by Jeremy Hart
I've always been fascinated by Canadians. I don't know why, entirely -- maybe it has more to do with stereotypes of Canadiana than anything else, but hell, I've been to Vancouver, and only one person sounded even remotely like Bob & Doug MacKenzie. At any rate, I know there're a lot of us Americans out there who have no clue what Canadians are really like, but I've always sort of assumed that Canadian folks themselves were just plain smarter than us, their more southerly cousins. But then again, maybe not. I got a chance in the summer of 2001 to chat for a bit with Stephen Carroll, guitarist for Winnipeg, Manitoba's, local heroes, The Weakerthans, and he admitted that Canadians have their own stereotypes of Americans, albeit stereotypes a bit on the scarier side. Oh yeah, and along the way, we talked about music, metropolitan living, and even the similarities between his home and mine. Here goes...
SCR: Where're you guys at right now?
Stephen: I'm in Guelph, Ontario; we're playing a show here.
Ah, okay. Are you guys just touring Canada, or...?
We're not really touring, we're just doing some shows, y'know, here in Ontario. Just like five shows. If that constitutes a "tour," I'm not sure. It's not really a tour, but...
I'd heard you guys were gonna be on the road at some point; I didn't know when that was gonna be. One thing I wanted to ask was if you thought the new record was a major departure from Fallow, the last one?
If Left and Leaving was? I think it was consistent with Fallow, and, uh, yeah. There were some slight differences, but...
Did you guys try to do anything different this time around, with Left and Leaving?
Well, I think the major difference is simply that I play on this record, and I helped arrange a lot more, so I got some input. We used a different producer than we did last time, and his approach was quite different; it was much more organic...a much more organic approach than the one that we used with Fallow. That is, no click tracks, no "put the blips and bleeps on the record," so... That set a tone; those two things, my playing and a different producer, also. They set a different tone right at the git-go.
I think it's a great album; I'd only heard a few things off off of Fallow, and I didn't know what you guys thought of the difference between the two albums, so...
I like Fallow a lot more, 'cause I have distance to it, something maybe the other guys don't.
You're not as big on the new album?
No, I am, but I just think that Fallow is entirely underrated.
Are you guys working on anything new right now?
Yeah, yeah -- we're working on lots of new stuff. That's sort of what we're doing out here, we're just going to Toronto to do some demos and, ah, rehearse together, play a bunch of the new songs that John [Samson, guitarist/vocalist] has written.
Does he do most of the songwriting, then?
Yes. He does the songwriting; we do the arranging.
The Weakerthans -- http://www.weakerthans.com/
SubCity Records -- http://www.subcity.net/
G7 Welcoming Committee -- http://www.g7welcomingcommittee.com/
Art City -- http://www.mts.net/~artcity/
That's a good way to work it, I guess... One thing that I was really curious about -- and I dunno if you'll be able to help me with this one, but... The album seems to have a lot of songs about just, like, the city, in general, and I was wondering if you guys, as a band, felt some kind of connection with Winnipeg?
Well, a good writer always writes about what they know, or what he or she knows. And Winnipeg is a pretty unique city, but also a city with similar problems to most cities in the world, and, uh, I think those who stay and live in Winnipeg love it and protect it, and are saddened when it suffers. And I think John is one of those; he suffers as it suffers. The problems of the city are so easily internalized. It's a small town, but as it suffers from stratification, like most cities -- it's urban sprawl, but it has this decaying core, like a lot of other cities in the world, these days, and the core is the part of the city that we all live in, and we've watched it be neglected, we've watched it fall apart.
Things just kind of go downhill.
Yeah, to pieces. And I think that's entirely reflected in the album, and I think it would be erroneous for us not to do that. [laughs] But I know that a lot of other writers don't...and I mean, it's also a great metaphor, The City, right?
Sort of tangentially off that, I noticed the bit about Art City on the record sleeve; what's the deal with that?
