Weakerthans still going strong

Winnipeg’s CanRock heroes talk about university, curling and Reunion Tours

The Weakerthans have just released their fourth album, titled Reunion Tour, which includes a one-song return of Virtue the Cat.
The Weakerthans have just released their fourth album, titled Reunion Tour, which includes a one-song return of Virtue the Cat.

Winnipeg has long been a surprising hotbed of CanRock talent, and with the release of their new album Reunion Tour, the Weakerthans need not fear for their place in this canon.

Reunion Tour is the band’s fourth full-length studio album and comes four years after the glowing Reconstruction Site. While Reunion Tour definitely builds on themes the band has been exploring since their debut record, Fallow, it also introduces some new and highly unorthodox perspectives on desire, loneliness and love.

“I think we sort of intentionally follow these similar themes, try to refine what it is we’re doing and follow through the subject,” said guitarist Stephen Carroll. “I think they’re all different records, but I think they are extensions of each other.”

Despite the band’s apparent hiatus and lead singer John K. Sampson’s foray into Canada’s literary world with back-to-back wins on CBC’s Canada Reads, Carroll said the band has never stopped working.

“We had a hiatus from recording but we definitely were working that entire time,” he said. “We were just playing shows all over the world between then and now and I guess we were waiting for the record to be within our sights to go and start recording it.”

Despite taking an unconventional approach to recording, the band spent nine months working on the album, Carroll said.

“This process was a little different I guess,” he said. “We had several songs that we had arrangements for and we’d worked out and there was a couple that we just sort of did a rough job of via e-mail, but we decided to just go into the studio and fudge everything else there rather than getting each other to rehearse or do more traditional, pre-production stuff. It was a little more seat of the pants.

“So after nine months working on it, I guess now we’re touring it.”

The Weakerthans have been touring in promotion of Reunion Tour since September.

“We’ve been on tour basically since September 25 throughout North America,” Carroll told the Journal during a telephone interview from the band’s tour bus in Boston, where they played last night.

Their packed tour schedule won’t be slowing down and the band will play three more shows in three different cities before arriving in Kingston on Tuesday.

The Weakerthans haven’t played in Kingston since April 2005, but in all likelihood they’ll be playing to a packed house and an enamoured crowd.

Although Carroll isn’t sure why the Weakerthans are so popular in university towns, he said that he thinks the band’s music resonates with people in that period of their life.

“Why are we popular in Kingston? I don’t know. We’re not really that popular there. I mean, we can play this small club and do okay,” he said. “Maybe there’s something about our songs that really resonates with people … in university. … I guess maybe we ourselves had formative experiences at that time that shaped us and makes us write in a way that resonates with people going through that time in their life.

“Things have kind of normalized in a way, for us. We have very stable and loyal fans and we appreciate the support they give us and we enjoy playing for them wherever they may be.”

With their new album, The Weakerthans trust their fans’ loyalty and serve up another dose of Virtue the Cat’s perspective in the track “Virtue the Cat explains her departure”. First appearing in a track on 2003’s Reconstruction Site, the cat describes his owner’s life through a non-judgmental and atypical lens.

“I think the device of using the [cat] allows a meditation on another creature’s or person’s perspective while at the same time being able to get your own ideas through,” Carroll said.

Carroll said the album also explores new areas of the band’s life that may be equally foreign for their fans: the culture of curling.

“[Curling is] sort of a pastime that John and I indulge in now,” Carroll said. “It has a very underground, and a kind of endearing culture to it that we really like. It has all these interesting things to it. It has a quaintness and also a kind of majestic quality.

“It’s quaint because it’s a such a small, bizarre sport in the world; not that many people curl and most of the people who do are Canadians. But it’s kind of romantic and majestic because you go to your local curling rink … and they have world championship trophies hanging in the pub. What other area in the world would you ever run into this?”

In fact, their “curling song,” called “Tournament of Hearts,” has probably brought the band more attention than the addition of their song “Aside” to the soundtrack for the movie Wedding Crashers in 2005.

“It’s funny because the curlers are so excited about it. The Curling News is calling and people from all over. All these curlers are kind of embracing it in a way,” Carroll said.

He said the soundtrack experience was a letdown.

“It was kind of a disappointment. … I think that for a bit there were people coming to our shows just because of that song,” he said. “It wasn’t really that big of an impact for us.”

With the glamour of Hollywood behind them, the band has returned to their contemplative ways.

Curling is probably the ultimate metaphor for the Weakerthans’ understated genius and self-deprecating appreciation for what they do.

“We’re a band that’s not that self-aware, in a way,” Carroll said. “It’s a different process being inside the band than looking in from the outside. For us, we don’t really examine it ourselves that closely.”

The Weakerthans play Elixir Tuesday Nov. 6. Tickets are $20 in advance, and are available at Destinations and Elixir. The concert is a 19+ event.

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