Naming their fourth album Reunion Tour (Epitaph) is a small, self-deprecating jab for the Weakerthans. Though the Winnipeg quartet never stopped touring, its first three albums appeared in three-year gaps, and this one arrives four years after Reconstruction Site. When they can boast a lyricist like frontman John K. Samson, however, the Weakerthans have good reason to take their time. His carefully distilled character sketches are set to musical arrangements that display signs of tasteful maturity without abandoning their roots in short, sharp punk rock.
Edward Hopper helped Samson crack some serious writer’s block.
At th e end of our European tour in 2004, I was really burned out and went to London to visit some friends. I went to the Tate Gallery, and there was a Hopper exhibition. I walked in thinking that I didn’t want to write songs anymore, and I walked out thinking I did. His paintings both invite and resist narrative. There’s something about them that just begs a story to be told.
Reunion Tour track “Tournament Of Hearts” is about the sport of curling. It is not ironic.
There are a million curlers in the world, and three-quarters of them are Canadian. I think it defines [our country] more than hockey does. I grew up curling. It’s something that’s come back to me in the last two years, because (guitarist) Stephen (Carroll) and I both play in his dad’s business league.
Before forming the Weakerthans in 1996, Samson played bass in anarchist/vegan hardcore band Propagandhi.
[Propagandhi albums] are valuable, and there needs to be people doing that—just as there needs to be people doing what I’m trying to do, which is working on the ideas of interconnectedness and alienation and the details of life that bring us together. Fiction and poetry are the most valuable art forms, because it’s impossible to empathize with someone who is foreign from you, then go to war with them.
With the Weakerthans, Samson is less overtly political.
There are a couple of songs where I allude to this idea of an unending war. In “Sun In An Empty Room,” the characters are wrapping up things in newspapers that are about war. And then they’re going to unwrap those things when they move; next time, they’ll wrap them in war again. We’re going to be wrapping our possessions in war for the rest of our lives.
For 2006 solo album Cold As The Clay, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin enlisted all the Weakerthans—except Samson.
I guess I wasn’t invited. But I don’t think I had anything to contribute. Graffin could walk around any city in the world, and three out of every 10 guys on the street could play guitar better than I can.
Samson works closely with his wife, singer/songwriter Christine Fellows.
We edit each other pretty mercilessly, and that’s been huge ever since I met her 10 years ago. I don’t know what kind of writer I would be without that.
Samson is managing editor of Arbeiter Ring, a leftist publishing collective.
We just had a launch for the first novel we published, Gertrude Unmanageable by Deborah Schnitzer. It was an ecstatic event, and those are the moments when I think, “Wow, this is such a great job.”