Weakerthans stick to their punk rock roots
Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Updated: Thursday, July 5, 2012 15:07
It seems strange that a punk veteran currently fronting one of the greatest Canadian rock bands today could be so shy. As reserved as he may come across, ex-Propagandhi bassist John Samson of The Weakerthans has spilled his heart and soul to fans over three records through his vulnerable lyrics, and is currently writing songs for the band's forthcoming album.
The Winnipeg rockers recently picked up two awards at the Western Canadian Music Awards in 2004, for Outstanding Independent Album and a nomination for Video of the Year for their single "Psalms for the Elks' Lodge Last Call," with Samson taking home the title of Outstanding Songwriter.
"It was flattering [to win the Western Canadian Music awards]," said Samson. "You know awards are just awards and don't really mean anything, but it was really nice."
The lyrics of The Weakerthans have always been outstanding in their ability to provoke imagery and emotions while sometimes bordering on sarcasm.
"It's different every time when I write lyrics. It's a product of life really, instead of the other way around," said Samson. "There's no formula for it. It's kind of like every time you start writing, you're starting from scratch."
Since they formed eight years ago, The Weakerthans have undergone some major changes. The band signed with Epitaph records for their latest release Reconstruction Site in 2003, parted ways with their bass player John Sutton in 2004, and have gone from relatively unknown to critically acclaimed. Despite their evolution, Samson says that he feels the band has retained their original perspectives and values.
"I don't think that [our views] have changed at all since the band started," said Samson. "I think that I enjoy it more now. I really enjoy playing shows for people and I like when it feels like a communication occurs. I don't think the band's changed much, it's still the same impulse."
Samson left political punk rockers Propagandhi in 1997 for a change of pace. Of all the bands who have been questionably labeled as "emo," The Weakerthans are probably somewhere near the top of that list. Keeping true to their punk rock roots, The Weakerthans feel right at home on Epitaph's label alongside names like Bad Religion, NOFX and Pennywise.
"I have always considered The Weakerthans to be a punk band," said Samson. "That's where our roots and the foundations for the music that we make are planted."
Propagandhi is known for their strong involvement in politics, something which also makes its way into the music of The Weakerthans.
"We're political," said Samson. "We're political people and I think that's reflected in our music and the way that we conduct ourselves."
There is a song, "One Great City!" on Reconstruction Site, which ends with the lyric, "I hate Winnipeg." While the band proclaims their loyalty to the city and explains that the track touches on humour, Samson sees the band's beginnings in Winnipeg as no different from trying to establish a musical career anywhere else.
"I think that it's the same for every band starting out," said Samson. "I mean, you play with your friends in basements and then move on to playing with other people and it's just like everywhere else. That is what we did [in Winnipeg]. I think that doing the best you can with the materials at hand is the most important thing - not competing, but just trying to do what you can do."
The three piece is currently headlining a nationwide tour with the Constantines, playing three shows in less than two days in Toronto. As for what's next, The Weakerthans are not planning to head back into the recording studio anytime soon but are working on new material, as they continue to enjoy doing what they love.
"[Touring] is kind of an insane thing to do, so I don't know if I keep my sanity, you get a little crazy. But mostly, live shows are just fun. It's a real privilege to be able to play for people and let the songs breathe," said Samson.
"A new record is not going to be soon, but we're certainly planning it. I have no idea how it will sound, your guess is as good as mine. We're excited about it and I'm writing stuff for it now. It feels good. It's a good job - I think of it as excellent labour."
The Weakerthans play three dates at Lee's Palace in Toronto, 9 p.m. on April 8, and 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. on April 9.