Sam Roberts pushing musical boundaries

Sam Roberts is hiding out in the basement of his home.

Why, you ask?

Could it be a case of the winter blahs, perhaps? Stating that winter in Montreal, like many parts of Canada, has lacked any real significant amount of snow this past winter season, Roberts proclaims that winter has been ‘stuttering’ and, in some ways, wishes that winter should either come full force with an abundant amount of snow or let us enjoy an early spring.

‘This winter middle ground isn’t cool at all. I just wish it would go to one extreme or the other,’ an otherwise jovial Roberts says.

Truth be told, Sam Roberts is in anywhere but a bad place these days. With a quarter of a million records sold in Canada alone, Roberts and his band have remained one of the country’s biggest live draws since their 2002 debut EP, The Inhuman Condition.

Four full-length records later, The Sam Roberts Band continues to push the boundaries of what fans might know about them, releasing Collider, perhaps the band’s most diverse musical offering to date, last May.

Although the band was happy with its subtle shifts in musical direction explored on Collider, Roberts admits that the release of any record brings about some trepidation about how the group’s new music will be received.

‘To some degree, there is always uncertainty when it comes to releasing a new record,’ Roberts says. ‘I think that if a band can push themselves hard enough, there is not going to be any room for doubt when it comes to getting that new music out there. With Collider, we had to trust that people aside from the band would enjoy these new songs.

‘Of course, there is always the possibility that any record we make could fall flat on its face but as a band, you have to live and die by those decisions. If you don’t push yourself as a band, I think you end up doing both the band and your fans a great disservice. Every record is a new opportunity to express yourself in a new way.

And though there is always trepidation, there is also exhilaration in trying to strike that balance between innovation and evolution while still staying true to the inner voice at the creative heart of what you do.’ While Roberts has been rewarded with consistent success here in Canada, the United States has been somewhat of a different story. Like many Canadian acts before him, it is not necessarily a lack of quality songs holding Roberts back from an American breakthrough. And though it does not seem to be a well-publicized fact here at home, Roberts says that the group has been seeing the results of their work in the American market pay off.

‘We have been very fortunate in that we have worked with the same record label (Massachusetts-based Rounder) for our last two records,’ he says. ‘With them, we have had more success at radio and had more people coming out to our shows than we have before. It took us a little while label-wise to be where we wanted to be.

With Rounder now, we have found some stability which is refreshing to say the least. We have spent quite a bit of time touring the United States in support of Collider. It is a completely different world down there but we are very fortunate that we are able to go play everywhere in the States now.’ As Roberts’s music career has evolved over the last decade, so has his personal life. With three young children at home, the days of Roberts and his band leaving home for a five- to six-week span are long gone. Not that Roberts or his band mates are going to argue that fact. While it might have been a suitable lifestyle when they were looking to build their band name, they can now use the fact that they are an established act to help balance family responsibilities with still steadily moving the band forward.

‘Home has definitely taken on a whole new meaning for me in the last five years. It was always there before but it was a bit of an ethereal concept for a little while. Now, it holds a very firm, rigid definition in my mind as a place that I want to be able to say I spent more time in than outside of. We toured much of last year and ended up playing as many shows as we ever did before, but we were never away from home for more than two weeks at a time.

‘It is something that is constantly evolving for us but when I am home, I am home. As often as we have to go away, I get the chance to experience a lot of things that parents working 9-to-5 don’t get to do with their kids every day. When you look at it from that angle, it makes leaving home to go on tour a little easier to swallow.’

Article published in March 6, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript