Tell us about your tour vehicle.
I just got a new Ford Transit van that I love. In the old days we used to drive around in a converted cube van. We had bunks in the back and stuff. Totally illegal. Totally dangerous. Luckily we’ve never had any accidents or close calls, really. I’m pretty fortunate that our drummer, Brady, is a farmer who drives heavy equipment all the time, and insists on doing all the driving. I rest easy when he’s at the wheel, he’s got a steady hand. And as far as repairs, I’ve seen it all. Motors, transmissions, brakes, I’ve replaced all that stuff over the years.
How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?
It’s tough. I don’t eat much at regular meal times because I usually don’t have time to spend an hour plus in a restaurant, especially in the evening for dinner. And I can’t eat much before shows anyway because it’s gross singing with a stomach full of food. When I do eat restaurant meals, it often lasts me quite awhile since I usually only eat half and then snack on the rest the next day. I took all the bad stuff off the rider years ago. It’s fruit and almonds and beef jerky now. No fun at all.
How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?
I maybe break one string per year roughly. Hardly ever. I replace them regularly though, because they kind of go dead after awhile. I buy long lasting ones that are about $15/set. Sometimes I experiment with different gauges, but by now I pretty much have it lined out.
Where do you rehearse?
Well we don’t really have a rehearsal space per se at this point. We all live in different cities and we play a ton live so we don’t really rehearse all that much unless we’re writing a record. In that case it varies, whatever is handy at the time.
I use sound checks as rehearsals to work out new stuff, or polish up old songs we want to dig out of the mothballs, or address any issues in the current song pool. I don’t use a setlist, I just call audibles all night, with a bunch of baseball style hand signals to let the guys know.
In the old days we’d jam in typical disgusting rehearsal studios. And it’s tough when you’re a roots country band because you’re surrounded on all sides in those places by terminally loud death metal.
What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?
This is the first western song I ever wrote, years and years ago. It’s about a pair of Crockett spurs that have been in our family over 80 years. It’s Lefty and Righty having a conversation about how they’d like to be back in action instead of gathering dust on a shelf.
The wind still blow the dust across the exhibition grounds
The chutes creaks and moans and echoes saddle broncin’ sounds
The horses all wound up the same as the ones that came before
Mmm, and we don’t ride ‘em anymore
Describe your first gig.
It was in a basement dive bar in Edmonton, Alberta called the Ambassador. Drinking age there is 18. The girl checking people’s ID at the door was 16. We were the 2nd of four punk bands. There were fights. It smelled bad. Had a hell of a good time. We were paid $100 and a case of beer. High cotton.
What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?
Wow, I don’t know. I’ve been playing music full time for many years. Maybe it was when I was a parking attendant way, way back at the University of Alberta. They gave me a pretty slow location so I was able to play music in the booth. I wrote most of my Unforgiving Mistress album in that parking booth. I’ve had a ton of jobs, though. Gas jockey, bartender, waiter, pizza delivery guy, drywaller, insulator, carpenter’s assistant, farm labourer, warehouse worker, you name it.
How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?
I’m not sure really, I don’t follow it too closely. I guess the obvious thing is that record sales have dried right up. I don’t really care too much because most of my income has always come from live shows, and that’s what I love doing. Good news is, no matter what the technology does, people will still want to be in a room with other people listening to live music. At least I hope so.
What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?
When I was young I kind of felt like you had to make it by you were 23 or something or it was too late. But I’m well past that and still expanding my audience. Especially in country and roots music, it’s not a huge factor. Ian Tyson is still playing at 85.