Alternative Country Artist Corb Lund on Montana, Songwriting and the ‘Vapid’ State of Popular Country Music By Eli Redeker
Corb Lund’s lanky frame seems cramped in the roomy front seat of his Jeep, seeming both at home and foreign. The duality of familiarity and obscurity is not a bad way to describe his music. He is a throwback, a singer more western than country, whose songs often sound timeless. His tunes, like the rocking “Getting’ Down on the Mountain” are simultaneously hilarious and authentic. Lund sings about life in the west, sometimes with his tongue planted in his cheek, sometimes with biting authenticity. Consistently popular Canada (With his band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, he has three gold records, and one number one record in his native country), Lund has more of a cult following in the United States. It is, however, a growing cult. His latest release is his highest ever charting record in America.
You have described your new record, Things That Can’t Be Undone as an attempt to get out of your comfort zone, could you describe the different process that you took recording it?
There was more band input, I think. I just let the producer do whatever he wanted. Which is hard, because I’m kind of a control freak. It was interesting, this is record number eight, so by this point, I’m quite interested in other people’s input. There’s some people that are just a bottomless well of ideas. I run out of ideas sometimes. It’s not that I run out of song ideas, but the arrangements, and instrumentation and that kind of thing. It’s refreshing to have somebody put a soul vibe on a song, or a bluegrass vibe on a song, or a jazzy vibe. That kind of stuff- I can’t think of. I can sit there and play a song on an acoustic and think of ten different ways the song could go. It’s good to have someone provide ideas and suggestions. It’s kind of a philosophical question, too. Some people’s careers are made up of using the same sound over and over. Dwight Yoakam, AC/DC, The Ramones, those guys do that. But then there’s guys like Neil Young that try to do different things all the time. I think I sit somewhere in the middle.
You just mentioned Neil Young, a Canadian artist, you are Canadian. Who influenced you more, Canadian artists or American artists?
It’s random. I never was conscious of where folks were from.
This is your fourth year coming to White Sulphur Springs and the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. What makes this festival so special?
I really like Montana. It is my favorite state. I’m from Alberta- just over the border. I’ve been coming down here my whole life. It’s one of my favorite spots on the world. And I like the vibe of the people here, it’s really fun. Sarah (Calhoun), the woman who runs this whole thing is a good friend. She does a great job with things and treats us really well. Montana has really embraced us the past six or eight years. We’ve even started a festival in Western Montana, in Eureka. I get advice from Sarah about putting that on. It’s called Down from the Mountain, we’re in our second year. It takes place on August 19-20.
Hayes Carll is also returning to Red Ants Pants this year; you both collaborated on the song “Bible on the Dash”. Could you describe your relationship with Hayes?
We met about ten years ago, in Manitoba at a festival. We kind of run in the same circles. But we don’t see as much of each other anymore. We’re all so busy. But we’re old buddies. We’ve done a lot of touring together. He’s been really good to us in the states. He takes us on tour to the states and we take him up to Canada. It’s a good tradeoff, we’ve got a pretty big audience up there. Hayes has taken us out lots, it’s been great. That song, Bible on the Dash, I had the chorus and a verse of that song for about for years, and it just wasn’t going anywhere. And Hayes was like, you should do this. And then we finished it in an evening. The music video cost eighty bucks to make.
Four years is a long time to wait for a song to develop. Could you talk a bit about your songwriting process?
It doesn’t always take that long, but for me it takes a while. Not years, usually, but sometimes it does take that long. I don’t get too many really quick, it’s just something I chip away every day. Sometimes, rarely, I’ll get one instantly, it’s pretty random.
Is it true that you are a sixth generation rancher?
I don’t ranch, personally. But my family has been ranching forever and ever. They come from Utah and Nevada originally. My family moved north to Alberta at the turn of the twentieth century, and have been raising cattle ever since.
What do you think it is about ranching, and western life that lends itself to songwriting?
The west does add its own flavor to music. People love western issues, wide open spaces, and cattle and stuff like that. The music I like the most is Marty Robbins, old trail ballads, stuff like that. That’s what I grew up with. There’s a big difference between Country Music and Western Music. Country music came out of Appalachia. Western Music came out of the open plains.
With regard to the popular modern variation of country music, do you consider yourself an outsider?
I don’t associate with that much. I don’t know much about it. It’s not my thing. Corporate music has a different goal. Those people are trying to make money. Hayes and I are trying to express ourselves. Ideally, we make money expressing ourselves. It’s about stuff we care about. But it’s a different angle with the corporate scene. We cross paths with that world, sometimes somebody will ask us to open for them, and that kind of stuff. But I don’t really follow it or keep track of it. I just let them do their thing, and I generally ignore it. The stuff on the radio is formulated to sell records rather than express emotion. It’s the same with rock music. To get to the good stuff, you have to dig around under the surface. The stuff on the radio is often kinda vapid. In music the cool stuff is often bubbling under the surface.
You can find more Corb Lund by checking out his Twitter.