas, though. I do in a little kid’s way with the stockings and the presents and the tree, but my folks go full tilt.

 
 Links:
  The Weakerthans
  Burning Heart Records
 
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