Interview: Corb Lund is heading down under
Alberta Canada’s hardest working songwriter Corb Lund is bringing the band back to Australia to play the Gympie Muster and other dates. He spoke to Unpaved about growing up in the cowboy life, peak oil and the commercial perils of yodelling.
Well done on your new album Cabin Fever. It’s got a strong Texas flavour to it, which I really like.
Thank you. That’s where all the good old school songwriting’s being done these days in country music, in that Texas scene. All of my friends that live in the States that play our kind of music pretty much live in Austin. That’s kind of the Nashville of Alt or non-mainstream country.
And I notice that you played on Hayes Carll’s album a few years ago and now he’s shown up on yours.
Yeah. He’s an old buddy. We’ve been touring together for years. He helped us a lot when we were starting out in Texas and we have complimentary audiences, so we kind of trade off tours, you know? He helped out with the song Bible on the Dash and flew up to Canada to record, which was pretty cool.
You’ve got a very interesting cattle family background to draw upon in your music, but I understand you spent 15 years playing punk and metal. How did that transition come about?
I always tell people the actual question to ask is how I got into heavy rock, cos I grew up on horseback surrounded by cowboys, cattle and rodeos and my grandfather used to sing cowboy Western ballads. But when I was 16 I got into Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, but it wasn’t very long before I realised if I could play guitar on those songs, I could play and sing the old ballads.
And one of the standout tunes on your new album features yodelling, which is something you don’t hear a whole lot on the radio!
(Laughs) No! It’s commercial poison! (Both laugh)
My eight-year-old had a very strong reaction to it, but I thought it was admirable that you’re giving it a go.
(Laughs) Yeah. I always tell people you have to yodel in moderation. But one of my favourite things to do is try to draw from all different areas of country music history, whether it’s blues or Waylon Jennings’ country rock or talkin’ blues songs like Woody Guthrie or Western swing or any of that stuff. There’s not enough of country history reflected in today’s country music. I like to dig up some of those old influences and throw them around a little bit. It turns out a lot of the kids have never heard it before, right?
Absolutely. Or just not enough yet! You come from a place where the cattle tradition is strong, but a lot of the income now comes from oil and your album’s opening track Coming Down from the Mountain is about social and economic collapse as a result of the oil running out. It seems like quite a humorous take, but is that a real concern of yours?
Yeah it is. I don’t necessarily think it’s going to happen, but at the same time, I buy a lot of insurance on things that are less likely to happen. It might not be a petroleum crisis or a currency meltdown, but it isn’t that distant a concept for country people to think about because we always try to have supplies in case there’s a two week blizzard or a power outage. So it might not be something entirely apocalyptic, but I think that being ready for that kind of thing is probably smart. And a lot of us have become removed from our basic living skills in terms of providing food and shelter, especially in the city, right? So that song’s kind of a dark one.
Yes. I guess the conditions in Australia are pretty comfortable in comparison to places where the economic crisis has been deep, so we might hear that song differently. It’s probably more immediate where you live.
Maybe. I mean Canada isn’t too bad off either, but the States is pretty screwed right now. We’re lucky because, like you guys, we have a lot of space, right? We don’t have the population density that some places have.
But you do make these ideas a whole lot more palatable with your use of dry humour. You’ve gotta laugh at the madness, right?
Gallows humour. (Laughs)
And your song Cows Around is a bit of an education.
Yeah, I got a lot of breeds in there. I almost got all of them, but one of the things about writing songs is that there’s always someone to nit-pick, so I’ve already heard about a couple that I missed. (Laughs)
Maybe they’ll get their moment on the next album. And are there any other musical humorists from the past you look to?
Jerry Reed. He wrote a lot of songs in the ‘70s like Eastbound and Down. He’s a really great guitar player, but he’s pretty funny too. I think it’s important. People take themselves too seriously sometimes. A lot of the record is a dark ride, so it’s good to have a bit of fun too.
So you’re headed back to Australia. How many visits have you had so far?
I think this’ll be our seventh trip. I think it might be time they considered giving us dual citizenship. I’ve been hearing about Gympie Muster for years, so I’m really looking forward to it. I like playing for all the rural guys. What do you call them, ‘ferals’?
There’s a few different categories that get thrown around, but I’m sure it’ll be quite a party. And are your band the Hurtin’ Albertans all coming?
Yeah. We’ve had the same lineup for seven years, so we’re pretty comfortable with each other. We’ve had time to get that musical ESP going. That’s why we recorded live, including vocals, with hardly any overdubs. I’m really proud of them. We’ve played thousands of shows together, so we have a pretty good live groove.