Julian Warme from The Johnstones got the best birthday present ever from me this year: An interview with John K. Sampson, lead singer/guitarist of The Weakerthans. He fought with the stupid fucking TTC and LRT to make it to their show at The Legendary Red Dog (love that place, thank you to Mike Stone for being superbadass and the best bar owner ever!) Peterborough just in time to sit down with John and chat before their wicked performance!
J: How was your journey to Peterborough?
JKS: It was fine, I left Winnipeg this morning and here I am now!
J: Awesome, we actually drove past your bus on the way here
JKS: Oh really…
J: Kinda noticed you were a bit late, Steve said you were running behind schedule..
JKS: A little bit, yeah it wasn't too bad though we got off the plane and got on the bus…it's been fairly smooth so far.. it certainly hasn't been hard so far.
J: How's Winnipeg right now?
JKS: Nice, it's beautiful actually. Everything's growing and sunny, generally. A bit too hot but probably not as hot as here.
J: It's been killer here, some days like 36 before the humidity.
JKS: That's disgusting, I can't deal with that.
J: So, why'd you guys release a live album?
JKS: I'm not sure, I guess we kind of thought it would be a nice kind of photo of us as we are right now, and we were doing a big tour across Canada with the Constantines and um kind of felt like, it was right in the middle of it when we recorded it, so we kind of felt like we were in a good place, the songs were all together and working the way they were supposed to.
J: Right on, now was the live DVD the idea from the get go? Like as well as an album or was that kind of like a random?
JKS: It was kind of like a random because our friend Caelum Vatnsdal was shooting a documentary of the whole trip across Canada which came out as a movie which is a little confusing but..
J: What's the name of that by the way?
JKS: It's called We are the Weakerthans. We are from Winnipeg.
JKS: He got extra people on task for those Winnipeg nights so we just though 'hey they're all these people and all these cameras and we're making a live record anyway'… and it's one of those things where you say oh that will be easy and it's actually not
J: It was probably a huge pain!
JKS: Yeah it was a huge pain. But I'm kind of glad because i think it's a kind of nice document of those things.
J: It turned out really well. Sounds great, looks great!
JKS: Yeah I think so too, it was our sound guy Tim who's been with us from the start so it was kind of nice to work with him on a project you know?
J: Well I guess that answered my next question because I was going to ask if you guys rehearsed any differently preparing for the live record and live dvd.
JKS: Well I guess the different thing about it was we had some extra players because we were in Winnipeg and we could, but other than that it was pretty much a regular thing.
J: Now I can keep this off the record or you can lie to me all you want but did you guys do any redubs?
JKS: Yeah a few, not that many, because there a few things where it was like ohhh that has to go. And also, the um also the kind of reality of certain moments where you're playing, you're a live band on stage and it sounds… there's instruments going into vocal mic's and you're going to have to clean a little bit of that up. But hopefully there wasn't too much! There was certainly no pitch correcting. I don't think so, you can still hear my…. well it's certainly not exact!
People always ask me why they take out all the banter and it's because there was no banter. I was kind of nervous about that I was like oh maybe we should put in some banter.
J: Well it's just like, take a sip of wine and smile "Thing song's called".. yeah!
JKS: Haha, yeah, but I was thinking maybe if we were going to really do, like fully do - fully rerecord everything like they did in the old days, like rerecord just how the crowd sounds and I'd write some banter really clever, create this show that never happened. If we ever do one again that's what we'll do.
J: As for new material that you guys are doing, I did a bunch of research and it seems like every interview you guys have ever done you say you don't have a standard timeline where it's like a record every year, a record every two years… I noticed Gregg is coming out with a solo record?
JKS: Yeah it came out already! It just came out.
J: And you have two I believe?
JKS: Yeah, I had a 7" come out late last year and I have another one coming out in September.. and another one in the New Year.
JKS: Yeah we're all doing different things, that's kind of the focus now but we just kind of do these little trips to stay in shape and hang out a bit.
J: Yeah you're not really here supporting anything, this isn't that kind of tour since your live album was your last one and how do you tour for that!?
JKS: Yeah you don't really tour for a live album, I don't think you should.. well maybe you should… some people do but touring for a live record seems kind of weird to me.
J: Come see us live, and if you liked it, BUY it!
JKS: I know, it's weird. So no, I wouldn't call this a tour… it's really just a, a lark… it's for fun!
J: So no rehearsing new material now, nothing in the get go?
JKS: No we're not no, since we're all just doing other stuff so… Well we started kind of peeling the corner off of some ideas of some ideas that we've got, put some music together that we're working on for sure, but nothing that we'll be playing any time soon though. But yeah, we're enjoying that for sure.
J: Now are you a part of, I read that they're helping Jim Bryson with his new record, are you recording on it as well?
JKS: Yeah yeah, we finished that and it will come out in the fall. I was on that too.
J: Were you a part of Gregg Graffin's record as well?
JKS: I wasn't on that one, no!
J: How'd that all come about?
JKS: I'm not sure actually, because I wasn't in on it….I was doing other stuff that winter and those guys all just went up to LA and did it, it sounded like fun!
J: It's pretty cool being Canadian boys, you guys tend to stick around Canada a lot.. How is it fighting for a living in, at least statistically speaking, such a small market?
JKS: Well we go up to US and Europe once a year too but um, it's not so bad, we've been really lucky so I think we fluked into being able to make our livings doing this. It does require some travel but it's something we all enjoy doing so yeah, I think um yeah I'm not sure how it is for other people these days, I know it's hard all over, but um we are doing okay! We get by!
