INTERVIEW: Blue Rodeo careful with politics
Blue Rodeo might be too close to themselves to understand how interesting it is that they didn’t include their one-off protest song Stealin’ All Our Dreams on their new album, 1000 Arms.
Maybe it’s a hidden secret bonus track?
“It is?!” exclaims singer Jim Cuddy in a recent interview.
No … what? It is?
“I think that had a time and place,” he goes on. “It was done specifically to protest the Harper administration, but it’s like, what are we protesting now? It never even occurred to us, frankly.”
Interesting. Back in Edmonton again for two shows at the Jubilee Auditorium Thursday and Friday, Blue Rodeo may be the most political band that rarely writes political songs – but it’s complicated in a six-member musical democracy. They all agreed that Stealin’ All My Dreams was the right move. It begins with the line, “Your pipeline will spill its disease.” Now Trudeau wants to build the pipeline. Most of the guys in the band supported Trudeau. This is awkward.
Then there was the online backlash they’d been warned about.
“We knew it would hurt us,” Cuddy says. “There were a lot of really hateful comments … I think pissing off the people in Fort Mac was tough. Come on guys, we’ve been up there a million times and we’re totally supportive, so don’t pick on us. But some people take it the wrong way. I know there are certain family members with noses out of joint. But in the end, you carry on.”
You see they have to pick their hills to die on carefully. Blue Rodeo’s last overtly political song was called Fools Like You, released in 1992 on Lost Together. That one was a reaction to how the Mulroney government handled the Oka crisis, in which one soldier was killed. It was a dispute over a planned golf course on Mohawk land.
There may be another good reason Blue Rodeo’s new album is free of politics: It doesn’t fit the canon. 1000 Arms is almost all about personal relationships – like most of their other music. Featuring devastating heartbreak songs like Hard To Remember, along with more jaunty fare like Superstar (banging on Hollywood celebrity as political as they get), the highest compliment you can pay is, “It sounds like Blue Rodeo.” The album is a full-bodied throwback to the early days, using their traditional instruments, nothing fancy, and the dual vocals reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. Guitar master Colin Cripps, Blue Rodeo’s newest member (since 2013), made a big difference.
Cuddy says, “We wrote songs in the vein of Brit pop rock, like Elvis Costello, or Dave Edmunds, and found they sounded a little too new wave, so we married it a little more with our own sound, and Colin was just perfect. He knew exactly what to do in every track. It’s funny an outside guy would make us sound like ourselves.”
Asked to write a song about Trump (since the last song seemed to work so well), Cuddy just laughs. He says later, “My antipathy towards him is so complete that I can’t see the positive in anything he says. I recognize that my prejudice is pretty strong. I have friends in the States who say, ‘give him a chance’ – and I don’t want to talk to those people for a while.”
Blue Rodeo’s still played in America quite a bit.
Cuddy says, “We were there just after the election, and it made me realize two things: One, that we really plant a swath of democratic opinion. I never met anyone who fessed up to supporting Trump. I met a lot of Hillary haters, but nobody that voiced support for Trump. I don’t think we draw that kind of crowd. And also, how divided they are, racially, politically, everybody stays in their own crowd.”
All of this has to filter into their songwriting at some point.
“It all does, at some point,” Cuddy says. “And Greg has a greater tendency to put his outrage into music. I guess I have a greater tendency to put my outrage into organization, I dunno. The interpersonal has always trumped anything else I wanted to talk about. I appreciate Greg is that vocal. When I think it’s the right thing, I’m happy to get behind it.”
And what about hockey?
“That’s to get my mind off all that shit!”
Blue Rodeo doesn’t have any new hockey songs, either.