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'I like bleak'


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22At the time of this interview, Edmonton's country star is in London, England, gearing up to perform at several private functions during the first few days of the Olympics. After a good night's sleep, of course.

"I've been nuclear busy in the last month," Lund says.

"I've been playing three countries in one week and s--t like that -- we played in Montana two nights ago. People sometimes get surprised when you don't know where you're playing or what you're doing, but when it gets really busy like this, I just look straight ahead and go where they tell me to go and dance when they say: 'Dance, monkey, dance!'"

The Taber, Alta., native and son of ranchers was one of several primates enlisted to promote Canada to the rest of the world -- as he did at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 -- yet the former bassist for one of Edmonton's beloved punk/metal bands, the Smalls, isn't just a compliant monkey of a cheerleader. His rugged, twangy tunes -- about big-city vices, the death of four RCMP officers in Mayerthrope, the hazards of Alberta's oil and gas industry -- inject a dose of cold, harsh reality into the global celebration of sports, unity and commercialism.

His seventh and latest batch, Cabin Fever, out now on New West Records, might be his bleakest yet -- as he raves about the apocalypse (Gettin' Down On the Mountain), contemplates suicide (One Left In the Chamber) and serenades those who work with the dead (Dig Gravedigger Dig).

"I like bleak," Lund says. "I'm down with bleak. No one's writing suicide ballads anymore, it used to be a good little sub-genre of old country.

"It's not that you want to blow your brains out; you just feel bummed out and want to sleep for a week and let the pain stop for a while."

Loss fuelled some of Lund's pain surrounding Cabin Fever, including the breakup of a long-term relationship and the death of his uncle. After years of quickly pumping out albums such as Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer (2005), Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! (2007) and Losin' Lately Gambler (2009), he also found he had trouble writing songs. He felt restless, living for a few months in New York, Austin and Las Vegas, where he competed in the World Series of Poker.

Slowly, the album started to come together, starting with songs such as Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner and Mein Deutsches Motorrad, a romp about BMW bikes.

"The album took three years to finish," he says. "I just couldn't get anything good for a long time."

While the songs took their sweet time to write, Lund ended up liking them so much, he recorded them twice. Fans can buy a deluxe, two-album version of Cabin Fever, featuring the original (electric) and acoustic versions of all 12 tunes, recorded at the Riverdale Recorders studios in Edmonton.

"We didn't use any click tracks, hardly used any overdubs, everything's live, pretty much," Lund says. "It's mostly the four of us, just playing. It's got more of an organic, rough-around-the-edges feel to it. We did the first disc super stripped-down, but the acoustic is even more stripped down. You can hear people laughing in the background, drinks being spilled. It's pretty real."

Despite releasing his first solo album, Modern Pain, in 1995, and winning buckets of awards -- including a Juno and 11 Canadian Country Music Association Awards -- Lund feels he's only now starting to make a serious dent south of the border.

"The U.S. has been an elusive target for us," he says. "We've been going down there, pretty heavy, for five years now. Things are really popping for us in some places -- like Texas, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado -- and the label is really getting behind this record.

"I've been going at this at 120 per cent for 18 years and it's very tiring. Not that I'm complaining, because I dig it. But I don't have a family, I tour all the time. It's not for the weak of heart."

-- Postmedia News Service

Concert Preview

Corb Lund

Burton Cummings Theatre

óè Dec. 3, 9 p.m.

óè Tickets $27.50 to $37.75 at Ticketmaster

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2012 C9

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