Published on July 17th, 2011 | by Clara Cullen
Blagsound caught up with The Weakerthans’ lead singer Mr John K Samson at their show for Banquet Records. We talk about the rise of independent music, Arbeiter Ring Publishing and the changing political scene within Canada.
What’s your name and your role in The Weakerthans?
John: Hi I’m John, and I play guitar and sing in The Weakerthans.
The Weakerthans have been a band now for 15 years, so for people who don’ t know, how did the band come together?
John: We all met in Winnipeg, Canada. We had all played in different bands before The Weakerthans (*John having played in punk band Propagandhi*). I was looking to record some songs that I had written and I gave them to Jason ( *Jason Tait- Drummer*) and we basically went from there. It was originally a project just for me, but then it kind of became something else.
This isn’t the first time you’ve played a Banquet Records’ event, and you’re signed to the indie label Epitaph. So how has the independent sphere, be it shops or labels impacted on your music?
John: That’s a good question! I don’t think we really could have existed without the rise of independent music. I think one of the few good things that has happened in the world over the past decade, is the collapse of the major label system and the inherent evils that went with that! So that’s something that I think we can all be glad of and that independent labels, venues and stores are still existing, struggling and surviving. I hope that the closure of some of the big stores like HMV will leave room for the independents to kind of come up there.
Obviously music is a big part of your life, was there any specific band that particularly sparked that interest?
John: Um, mostly just the people that I played music with were the primary ones. I started playing in bands in high school, and the guys I played with then are still the most inspiring people I’ve played music with.
As a band how does the song writing process work within The Weakerthans?
John: It’s different every time. I kind of wish there was more of a formula to it, it happens in all sorts of different ways. I for one always begin to write a song by thinking I’ll never be able to do it. I can’t ever remember how, but the process of discovering how, is what actually makes a song. I find writing songs really hard, it’s labour, it’s work in a way. I mean there are great songs that have been written in like 10 seconds, but I’m more interested in the ones that take a while. Also the songs keep me company while I’m making them ya know? It’s something to walk around with and to worry at. There’s probably some therapy involved in that which is helpful for me.
I suppose this is like asking who your favourite child is! But to a new listener is there a song that best represents the band musically?
John: Hmm I don’t know, that’s a really hard one! It changes for me every night. The nice thing about playing live is that you get to kind of re-experience the song each night. I suppose “Tournament of Hearts” is dear to me. It’s a song about the sport of curling, and it’s about life in a way. So that one is quite special.
On the same topic, if you could claim credit to any song, which song would it be?
John: Good question, Oh man, um I guess I’d go with ” Send In The Clowns” It’s a pretty fantastic song. I’m a big show tunes fan! But there’s lots, I hear songs everyday and wish I’d written them.
This is a question I ask every band, but they’re usually English or American. So considering the recent political shift to the right in Canada, if you were an elected official what would you like to bring about? What is your take on the political change and how to do you see it impacting on your life?
John: Well it’s really insidious I think. It kind of happened really slowly and gradually. The country is being run by the oil industry, and I think that’s really frightening because I don’t think we’ve ever had quite as high a degree of corporate ownership of the Government. I also think they’re very good at holding onto power once they have it, so I’m incredibly depressed by all that! In the most recent election, the liberal party, which was the ruling party in Canada for the last hundred years was decimated. They were a very middle of the road party, the leftist party, the NDP (* New Democratic Party*) which I quite like at times have become the official opposition, so I see some hope in that. I feel like this (* the shift to the right*) is happening all over the world, with the exception of maybe South America. I mean Obama anywhere else in the world would be a conservative, and as I see it it’s only going to get worse.
If I was an elected official I think i’d try and be pragmatic and poke away on things that Canada needs. We do have health care but it’s troubled. I think things like national day care and assured income is something that every country should have, and everyone should make a minimum amount of money. I think these are things that a socially democratic government could put in place really easily.
You also have a publishing company called Arbeiter Ring. It focusses a lot on social, historical and political matters. So how did the publishing company start, and how difficult in todays market is maintaining a business like Arbeiter Ring?
John: I actually started Arbeiter Ring Publishing the same month I started The Weakerthans. So those two things are really all I’ve ever done since! We try and publish leftish propaganda, literature, poetry and stuff like that. It is difficult, it’s kind of like the music industry, there’s a core group of publishers that manage to get through because they focus on what they want in a way that is manageable. The Canadian Government does provide money for small a publisher, that’s one of the last kind of vestiges from the cultural nationalism of the 60′s that arose. So they do support Canadian culture, whatever that is! So we do get funding from the Government and sell books. Again it’s like the music industry, in that we’re low enough to the ground that we don’t have any cost really.
Do You have a favourite book that Arbeiter Ring has published?
John: Yeah there’s one that has just come out called “Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back” by a Native American writer named Lean Simpson. She write about the cultural history and politics of Native Americans. It’s a remarkable book.
For more infomation on The Weakerthans, check out their website here: http://www.theweakerthans.org/
For more infomaton on Arbeiter Ring Publishing, check out their website here: http://arbeiterring.com/
What’s your view? Let us know in the comments section below…