Stephen Carroll, with John K. Samson in the backgroundAccording to The Weakerthans’ lead guitarist, Stephen Carroll, it’s what great writing is all about. It’s undeniable, The Weakerthans’ songs are distinctly Canadian. But in a recent phone conversation, I asked Carroll whether he thought non-Canadians could relate to songs about curling, hockey, and sasquatches, and he came up with a quotable gem to help me get my article off the ground: “The topics are specific, but the themes are universal”.
With four years spanning since the band’s last album, it’s been a long wait for The Weakerthans fans. At last, the band has released Reunion Tour, their fourth album in 10 years. In this day of instant gratification and short-term attention spans, it’s a wonder they’ve managed to keep the hype going all this time. “We don’t care about hype”, Carroll declares emphatically. I’m led to believe it must be all about quality, not quantity. Yet, he admits members of the band experienced periods of anxiousness about the record as they waited for their lyricist John K. Samson to craft his poetic offerings. “He is There is a philosophy rather than a message present in all of John's writing. We are politically aware persons and we act on our beliefs meticulous about his work”, Carroll explains realizing that things take time for a reason and when moments of genius like “Tournament of Hearts” are the product of a long wait, he and his band mates know that perhaps patience is their best virtue.
Canadiana, of course, is part of The Weakerthans’ identity. According to founding member, Carroll, it’s inadvertent and not necessarily intentional. Samson writes stories that are innate; they are naturally about his country, his Manitoba, and his hometown. Carroll explains that while “Tournament of Hearts” may literally be a song about curling, it really is more about pangs of longing. And really, Carroll asks me “who can’t relate to that experience?” Citing another example, “Bigfoot!” is a song about confusion: “Those are feelings. People relate to them”. As for the Canadian content, Carroll is convinced that their fans from abroad may find it curious, but it draws them in. As any Weakerthans fan knows, once you’re in, you’re in it for the long term.
As with previous discs, Reunion Tour, is rich in character exploration, metaphors and regional landscapes. But the music is light, catchy and pleasant. It’s this dichotomy that makes The Weakerthans reachable and palpable, rather than presumptuous or intimidating. Carroll admits that this contrast of complex lyrics and light hearted melodies is not inadvertent. Longtime friends, Carroll and Samson were weaned on bands like Jawbreaker, Billy Bragg and Bob Dylan. Lyrics mattered to them to the Carroll is convinced that their fans from abroad may find it curious, but it draws them in extent that the pair drew up a makeshift manifesto, years ago, to ensure that lyrics and poetry would always be fundamental to their work.
When I ask about any overarching messages The Weakerthans wish to convey, Carroll says “there is a philosophy rather than a message present in all of John’s writing. And it’s how we conduct our business. We are politically aware persons and we act on our beliefs. Our youths were formed in an activist culture in Winnipeg. Now the band is the most powerful thing we wield and it connects us, to some extent, with punk culture and leftist politics”. Beyond that, over the course of our conversation it has become quite clear to me that all four members of the band have a mutual respect for each other and operate on the same wavelength.
Almost a member of The Weakerthans in his own right, is Ian Blurton (C’Mon) who has returned to produce Reunion Tour. “His was only one name that came to mind when it came time to produce”, Carroll acknowledges. “He’s full of creative ideas and brings a special energy to the record. Coming in with fresh ears after some songs had been kicking around for a few years was crucial to us successfully completing the album”.
The Wearkerthans have been touring extensively across North America in support of their new disc and have asked Ottawa’s Jim Bryson to join them to help flesh out their live sound on guitar and backing vocals. They’ll be in Europe through much of November and December and returning to their home town of Winnipeg on December 22nd. Check out their website for more details: www.theweakerthans.org.