J: Good! Now how's your past life in Propaghandi haunt you? I bet it gets really old really fast hearing everyone yell "PLAY NATION STATES"!
JKS: I don't hear that one very often haha!
J: I think in Toronto when I saw you guys last someone was yelling play that! Do you have any particular stories about that, funny stories or awkward?
JKS: No I don't, I don't know those guys at all anymore, that was like 15 years ago that I was in that band and I haven't heard any of their new records.. I don't remember the songs that I played on and it's really just a dim dim memory for me, my only connection with it now is people asking me about it so it's kind of, it's only awkward in the sense that I really don't have anything to say about it, I have nothing… but it's kind of interesting that it keeps coming up! It's certainly a part of my life, but I think in my life if I were talking about things that happened fifteen twenty years ago there are so many things that are more important to me than playing in Propaghandii, but certainly it's part of my history. That's something I am glad I experienced.
J: And I remember reading earlier today that you used to be a choir soloist when you were ten?
JKS: Yeah that's true! I still want to be in choirs I just can't find one, like it's kind of hard to find a choir that isn't like a church choir… but yeah you have to wake up at like ten in the morning and stuff… but yeah I would love it if there were a choir I could sing in, and I do, like that was how I sort of came to music really, before rock and roll, and I still… on my 7" that's coming out there's a choir song, I wrote a song for choir.
J: Sweet, how was that, 4 parts?
JKS: It was fun actually! Yeah 4 parts. It was based on a hymn by Bach actually so I didn't write that music but I wrote the words. That was kind of fun to get to sing like that again.
J: Yeah it's totally different.
JKS: Totally different, yeah! And it's a beautiful sound it really is.
J: It's really hard to compare the Weakerthans to any other bands, it really is, and it was really hard I would say to describe your sound, it's pretty easy to call you a rock band but it doesn't entirely do you justice because there's a lot of folk influence, country influence..
JKS: And some punk rock influence!
J: Yeah I was going to say, there's like punk rock… harmonies and chord progression and underlying message sort of… so have you ever heard the perfect description or do you prefer rock band?
JKS: Yeah i don't know, no I can't say I've heard a good description… yeah I never think of us as a rock band… I don't know what I think of us as, I guess I still think about us, maybe it's just reflexive, but I always think that punk rock is the right label but it's probably not when I listen to other punk rock bands.
ME: It's in the punk section of HMV!
JKS: Oh really? That's good, I like when I see us in the punk section. So I guess if I like that and that's the label I'm comfortable with, but I know it's hard to … and labels are just labels. Like if you think of a band, like the bands that I love… if you think about Pavement… I don't know what you would call Pavement.. those are my favourite ones, the ones you don't know what to call them.
J: Now adding in Jim Bryson was a great idea, when did you guys decide to add him?
JKS: Um well Jim played in the band for a while and then he was making a record, and I don't know how the idea came about but we were just like why don't we be the band for the record, so it was just how it worked out, and yeah he's just a really good friend and a musician we really admire and love to play with. So yeah, that's kind of one of the things i'm more excited about is that record with Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans.
J: Is that what it's going to be, Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans?
JKS: It's called The Falcon Lake Incident. We recorded it at this cabin in Falcon Lake just in Eastern Manitoba, so we did that in January.
J: Looking at your website, you guys have a bunch of cool dates coming up in December..
JKS: Oh yeah, that's true!
J: Why did you book them so far ahead and announce them so far ahead, for one, and what gave you the idea to play each album over four nights and at four different venues?
JKS: Yeah, Im' not sure, I think we were trying to come up with some way… like we all like a Christmas show in Winnipeg because Jason's always back there and it's just a kind of nice time to get together so we thought we'd do December shows and it being our hometown we thought if we were going to just give them another show it's boring and so, I can't remember who came up with the idea but I guess it's something that bands are doing a little bit now, like playing full records and we thought that would be a bit of a challenge for us and especially the first album that will be freaky.. so rehearsal will be interesting and doing it consecutive days will be… I think I'll have to get a teleprompter or something! We'll see.
J: Where do you like playing more, seated theatres or clubs?
JKS: I think clubs. Yeah, I guess I'm becoming kind of an old man so the things I like about a seated theatre is we usually leave earlier.. I like to be done early, I like to get to bed at a decent hour and you know just have a couple beers before bed, whereas yeah tonight will be a real club show which I think in a live context is where I'm more comfortable.
J: It is always kind of weird seeing people just like sitting the entire time, especially being a punk rock band.
JKS: Yeah it is, it's totally weird! I enjoy it every once in a while but I'm most comfortable in a club.. I think that will always be the way.
J: And now last but certainly not least, as a genre crossing band I bet you've been billed with some really ridiculous bands, can you think of any off the top of your head?
JKS: Uhh jeez we were just loading gear at Jason's house in Toronto and there was this day sheet for a show at a festival in Germany and it has us on it and then like The Distillers then like someone else and Motorhead. So that was pretty awesome.
I guess, I'm trying to think of other unusual characters… the festival ones are always quite interesting because they mix it up… We played with a lot of, they were really good but they were really hardcore, we did this hardcore festival in Australia in February and Comeback Kid were playing from Winnipeg, they're great, and like lots of punk bands… We were paired between a band I can't remember, us, and then Comeback kid but we were on the same stage, and there were two bands on each stage so you'd be sound checking while the previous band was playing and then there was this raging hardcore band and our little like glockenspiel music! And then raging hardcore again. It was kind of fun actually now that I think about it, yeah!
A HUGE THANK YOU TO JOHN K SAMPSON AND THE WEAKERTHANS, MIKE STONE AND KEITH FROM EPITAPH!