The Weakerthans Interview - Stephen Carroll | ThePunkSite.com
|Band: The Weakerthans
||Member: Stephen Carroll
|Label: Anti- Records
||Location: Winspear Centre - Edmonton,
|Date: April 23rd, 2009
||Interviewer: Bobby Gorman
For some reason or another I've never been able to see The Weakerthans live.
Despite playing here numerous times over the past five years, there's always
been something has gotten in the way of me seeing them. Not this time though.
This time I was going to see them, and I finally did. PLaying to an almost
sold out crowd at the fabulous Winspear Centre, The
Weakerthans wowed the crowd and captured most of it on film for an
upcoming DVD. But before they did all of that, I sat down with guitarist Stephen
Carroll to discus the tour in question, the aforementioned DVD, and their enviromental
footprint. Read on and enjoy...
Starting with the basics, you guys are almost a month into this Rolling Tundra
Revue, how’s that going so far?
Stephen: It’s been really fun. This is our eighth province. Sorry, no,
ninth province and we have one more to go and one territory until it’s
concluded. So we’ve had quite a journey. Lots of fun, lots of shows and
we’re playing a beautiful theatre. It’s great.
Bobby: Yeah, it’ll be really good sound here too tonight. The
sound here is amazing. Has there been any really memorable moments from the
*Someone walks into the room looking for something*
Stephen: This is pretty memorable. This guy coming in and interrupting my
interview. What do you need?
Interrupter: Oh, I’m sorry. *and leaves, Stephen gets up and removes
the door block so the door closes completely*
Stephen: *looking around* What was he hoping to find in here? Well it started
pretty memorably. The Constantines keyboard player fell off the stage backwards
into a kind of crevasse and gave himself a concussion.
Stephen: And we’ve had lots of fun, lots of good shows. The concerts
sort of blur together but we had two nights in Winnipeg, that was great. Our
hometown, a beautiful theatre. I think one of my favorite shows was in Sackville.
It was in a tiny roadhouse for only two hundred people, it was great.
Bobby: You said you had a good time in Winnipeg, I read that you guys hosted
after parties at the Lo Pub after both of those shows. How were they and do
you often host after parties in your hometown?
Stephen: Yeah, we always try and do something fun. Last time we played in
Winnipeg we played at the same theatre we played in this time – the Burton
Cummings Theatre – and after the show we did a secret show at the Albert.
So we walked off the stage at the Burton, had like an hour to ourselves and
went on stage at the Albert. It was just stripped down gear and we played at
*Someone knocks on the door, Stephen answers it and no one’s there.*
Stephen: Nobody has come here before.
Bobby: This tour was split up kind of odd. It had a two week break from April
4th to the 17th, before Western Canada. Why did you have it set up that way?
Stephen: It was the way it was convenient. We were able to take a little bit
of a break and rest and get organized for the West. We did that on purpose.
Bobby: This is the second time you guys have used the moniker The Rolling
Tundra Revue having used the same moniker when you toured with the Constantines
in 2005. Why did you decide to use it again and will it become a tradition
for you two?
Stephen: I think that, yes, by doing it a second time it made it a tradition.
That was fun. And why did we do it again? Because I think it takes a brotherly
spirit and a sense of adventure and mutual admiration for something like this,
at this scope, to succeed. Twenty-seven shows in a fairly short period of time
for a type of tour at this level. That’s why we chose to do it again.
Bobby: On this tour you said you were going to try and lower your
environmental impact, particularly your bus and your lighting. You didn’t
go into very many specifics, so what have you been doing to diminish your
footprint on this tour?
