Waxing emphatics with The Weakerthans

Fresh from his nomination as Arts Ambassador for the city of Winnipeg, Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson spoke to the Journal about headlining the Wolfe Island Music Festival and staying politely and progressively political

John K. Samson (far right) said even though The Weakerthans are on a bit of a hiatus while focusing on solo projects, they relish in taking part in summer music festivals like Wolfe Island’s for a chance to reconnect, rekindle and remember the songs.
John K. Samson (far right) said even though The Weakerthans are on a bit of a hiatus while focusing on solo projects, they relish in taking part in summer music festivals like Wolfe Island’s for a chance to reconnect, rekindle and remember the songs.

Speaking to a master lyricist is always a little surreal.  I expect the mind behind words woven with both wit and passion to breathe poetry. I was somewhat shocked when its voice sounds like the rest of us, polite and not peppered with metaphor.

John K Samson, frontman of the Weakerthans, headliners of the Wolfe Island Music Festival is friendly and matter of fact while filling me in on Winnipeg, writing, and waxing emphatic on politics. Just like us, he’s not above talking about the weather, or how the weather used to be.

Samson’s been around the blocks of rock for awhile, having played bass with anarchopunk band Propaghandi from 1991-1999, then subsequently forming the Weakerthans soon after.

Since 1997, they’ve released four studio albums, one EP and one live album released in March of this year.

Samson’s writing for the Weakerthans has been strong enough to garner great expectations from audiences when it comes to his self expression. After all, wide-eyed undergrads with lines from his songs written on the back of their closet doors aren’t the only ones putting him on a pedestal.

He’s been selected as the Arts Ambassador for Music of Winnipeg, the city named Canada’s Cultural Capital for 2010.  “The purpose is to celebrate arts in Winnipeg. They’re [appointing an] ambassador from each form of art,” he said. “I’ll be doing some stuff over the new year, raising the awareness of music from Winnipeg.”

This might seem a little ironic to those who take the Weakerthans hit “One Great City! (I Hate Winnipeg)” a little too literally.

“I wouldn’t say I love the city despite the song,” he said. “I would say that the song reflects my deep caring for this place. It’s the place I understand best and certainly the place I’m dedicated to. I’ve travelled, but I’ve lived here my whole life.”

This summer isn’t without travelling either, the band has three shows scheduled back to back, in Peterborough, Wolfe Island and Waterloo.

 “It’s something to do in the middle of the summer, a little weekend jaunt. It’s a chance to play a few shows together,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a bit of a hiatus. We do enjoy playing together, and we’ve got to remember the songs. We’re all doing stuff, other things, and still working on the Weakerthans.”

The solo side of Samson has been busy. Soon after promoting his first album in his road series, , released in October 2009, he recorded the second.

“In September 2010, Provincial Road 222 will be released,” he said. “I just delivered it to the label. All the other guys are doing lots of different things.”

Drummer Jason Tait, recently attended the G20 protests.  Given that the Weakerthans have signed on with G7 Welcoming Committee Records, it’s only to be expected at least one of them would want to welcome in the 20.  In case it’s not already obvious from the name, the label tends to sign artists committed to social justice and radical politics.

Although the Weakerthans tend to lean less lyrically explicit than friends and label-mates Propaghandi, they’re committed to similar principles and politics, with strong ties to anarchist projects and spaces.

Tait commented on his dissolved confidence with the government and police force on the music news website Spinner.com. Samson had something to say as well, looking at the response to the weekend.

“I think that with the independent commission this was a victory for the protests,” he said.  “It’s kind of one of those events that maybe we can use as an opening to make people recognize injustices that are happening ...We have to capitalize on those moments, overall I’m kind of excited by it.” Compared to Samson’s previous band, Propaghandi, the Weakerthans could be perceived as more at home in the often politically toothless indie rock scene than the punk scene because of their lyrical subjects. But Samson hasn’t lost his convictions.

Given that he’s a founding member of the Arbeiter Ring Publishing collective, an independent worker-owned and operated publisher and distributer with a mandate to, as stated on their website, “publish a dynamic combination of cultural, fiction, and non-fiction titles with an emphasis on progressive political analysis of contemporary issues.” Samson’s words are clever and occasionally cute, but still cutting.  The crooked turns of phrase and consonance serve his ideas well.

“I don’t think that you can look at my lyrics from any point in my career and see any big change…You can see it’s pretty political,” he said. “People should write about what interests them and write in a way that they are able.”

Sounds like this self-proclaimed futon revolutionist won’t be quitting his word games any time soon.

The Weakerthans play Saturday, Aug 7 at the Main stage of the Wolfe Island Music Festival.

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