The deal is that SubCity Records donates like six or seven percent of the net, or, sorry, of the retail price of our records, the records on SubCity, to a charity of the band's choice [Ed. Note: The album's on G7 Welcoming Committee in Canada, by the way.] Fallow donated money to Mount Carmel Clinic; it's an inner-city clinic with progressive programs such as outreach and needle exchange things -- Winnipeg's needle exchange program, the funding's been cut off; it doesn't even exist anymore -- but it's particularly crucial to the survival of the people in the area that it's based in. And Art City kinda does a similar task in rescuing the creative, whatever, "health," of a small area called West Broadway. It's a drop-in center. A drop-in center with very deep ties to the community around it that has a high Aboriginal population, and it's run by -- I think I can credit this to Wanda Koops, who is the Winnipeg artist that was the founder of this organization, and they'd asked us several times to do benefits, but just the timing never worked out, and then when it came time to pick a charity, they were top on our list.
That's cool that they do that, that both you guys and the record label do that. I'm pretty impressed.
It ends up a lot of money. I mean, it actually has a really big impact, it's quite amazing.
I'd heard, especially, because the record was doing really, really well in Canada...
Yeah; it's doing really well in the States, too -- that's where the money comes from. It's only from record sales in the States. We haven't sold a lot a lot of records, but still, it's like, I think off Left and Leaving there's already like ten thousand US that's been donated. It's a lot of money.
Have you guys had a good reaction down here?
Yeah; I mean, it's getting better. It's always...the first tour was hard, but obviously, that's the same for everyone.
Was there a lot of that Propagandhi connection going on, then, or...?
Well, it was just like, "Who the hell are these guys? What the fuck?" And I think thanks to Sub City, we've "found" an audience of sorts, and it's going really well. I mean, I used to be really leery of coming down to the States, being a, whatever, "sheltered" Canadian.
[laughs] We're all crazy and have guns and drive like maniacs, yeah... Do Canadians actually have that image of Americans?
Yep, we do. [laughs]
Oh, man. We're not all like that, I promise. There are some sane Americans. Well, relatively, anyway...
Yeah. It's been great; we love it. We have lots of friends now, and it's a wonderful place. I mean, it's a really neat, neat country.
Any chance you're ever going to tour down towards Texas?
Um...yeah! I don't know when, exactly, but it's kinda next on our list.
Well, this's kind of an odd question, but...where do you see the band going? What's you guys' ultimate goal for the band?
Well...the ultimate goal is to become a sustainable, mobile, utopian workplace for the members of The Weakerthans and those who work for us and with us. And then we can have creative control over what we do, and write the songs we want, and make a living at it, without sacrificing mental health, or jeopardizing our physical well-being, or causing undue suffering to others on the planet. How's that for a manifesto?
[laughs] That's a good mission statement, there... Do you guys all have to do the part-time job thing, as well?
No, not now. Not for this year. I mean, if we're touring we can feed ourselves. [laughs] But we're going to take a break, probably, for the fall and, uh, who knows? I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but maybe I'll have to get a straight job for a little while. That'd be a good change of pace, so I can remember what it's like.
"Oh, this is what it's like to sell stuff, yeah..."
Exactly. "This is what it's like to paint houses..."
Are you a house-painter by trade?
Yes. Sort of. Not by trade, but...
I'd heard something about a book publishing business...
That's what John Sampson does. He has a co-op book publishing house, called Arbeiter Ring. It's this German word that means "worker."
How's this Houston business?
Hot as hell...
Yeah? I have a friend who's moving to Houston, actually, a friend who plays cello, going to study down there.
At which college?
I dunno. Probably some big music school...
I imagine the weather is probably pretty different from where you guys are up there.
Y'know what? Texas and Manitoba -- although I'm not in Manitoba right now -- have a weird similarity, even though you guys don't have the winters we get. Certain areas, like Austin, remind me so much of Manitoba.
Just 'cause they're in the plains of North America; it just runs right up from Texas all the way through Nebraska and Manitoba, and it all looks kinda the same. END