Stephen: Well, there’s basically three different things that we attempted
to address. Internally, we looked at what we can do within our group. Our rider,
how much waste we generate, and how we behave on tour. So we tried to eliminate
anything that was disposable. We tried to reduce the amount of products just
being used. We got rid of bottled water, changed to a different system which
has made a big difference. It’s been really striking how much less. That’s
just sort of led to a whole bunch of other steps. We changed the rider, I mean
we’ve been doing this for years, but we changed the rider so there’s
no disposable goods on the rider. So we have glasses because promoters will
often give you plastic cups. Why? You can wash them and use them again, go
forward like that. We made organic merch. Our t-shirts are organic and North
And then we thought about what the fans could contribute. We did the calculations
and there’s about twenty-two thousand people out there who come to the
show over the course of the whole tour. And if you consider that they all do
one kilometer of travel in a car, that is a phenomenal amount of carbon emissions
that are created by the audience themselves coming to our concert. So we made
an incentive for them to try and find alternative transportation. So we’re
giving away buttons at the shows if you come up and show them some sort of
alternative transportation you get a button.
We’ve also been pushing the venues to participate and having them either
recycle all the waste, or promote these things or compost or whatever. We try
to do these things, it hasn’t been very successful. But sometimes it
work. It doesn’t work if you don’t try.
Lastly for these shows, and for BC, we have managed to successfully buy carbon
offsets through an alternative electricity company. *Someone else knocks on
the door* What the fuck? *He gets up and answers the door.* I’m doing
Guy behind the door: Oh, I didn’t know.
Stephen: Sorry, you’re like the hundred thousandth person to knock on
the door. Nobody’s come in here all day.
Guy behind the door: Okay, I’ll come back for it.
Stephen: Yeah, alright.
Guy behind the door: Sorry I didn’t know.
Stephen: That’s alright. *Closes the door and comes back to the table*
Bobby: It’s all quiet and then everything always happens at
once. It always happens that way.
Stephen: Anyways, we bought alternative, environmentally low impact electricity
to power up the venues for the BC and Alberta shows. Bull Frog Power. So that
was a lot but that’s what we’re doing.
So like everything. Electricity, merch, waste and we bought carbon offsets
for our flights. Earlier when they had earth hour, that day we got the venue
to turn off all the electricity, turned off all our buses for an hour. It was
actually very nice. Very still.
Bobby: Nice and quiet.
Stephen: Yeah, it was really quiet. A good vibe.
Bobby: And like you said, even if some of the venues didn’t actually
do it you have to at least try. If you don’t at least try, it’ll
Stephen: Yeah and some were participating already and do stuff on their own
and some were not and didn’t do anything.
Bobby: You also said that you were encouraging your fans too, that
if they brought a bus stub, bike helmet, something like that and they’d
get a free pin. Have you noticed that a lot of fans have been trying to do
Stephen: Yeah, yeah. I think most people kind of come up to the merch table
and they want to buy the pin. We’re like “well, you can only get
that pin if you came here on a sustainable mode of transportation.” Then
they’re like “we walked!” I saw a couple say that the other
day, and I’m like “there you go. Here’s your pin, good job.”
Bobby: You also started a Rolling Tundra Revue book club where you
were encouraging people to read Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I didn’t
have a chance to read it but have you ran into many fans who have read it?
Stephen: I haven’t yet. It just went up. I’m not actually in the
book club. John and a bunch of the other guys are in the book club.
Bobby: Do you know why they decided to start the book club?
Stephen: For fun.
Bobby: You guys are doing a blog for the tour on Exclaim. When you
had a day off in Montreal, you listed what you did throughout the entire
day. There was
one line that really stuck out, it was “filmed a scene for a movie with
the Plains of Abraham in the background.” Can you explain that? What
movie were you filming?
Stephen: We’re making a tour movie about our experiences on the road
and a live film and live concert DVD. So it’s a documentary about the
tour and we’re going to have a live album made from it. It’ll be
kind of a live film so we were doing scenes for that. And they’re filming
Bobby: Do you know when this will be coming out?
Stephen: Probably late in the year or early next year.
Bobby: Probably through Anti- again?
