Creative Pursuit Pushes Sam Roberts Band Forward

Photo by Paul Labonté
Photo by Paul Labonté

When Sam Roberts made time to chat with me last week in advance of his group’s Wednesday evening performance at Moncton’s Casino New Brunswick, he had some questions of his own.

“Is Oxygen Nightclub still open?” he wonders, referring to the long defunct nightclub where his group held court on several occasions in the past.

Informed the club has been shuttered, Roberts recalls the many memorable shows the band had performed at the venue. But one show in particular stands out in his mind:

“I remember one of the first times we played there, we lost power on stage. It was this brief moment of panic, but power was restored quickly enough and we carried on with the show. You just never know what the universe holds for you on any given night.”

The fact Roberts is asking questions about a nightclub that occupied Downtown Moncton for the better part of a decade is a testament to how long he has been in the game. Since the turn of the century, Roberts and his band have become mainstays of the Canadian music scene and with good reason.

Boasting an arguably perfect ratio of radio-friendliness and rock grittiness, Roberts first burst onto the Canadian music scene in 2002 with The Inhuman Condition EP. Buoyed by the success of singles “Brother Down” and “Don’t Walk Away Eileen,” he signed a recording contract with Universal Music Canada, which subsequently released his 2003 album We Were Born In A Flame.

It didn’t take long for awards to start topping Roberts’ fireplace mantle: Roberts walked away with the Album of the Year, Rock Album of the Year and Artist of the Year trophies at the 2004 edition of Canada’s Juno Awards.

Subsequent full-length albums Chemical City (2006), 2008’s Love At The End of the World, Collider (2011) and 2014’s Lo-Fantasy have continued Roberts’ winning ways, helping him sell more than a combined quarter-million units of his catalogue.

Upon my observation the length of Roberts’ career has now almost effectively doubled that of The Beatles, he becomes almost uncomfortable at the notion, but offers a suggestion as to how the Sam Roberts Band is still going strong:

“It’s surreal to think of how long we’ve been at it. There is no lack of recognition on our part that it’s getting to be a rarity to survive this long, but I only ever allow myself to dwell on how long we’ve been at it for maybe 1/100th of a second and then I have to forget about it. We’ve never been a band that has relied upon prior achievements as a means to move the group forward. We are more interested in talking about what could be around the corner and the kind of album we want to make next.”

Roberts insists it has been the group’s relentless focus on where they want to go next that has played a role in moving the group creatively forward. While it would be easy for Roberts and his cohorts to churn out the same formulaic record every two to three years, the group has not been shy about flexing their creative muscles on each of their records.

“Every time we make an album, we alter our course ever so slightly,” he offers. “It’s not so much that we are looking to throw our fans off or anything like that as much as we need that path of unpredictability ahead of us.”

Nowhere is said unpredictability more prevalent than the Sam Roberts Band’s latest effort, Terraform, released last month. Produced by Roberts and Graham Walsh (Alvvays), the album draws from the group’s guitar-driven past, but is interpolated with the psychedelic, slow-burning title track, and the swampy Delta blues guitar riff that dominates “Black Spark.”

It’s difficult, but perhaps not impossible, to apply a one-size-fits-all label to Terraform. Arguably, that lack of refined definition about exactly what entails a Sam Roberts Band record is what makes the album such a joy to take in from start to finish.

“When I set out to make an album, the whole idea for me is to compel people to listen to the record from start to finish. There is a deliberate reason why the record is sequenced the way it is. Much like grappling with life and everything it throws at you, I want my music to play a part in taking the listener on a journey.”

What: Sam Roberts Band with special guest Adam Baldwin
When: Wednesday Nov. 16, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $29.99 plus taxes and service charge. Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca.