Aug. 08, 2012 - Issue #877: Corb Your Enthusiasm
The modern cowboy ideal
Corb Lund lets his rural roots mesh with his punk-rock soul on Cabin Fever
Thu, Aug 9 – Sun, Aug 12
Edmonton Folk Music Festival
Featuring Corb Lund, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and more
'Every decade that goes by, western culture gets more and more away from its origins. People were saying in 1910 that the West was finished, that the West was closed up and fenced off and done. So I mean, it's been a steady state of, in terms of it being full-on, wide-open range, cowboy lifestyle that's been done for 100 years. Right?"
Corb Lund would know far better than I: once a punk-rocker with local misfits the Smalls but long turned to country songs, the guy has a family tree stretching deep into rancher history—back to turn-of-the-century Alberta, then for generations before that down in Utah area, too. Lund's own take on the western esthetic draws on that familiarity, the touchstones he's come by honestly. But then, the lessons of punk rock still factor in: the man blazes his own trail, one that's far from dusty, a modern cowboy songwriter just as aware of the city life as of that on the range. Lund embraces his heritage, but without ignoring the modern world he sees around him, unlike some purveyors of the genre.
"To me, a lot of it's pretty hokey, 'cause a lot of those guys, they try to freeze-dry it, kind of like bluegrass does: there's a lot of rehashed, chasing-the-cattle-down-the-dusty-trail kind of songs," Lund says. "And that doesn't really interest me anymore. I mean, my grandpa was singing those songs when I was a kid, and they were old then. I don't think that needs to be done much more. What I like to do is write songs about what it's like to be from a cowboy heritage, and having grown up in a very western cattle culture setting, and write about what it feels to be that guy in 2012, right? When faced with modernity."
Lund is calling while en route to the airport; he's on his way to the London Olympics to perform across the pond, and after that, he's back to headline the Edmonton Folk Music Festival— "Pretty fucking stoked" about that one, he notes. It's all keeping with the busy pace he's set himself this summer: Lund recently sold out a string of Calgary Stampede shows with Ian Tyson, entitled 100 Years of Calgary Cowboys.
"I wanted to call it Broncs, Ballads and Bullshit," he laughs. "I thought that'd be a better title, but I got outvoted."
His pace marks something of a re-emergence for Lund: he's coming off of a three-year gap between albums with the upcoming release of Cabin Fever. It's Lund's seventh album, and finds him letting those questions of modern rural living rise up in its songs: the lead single, "Gettin' Down on the Mountain"—the video of which features a beardy Lund living off the land, lumberjack style—puts forth questions of modern survivalism in the lyrics. "When the oil stops, everything stops," Corb taunts, an audible grin perched under his ten-gallon. "Can you track a deer? Can you dig a well? I couldn't quite hear your answer."
The rest of Fever runs a lively gamut, from the suicide ballad "The One Left in the Chamber" to the sharp, funny "Bible on the Dash." From antique guns to Goth girls, from the merits of having cows around to the virtues of the gravedigger profession: backed by the usual Hurtin' Albertans (bassist Kurt Ciesla, Grant Siemens on guitar and drummer Brady Valgardson) Lund's crafed a clever, modern ode to the current cowboy climate.
"We decided early on, or I decided, that I wanted just a really casual record, and so instead of doing it in the States, we did it at Scott [Franchuk]'s place. We were at Riverdale Recorders, and that was kind of significant: we've all crashed there at various times. I lived there for a few weeks. We've spent tons of time there, and Scott's our soundman live. So it's like the most comfortable possible studio we could be in. And we didn't use any clicktracks, and there's hardly any overdubbing. All the vocals are live. I dunno, when you've got a band like the four of us, who've played thousands of shows together ... it's like you lose something if you track stuff."
"We got pretty drunk too," he adds. "Not completely hammered, but I tried to make it loose and causal. The idea was to have a party, and have a record come out of it as a byproduct."
The cabin fever of the title set in at Lund's own loghouse, an hour out of town on the Pembina River. Lund build the cabin with his uncle and his then-girlfriend, so it's a special place, though one that's shifted in tone: since its construction, Lund's relationship crumbled and his uncle passed away.
"It's been a pretty rough few years: I ended up spending a lot of time out there, ruminating on things," Lund says. When he wasn't there, he drifted: living in Vegas for a few months "playing cards," a couple more spent down in Austin, a stint to New York.
"So I've been sort of drifting around, and then in between I've been holed up in the cabin," He says. "My life's been kind of fucked up, so it's been a weird journey. But the record turned out pretty well," he says, the latter sentence adding a certain nonchalance. "I'm happy about that."
It's been seven albums since the Smalls, but his early days as a punk rocker glint out from Cabin Fever's edges, its influence giving the album some subtle but true grit. It's the balance of both of those worlds that give Lund's songwriting, on Fever and the other six albums, its particular potential.
"I feel very in tune and very in touch literally with the stories of the old west and all that stuff. That's half my life; the other half is punk rock and metal," he laughs, "and I feel a kinship with that kinda stuff.
"I think that's what makes my music what it is," Lund adds. "If there's a uniqueness to my writing I think that's where it comes from. It comes from spending the first half of my life chasing cows and riding horses and all that, and the second half of my life in the Smalls, right? I think those two things combined give me a bit of a freaky outlook on country writing."
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