Bobby: Nice. One thing that has always fascinated me about you guys
is how incredibly versatile you are. Over the past few years, just in Edmonton
you have played at the Starlite Room, The Myer Horowitz Theatre, The Edmonton
Folk Festival and now today, at the Winspear Centre – which are four
vastly different venues. Do you treat each show the same or do you kinda of
take into account the different venues when you approach the show?
Stephen: Well I think we are very versatile. We think that about ourselves.
We love all sorts of music and like to play different kinds of music and we
really have grown up without a kind of archetype for what we’re doing.
Just following our noses and that has led us down this trail to be able to
play different venues and have different experiences. And we’re also
really making a conscious effort to try and do new things differently for ourselves,
for our own little experience. Tonight will be totally different. Tonight we’ll
probably go with the slow songs because those are the ones that will sound
the best, the quiet ones rather than the rock songs which sound better in a
Bobby: Even with…
*someone tries to open the door, sees that its locked and goes away.*
Stephen: It’s insane.
Bobby: If you look at the different venues you have played – the more
underground at the Starlite Room, the big folk fest and tonight at a concert
hall – it kind of shows how you guys can cross the genre barriers and
generation gaps. Like my friends and I really like you guys, my dad and his
friends like you guys; some of his friends are coming tonight. So you’re
able to cross not only the genre barrier but the generation barrier. Why do
you think your music is able to reach so many people on such a large scale?
Stephen: Well, you know I think what we’ve been trying to do is really
a simple thing all along. We’re just trying to write good songs that
we’ve tried our darnest to make good. We follow and make music that we
think is interesting and through that has occurred this happenstance where
we have all these sort of styles that sort of appeals to people with all sorts
of different tastes. People who love some songs are going to find some aspect
of each of our songs to enjoy and I think that really helps to transcend generation
barriers that maybe occur for other bands. I think that some youth maybe really
enjoy it because they see us as people who have gone forward and are still
connected to their ideals and are trying to live up those ideas. You really
see that and I think they enjoy that experience. I think the adults like that
fact as well. We’ve come to this place, we’ve tried to stick true
to our ideals as far as we can and we’re a rock band. We play rock shows
and that’s something everybody really likes.
Bobby: One thing I want to touch on is the mass amount of critical acclaim
you guys have received, particularly with Reunion Tour. You guys won Band of
the Year at the inaugural Verge Music Awards, the song Night Windows won the
Echo Song Writing Award and you guys were on the short list for the Polaris
Prize. What was your reaction when you heard about all these accolades and
did any of that any of that even remotely cross you mind when you were writing
Stephen: The accolades came much late. We’re never fortunate enough
to know what we’re doing until it’s done. It’s up to other
people whether they like it or not. We’re just four guys and we basically
make songs based on consensus. So it’s just sort of happenstance and
for us, when we got those award nominations last year, it was just nice to
have acknowledgments. Really, it’s just more media attention which is
great. The whole process I enjoy, not for the act of winning but for the media
exposure and sometimes just for the community. Getting together with people
that you haven’t seen very often in a different way and just hanging
out, there’s no pressure. It can be fun.
Bobby: Back in June of last year, the Canadian Minister of Industry
Jim Prentice introduced a new copyright bill in Canada called Bill C-61.
All the legalese
is a bit over my head but basically it makes it easier for big corporations
to sue people and makes it illegal to break digital locks so you can’t
make copies of your own music to put on iPods and stuff like that. John and
a bunch of other bands joined together to create the Canadian Music Creators
Coalition. Do you know how that came about?
Stephen: I think we were approached by Stephen Page who was steering that
project. John signed us up for that. I, myself, actually didn’t know
too much about the bill itself. I can’t really comment, it’s sort
of not my department. It came through John and Stephen Page who organized that
issue. Digital rights for music are a complex being. Digital formats are fantastic
for distribution of music and access but at the same they’re very compromising
for control for the artist and the industry. I respect the fact that the industry
is trying to find some way of garnering an income for themselves and the artists.
