By Jonah Bayer
Having a conversation with the Weakerthans' John Samson about his band's music is like talking to a really cool college professor about education. You understand most of what he or she is saying, but you also find yourself nodding a lot and pretending you know what they're talking about so you don't look like a moron.
For instance, bet you didn't know that the Weakerthans' new album Reconstruction Site is modeled after an Elizabethan sonnet (nod). Or that the song "Time's Arrow" is actually a musical palindrome (cue to feign agreement).
Luckily, you don't need a doctorate to realize Reconstruction Site is a truly unique album that bridges rock, punk and country while retaining the subversive politics that made Samson's old band, Propagandhi, so influential.
But while the fact that Propagandhi screamed lines like "Meat is still murder, dairy is still rape!" over blistering power chords, and the Weakerthans croon "I'm a float in a summer parade" over a bed of steel guitar, may shock skeptics, to Samson, it's a logical progression.
"People always talk about the differences between the Weakerthans and Propagandhi; they rarely talk about the similarities," he explains. "The hallmark of a Propagandhi song is the choruses don't usually repeat, and it's kind of the same in our band. And the politics are obviously quite similar between the two --- this is just the way I've always tried to express politics. It's cliché to say the personal, but I would say more through the details of everyday life."
And Samson's grasp on those details is what makes his writing so captivating. From assuming the point of view of a senile Antarctic explorer ("Our Retired Explorer [Dines With Michel Foucault in Paris 1961]") to a middle-aged Elks club member ("Psalm For the Elks Lodge Last Call"), Samson brings a sense of humanity, and humility, to his characters that's as interesting as the music their stories are told through.
But just because the band is now on Epitaph Records --- the same label that birthed the Offspring and Bad Religion --- don't plan on seeing the Weakerthans on an anarchist edition of TRL anytime soon.
"We don't have to do anything we don't want to, so we're not going to be on Conan O'Brien and we're not going to be on the Warped Tour," Samson explains when pressed on his label obligations.
"But you also have to take these situations as they arise," he adds. "My line has always been, 'Ninety percent of being involved in the music industry is incredibly embarrassing.'"