In January, The Weakerthans‘ creative head John K Samson released his melancholic yet powerful and – above all – highly lyrical solo record “Provincial”. This of course called for an extensive tour through North America as well as Europe. Before his concert in Halle, Germany I had the great oportunity to talk with him.
What is the essential difference between John K Samson solo and The Weakerthans, especially musicwise?
I’m not sure. I think it’s pretty similar but the solo record is sort of a concept record in a way, so these songs are really specific. Otherwise I’m not really sure what the difference is. I mean whenever you play with other people it’s a lot more different that what you think it’s going to be. I think everyone you play with contributes a different thing, so not being with The Weakerthans is totally different, it feels different to me.
On “Provincial” you have that song “When I write my Master’s thesis”. I was wondering, have you ever been a student? Have you ever written a thesis?
But if you had written one, what would it have been about?
I have no idea. Plenty of things interest me. The character in that song is trying to write a thesis about the Ninette Sanatorium, this tuberculosis hospital in Manitoba. Something like that would interest me, the culture at a place like that. So probably history.
Good! Yeah, it’s going quite well. We got around 1800 signatures [2174 signatures on August 5]. I’ll be touring a little bit for the rest of the year and at the end of the year I think I’ll submit the names to the Hockey Hall of Fame and see if we can get him inducted.
Does Reggie know about it? Have you met him?
Yeah, he does. I did meet him once and he seemed pleased about it, it was very nice. I am hoping we can make that work.
My favorite line on “Provincial” is “As I stand before an unresponsive automatic door, just another door that won’t open for me anymore” from “Heart of the continent”. Do you have a favorite line?
I like that one too, actually. That one was hard thought. I struggled with that line trying to figure out what would go there. So I like that line as well. That’s funny.
All the Canadians I’ve met and that I know always laugh at me when I tell them that I would like go to Manitoba and to Winnipeg to see all the places you’ve been singing and writing about so much. They tell me there is nothing to see there, nothing to explore. How do you counter that?
Oh, I would say that there is lots to see. I think it’s a really interesting city, because it’s kind of every city in a way. It’s got it all, it’s got the terrors and greatness of all cities. I think it’s worth visiting, if you feel like coming over, definitely. I mean, I wouldn’t spend like a week there or something, maybe a weekend. And then you could move on to other cities, but it certainly has things going for it.
I read that “Provincial” has been compared to this mood of Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” and his sort of Heartland Rock. Can you relate to that in any way?
I guess so. When I think about “Nebraska” I think about driving. And it seems to me like Springsteen wrote a lot of these songs about driving or after driving or something like that and that’s the same with my record. I think the similarities end there. I mean, “Nebraska” is a masterpiece, it’s not like “Provincial” is.
Your songs are also essentially about different roads…
Exactly. They are about the specific kind of small, focussed places, like Nebraska, and like Manitoba. So yeah, that’s true.
So you prefer being on the road?
No, I don’t. I mean I enjoy it, but I like being at home as well. I like both, I like the balance.
When you were playing in Propagandhi politics was a very obvious issue. In the music of The Weakerthans – at least for me it seems – in a more subliminal way there still are political topics. What roll do politics play in your life today?
It plays a pretty large role in my life. I am a political person and I work at a political publishing house. And I think of my writing as political, but I don’t think my writing really has changed over the last 25 years, since I started writing songs. And I feel like the songs that I wrote with Propagandhi are pretty much the same kind of songs I am writing now. I don’t really think I’ve changed at all.
People discover your music in many different ways. Through Propagandhi, through the German label Grand Hotel van Cleef or through samplers. What was the most curious or fantastic way in which you ever discovered a band’s music?
Geez, I don’t know. That’s a good question (ponders). Well I guess, huh, that’s interesting. I really like this band from Germany called The Notwist. And a fan in Germany, maybe ten years ago, gave me “Neon Golden” I guess right when it came out. And it’s a fantastic record. It’s probably one of my favorite records. That was kind of nice, when things like that happen.
You released your lyrics and poems of the last 15 years in a book and through your own publishing company. How did that come up?
I just thought it would be kind of a nice companion for the record. Just a nice thing to do, with the solo record to have some other kind of little extra thing. That was really the idea behind it. It was fun to produce. I always wanted to have a book.
What would you do if you didn’t play music? Would you be a writer or write for a living?
Probably not. I might be an editor, which is what I also do. I’m not a particularly good prose writer, I’d probably be writing poetry, but probably not full time.
Are there any plans for The Weakerthans yet, or do you guys take it as it comes?
Yeah, we’re going to start making music again in July. We’re going to just practice a little bit and see what happens. I’m looking forward to that, playing with those guys again.
The Grand Hotel van Cleef are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Could you give a short résumé of your relationship with them?
I met Marcus Wiebusch, I guess in 1993, so almost 20 years ago. And when The Weakerthans started I met Thees Uhlmann. And both of them helped us do Weakerthans tours, drove us around in vans and booked tours for us. And we played with Tomte a lot. They’ve just become really good friends and I really love what they do, so that’s why I wanted this record to be on Grand Hotel. Just because I wanted to spend some time with them and work with my friends. That’s kind of why it happened.
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