November 1995

MEDIA

Blue Rodeo's Nowhere to Here
by Alan Stransman

MEDIA

Its been ten years since Blue Rodeos humble beginnings at Torontos Horseshoe Tavern and the decade has seen them develop into one of the most successful musical groups in Canada. They have recorded five multi-platinum albums, played thousands of concert dates all over the world, appeared on The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, won numerous Juno awards and survived several personnel changes. Their previous album, Five Days in July was one of their best, with sales topping triple-platinum. Now the band is back with a very different sounding record called Nowhere To Here. Alan Stransman caught up with band members Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor, Glenn Milchem and Bazil Donovan in Toronto to talk about the group history, and the new music.

Alan: Before we talk about the new record, for those who dont know the history of Blue Rodeo, Greg, how did the band get started?

Greg: Jim (Cuddy) and I had known each other since high school....

Alan: Which was where?

Greg: North Toronto Collegiate Institute. We never played music together until 1977. We graduated from North Toronto in 1972. So we started a band called the Hi Fis which was in that new wave amphetamine punk school.

Alan: What were your musical influences back then?

Greg: A lot of British invasion, and then a lot of bands that came out in 76 and 77. so, we started that band and went down to New York and lived there for a while, came back and thats when we started Blue Rodeo. That would have been in 84.

Alan: How did you get the lineup together?

Greg: We knew Cleave Anderson, the drummer. He was in a lot of our favourite bands at the time. He asked his friend Bazil (Donovan) to join. We placed an ad in the paper that read if youve done acid at least ten times and lost 3 to 5 years to drinking and can still manage to keep time, give us a call. And then Bobby (Wiseman) was the younger brother of a friend of ours and so we just jammed with him a few times. His influences were quite different because he was more into an improv school of music and jazz, and so he brought a whole new musical avenue to what we were doing. It was a very exciting at the time.

Alan: You chose the name Blue Rodeo, which has a definite country connotation, even though your influences were not country music. Did you just like the words together, or did you intend to play country music?

Greg: It was just to underline the country a little bit. I liked a lot of that San Franciscan music of the late 60s, country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver, all those dreamy countrified landscapes.

Alan: Your last record Five Days in July was a summer album. Recorded in the summer, it was mostly acoustic and had a light feeling. This new record sounds to me like a winter album. Theres a lot of looking out the window at barren stretches of highway in this record.

Greg: See, thats a beautiful image to me. I love that.

Alan: Obviously. Thats something that resonates with you. But were you in a different mood when you wrote the songs on this album?

Greg: I find my songs on this record get me high when I sing them. That was my criterion for the songs on this record, how they affected me in the exercise of singing them.

Alan: There is a dreamy quality to the vocals on your songs, Greg, but some of the lyrics are rather melancholy. Especially the last track, Flaming Bed, which has the lines Everywhere to nowhere/Nowhere to here, from which the album takes its name. What were you thinking when you wrote that song?

Greg: Its a true story. I woke up one day and my bed was on fire. I was having a relationship with fire. The fire had become my lover in a way. Id been living at the farm for any extended period of time by myself, and not much contact with people. And I was in a very animusitic state. Everything had equal life to me out there. It was a very pleasant state of mind to be in. Id be sitting in this room with this fireplace, and Id be singing songs to it all the time like it was listening to me, and we sort of fell in love in a way. and then one night I woke up and my whole bed was covered in flames. And I realized that the fire was trying to entwine me.

Alan: So the songs is actually a love song, however melancholic the lyrics are.

Greg: Yeah, the singing of it is little more melancholic than I wanted it to be. That was because I couldnt breathe the way I did when I was writing the song. It was supposed t be a little more joyous.

Alan: Glenn, as the drummer in the band, how would you describe the mood of the playing on this new album compared to Five Days in July?

Glenn: With Five Days, we had decided that we were going to make an acoustic record, so that set certain limitations with how we were going to arrange the songs. There were some songs on that album that could have had heavier arrangements, like Hasnt Hit Me Yet, but we went with lighter arrangements to give the album a cohesiveness. But we didnt want to limit ourselves in that way with this record. This record has some acoustic stuff and it also has some really loud electric stuff. We wanted the album to take you on more of a journey. Not that we were comparing it to Five Days or anything, but thats basically the concept behind the album. This album goes to a lot of dark places. It also goes to a lot of light places. Sometimes its really moody and sometimes its really buoyant.

Greg: Just like life.

Alan: Jim, how would you compare this album to the last one?

Jim: Its hugely different. Five Days In July was a reflection of the way its was made. It was a very soothing, light, reassuring record. It was like the pursuit of beauty: beautiful sounds, beautiful atmosphere. And this record is a lot different. Theres a lot more anxiety and pain in this record. The mood is darker. It was a lot harder to make. It had harsher effects on everybody. Or on me, anyway.

Bazil: The majority of the work on this album was very winter-oriented, and I could feel the darkness. Especially the last track Flaming Bed that Greg talked about. We played that song forever, and we were in trance-like states, all of us by the time we finally recorded that song. Everyone was very aware of that mood. Its not like the whole recording process was a very gloomy thing, but when we hit those tunes and those very melancholy sounds going with these sad, dark lyrics, the mood seemed to me to be winter and dark. But then again, there are up points like Blew It Again, for example which has such an uplifting sound to it, even though the lyrics could be dark on that one too.

Alan: Blue Rodeo as a band has always reminded me a bit of The Beatles, in that there are two very different personalities writing the songs. With The Beatles, you could usually tell the John Lennon songs. They were more introspective, harder-edged, and experimental, whereas McCartney was more of a pop tunesmith. In Blue Rodeo, Gregs songs are the moody, rock-oriented ones, and Jim, yours are more traditionally melodic.

Jim: The dynamic exists in the band, for sure. And its a very strange thing to have two very different songwriters in a band, two different personalities. and yet, the thin that keeps bands together is that thee is some kind of unifying sound that they make when they play together. Its human nature to want to carve out your own niche and create things on your own, you have a tendency to want to fight that a bit.

Alan: Is there any pressure on the band to write songs that sound like your earlier material?

Jim: I think in the most important sense, as a writer, you just have to write what you have to write. Theres a lot of elements to your intuition that guide you to that. Greg and I are very different in that way. Greg imposes upon himself a sense of absolutely trying to come up with something brand new that hes never done before, which is not realistic because you still end up writing in the way that you write. but thats one of the reasons that the albums sound different because Greg doesnt give up on that. And thats a good challenge. Its a hard challenge.