I respect that but maybe that wasn’t the best model.
Bobby: Yeah, that was one of the big things that the Canadian Music
Creators Coalition was saying. They were saying that basically what they
did was just
copy the United States platform whereas the Canadian government should have
created a new copyright bill that wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the
United States. They needed to get together with all the stakeholders – bands,
labels, everyone – and create one that would suit all parties. Do you
think they could have handled it in a better way instead of just copying the
Stephen: Well I think that the garnering of more widespread and clearer information
campaign on the artist side and the Coalition side would have really helped
their cause. I didn’t quite understand what the point was. It wasn’t
clearly explained. Me, as a person that was reading the e-mails, I didn’t
quite really understand their platform and the ins and outs and why things
were bad. I think perhaps in the future it will probably be re-addressed once
again. *Music starts playing in the background through a speaker* What is that?
Oh, it’s this thing. *He gets up and turns off the house speakers*.
Bobby: Doors are open now, they’re probably playing music through
the speakers. All of your albums, all you lyrical contents have a staunchly
feel to them. You have lots of references to Winnipeg, streets in Winnipeg
and stuff like that; but you also have references to Gump Worsely and the Scottish
Tournament of Hearts. Do you think its important to show this Canadian side
in your music?
Stephen: Me, personally, yes, I think it’s really great to embrace your
culture and cherish it and bring light to it and play with it and play on its
faults. I think we’re so self-deprecating, so self-effacing and so shoe-gazing
in a lot of ways about our culture here, it’s great to poke fun at that,
about the small things that sort of make us quirky. Bring it to the light and
try to explain it to the greater population of the world.
Bobby: On top of the Canadiana aspect of you lyrics, you also have
very insightful and intelligent lyrics. You have references to paintings
by Edward Hopper on
your new album, you have references to Karl Marx’s economic theories,
you have references to explorer Ernest Shackleton and writer Jack Derrida in
some of your older songs. Why did you decide to go for the more intellectual
and insightful lyrics?
Stephen: Well I think John is a very literate person and he’s very inspired
by novels and philosophy and political writings as well as all sorts of curiosity
writings. Just writing in general I’ll say is one of his most cherished
things. The way he writes songs is a way of combining his love of the written
word and his love of songs and song writing and rock and roll and performance.
Bobby: I was reading an interview that you did right after Left and Leaving
came out back in 2000. You were saying that John is a very shy and reserved
person and was not always the most comfortable being the front man of a rock
Stephen: Yeah, for sure.
Bobby: Over the nine years has he gotten over it?
Stephen: *laughing* No. *laughs* Nah, he has. He has. I think that we’ve
gotten better at what we’re doing which makes it easier for him to do
what he does. I think playing these kind of shows are really about the singer
and uniting people. The voice and the acoustic instrument. All the guitars
get turned down. It does help give him a place that’s more comfortable
where he doesn’t have to yell over the band.
Bobby: Two years ago you guys were the backing band for Greg Graffin’s
Cold as Clay album. How did that come about?
Stephen: It came through our record label executive for Epitaph, Brett Gurewitz.
He put it together. He was producing the record, he’s a big fan so he
called us up. It was great. It was one of my favorite experiences of my musical
career. Just going down, four days, scrap, pulling it together and three days
later we have his record and we flew home.
Bobby: It’s such a good record too. His voice with that mellow
music really works well.
Stephen: Some of my favorite guitar playing I have ever done is on that record.
The way his songs were structured were really about the guitar. Really guitar
music, really friendly. Like the chordal structure the way John writes and
we write are very tight and really hard to find any space whereas his were
just traditional country chords or blue-grass. Very fun.
Bobby: I guess that’s about it, thanks a lot. Do you have any final
thoughts you’d like to add?
Stephen: No. I’m sorry for all the interruptions.
Bobby: No worries.
Stephen: There’s going to be so many “knock-knocks” in your