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Sam Roberts more than a rip-it-up rocker

Montreal-based five-piece plays the Burton Cummings Theatre tonight

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/1/2017 (1254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It seems almost impossible that Sam Roberts, a mainstay in the Canadian music scene for more than 15 years, had never performed at the Winnipeg Folk Festival until last year, but such was the case.

He and his band — the appropriately named Sam Roberts Band — made the trek to Birds Hill Provincial Park last summer and were enthused by both the environment of the festival and the dichotomy that exists between its sit-and-listen group and its dance-till-you-drop group.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Sam Roberts belts it out on the main stage at the 2016 Winnipeg Folk Festival. Tonight, he and the Sam Roberts Band are in at the Burton Cummings Theatre.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sam Roberts belts it out on the main stage at the 2016 Winnipeg Folk Festival. Tonight, he and the Sam Roberts Band are in at the Burton Cummings Theatre.

"It’s visually quite an impressive site that you have one very attentive part of the audience, passionate in their own way, and then you have the other side that has the full-festival, beach-ball-tossing, manic energy," Roberts says, laughing.

"It was fantastic... I’m glad they included us in the lineup last year; it was a beautiful night, great energy in the crowd, and I played a Gordon Lightfoot song to make sure we brought some of the die-hard folk fans into the fold, and hopefully we managed to create a bridge between us and them."

The Sam Roberts Band last year recorded and released its sixth full-length record, TerraForm, and it explores the concepts of renewal and transformation.

Most of the tracks are variations on love songs, the content of which peers into all the different aspects of the emotion — heartening and beautiful, but also with the potential to be destructive and painful.

"It’s funny because when you’re writing music, what you allow to sit at the surface of this bubbling cauldron ends up defining that period or record," says Roberts.

"So you may have always had synthesizers in your music, but if you mix the guitars louder, then you’re a guitar band.

"You can take the same ingredients and reverse the roles and it’s all of a sudden creating a completely different picture of who you are or what you’re trying to say.

"And the same thing goes for me for how I write lyrics. They’ve always been personal in a way, just maybe less autobiographical.

"The feeling in the song, whether I’m talking about a character or I’m talking about myself, is still about the same thing. I think maybe it’s just less self-conscious now, I’m less afraid to say it as me."

While the Sam Roberts Band is still undeniably a rock act, it’s ever-evolving, this time embracing a more playful, synth-heavy vibe. It doesn’t feel out of character, though; the intricately crafted guitar licks and catchy hooks the band is known for are still present, but it’s clear the Montreal-based five-piece isn’t interested in being confined to one genre.

"It’s not like we’re not conscious of the differences, it’s just that you can’t let that consciousness govern your decision-making too much," Roberts says of their creative process.

"There’s never a sort of Machiavellian conversation at the beginning where we strategically lay how we’re going to sort of subvert our own creative process in favour of this new regime. It’s not like that at all. It does happen in a more natural and unconscious way.

"Your responsibility as a songwriter is to allow whatever your next chapter is gonna be to be a reflection of how your life has changed since the last time you wrote songs, and to stay out of the way of that process as much as you possibly can.

"If you interfere as little as possible, you find that your life has changed, your sensibilities have changed, your relationship with music — even music you’ve known your whole life — has changed," he continues.

"As long as you allow that to be the dominant force in the creative process, then you will move not just forward, but away from what you’ve done before."

Roberts says the band is focused on the work it’s doing with TerraForm, but he would like to start working on a new record as soon as possible to take advantage of the stream of ideas and inspirations for new music he has brewing.

"It’s like a dam, and you can feel it sort of building up behind the wall. It has nowhere to go right now because we’re so focused on what we’re doing... when we’re on tour we live and breathe it, there’s no room really for anything else," he says.

"I think this is just a time, not just in our lives, but a period for our band where there feels like there’s a sense of urgency.

"I don’t know what it relates to necessarily, it’s just a feeling of wanting to make as much new music as we possibly can, and to play as much as we possibly can, and we’ll see where it goes from there."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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