After waiting outside the Bottom Lounge for the better part of an hour, I was afraid that this interview wasn't going to happen. I had waited two years to meet one of my lyrical heroes, only for the chance to disappear like a lost tour van in the winding backstreets of Chicago. A real bummer, if you will. But as I approached the depths of my despair, someone poked their head out the venue door and said, "Steve?" I turned and saw the much-lauded John K. Samson, lead singer of The Weakerthans, standing in the doorway.
John took a few minutes out of his soundcheck to talk to about The Weakerthans' new album, Reconstruction Site.
How's the tour going?
It's been going well. We've been out with a band called the Constantines all through the United States and another band called Roy, and they're both full of fantastic people. It's been good times and bad times, all those sorts of things that touring generally brings.
How did it feel to record your new album, Reconstruction Site, as opposed to the other two records?
I think it was sort of a more collaborative effort in a way, more cohesive. The process was really long -- we did a lot more preproduction on this one than we did on the last one. Other than that, no, not entirely different. All records are pretty much the same and yet utterly different. It's different every time you wander in to try and make something exist in the world.
You talked about how there was more preproduction than on previous albums, which is something I noticed while listening. The album had an overall cleaner, more layered sound. What made you guys desire that degree of production?
I don't know. We made the record exactly the way we've always made our records with the exception of the mix, I suppose, which was done by Adam Kasper, who I really admire. Perhaps the songs lent themselves best to the production that's on this record. It's my favorite sounding record that we've made, certainly.
Some people seem to think when they hear more production on a record, "Oh, this might be selling out." I guess it's a reaction to a Sum41 sort of thing. How do you feel about that notion?
I think that's a... [pause]...that's a stupid opinion. I can safely say that's kind of stupid. I think willfully under-producing your records is more selling out than actually trying to make the best record you possibly can. I think a lot of people willfully make their record sound lo-fi, in order to access some imaginary market for that kind of music. I've never thought of bands that make the best sounding records as selling out. I think it's the band's actions outside the recording process that makes them sellouts.
Since you said this album was a more collaborative effort, what was your songwriting structure?
It's different every time -- there's no formula for it. I don't really know...that's kind of the thrill of how to make something.
Going along with that: do you write all the lyrics or do the other guys have any say?
I do...they don't. [laughs] It's my little fiefdom.
On Reconstruction Site, what do you feel are the major themes?
I think the general theme, to me, is one of redemption. I also think it's one of utility -- working with the materials at hand to invent a life that makes sense and works.
A lot of publications have had a hard time describing your music. What influenced you all when you were growing up or starting to write music?
We all came out of the pop punk scene of the early 90s, so that's a huge influence -- bands that came before and after us that are in that vein. We also listen to lots of stuff, play with different people, and come from interesting places that have interesting musicians. I think we're most influenced by the people that are directly around us.
You guys are from Winnipeg, and that city showed up on the song "One Great City!" How has Winnipeg affected you?
It's a huge influence for me. It's a giant metaphor for me, it's the place that I'm from and the place that I write about and I'm always going to be doing that -- coming to terms with the fact that I'll never really figure it out and that I want to.
Is "One Great City!" really as bitter as it seems? I mean, the chorus ends with "I hate Winnipeg."
I think it's more an anti-boosterism song, an anti-blind loyalty to anything song. I still live there, so that certainly proves something.
One song that really intrigues me is "(Hospital Vespers)" because of how different it is from pretty much everything you've done. What influenced that song and made you decide to differ from the usual sound?
It's the same song as the first and the last song structurally and musically, so those three songs are linked together and we spent a lot of time making all three of them quite different and just kind of experimenting. The song directly before that is called "Time's Arrow," a song about time moving backwards in a way, so we wanted the next song to be physically backwards. So we learned how to play it backwards then we flipped the tape around and I sang on top of that.
Between the Watermark EP and Reconstruction Site, the band switched over to Epitaph Records from Hopeless/Sub City. What influenced your decision to make that change?
It wasn't really a planned decision; it was that our contract was up with our labels, so we decided to look around to find someone else to work with. We happened upon Epitaph and they've been great. I always have to stress that we're still working with the other labels, that they still putout the records that we already have out with them and our relationship with them is still very important to us.
What's coming up for The Weakerthans aside from touring for awhile?
Touring forever! [laughs] I think after Christmas we'll take a little bit of time to recuperate from being out in the world. We'll try and move forward and see what happens; start writing again. I'm anxious to start that.
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