Sam Roberts talks NHL hockey

YURI WUENSCH -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Bands visiting Edmonton over the course of the Oilers’ inspired playoff run have been treated to rather boisterous crowds.

Lead singers who utter anything even remotely hockey-like are greeted with a chorus of cheers. It’s a cheap tactic, sure, but the Oil haven’t played this well in 14 years so why wouldn’t we be suckers for it?

Sam Roberts, 31, one of Canada’s newest rock heroes, knows the score, so to speak. Should he happen to lose the sold-out crowd at the Starlite Room tomorrow night, he appreciates the advice to simply say, “How about those Oilers?” as a means of getting it back. But he is a genuine Oilers fan – at least once his hometown Montreal Canadiens were eliminated, anyway.

“The Habs are rebuilding right now,” Roberts contends. “And I don’t want to pick sides, but I was picking the Oilers over the (also-eliminated) Ottawa Senators, anyway. I’m a fan of your team. I love the way they play. They’re playing fire-wagon hockey – it reminds me of the way the Habs used to play.”

A fan of the great game since he was a kid, hockey metaphors aren’t lost on Roberts. And with respect to his career, they’re relatively easy to apply.

Before achieving success under his own namesake a few years ago as the Sam Roberts Band, Roberts toiled in the minors for roughly a decade. In that time, he played as a member of William, which eventually became Northstar. Not that it mattered, because neither band achieved anything approaching national notoriety.

But in 2001, everything changed.

He recorded a six-song EP, The Inhuman Condition, from which Brother Down and Don’t Walk Away Eileen became radio hits across Canada.

He’s delivered two more albums since then, 2004’s We Were Born in a Flame and this year’s Chemical City.

Both albums have performed well in Canada, but neither has exactly paved the way to a larger ice surface in the States. At least not without a price Roberts is willing to pay.

His multi-album deal with Universal in the U.S., for example, was one he was grateful to have got out of so easily.

“The only record we delivered for them was We Were Born in a Flame. It was what I wanted to say, but for them it wasn’t a commercially viable product,” Roberts recalls. “So, we parted ways. We were very lucky to have gotten out of it. Otherwise, we could have been one of those bands on the backburner down there, whose career was essentially over before it even started.”

In a way, and at that time, Roberts learned not to depend on anyone. His first album saw him recording most of the instrumentals himself and putting it together in the studio.

Chemical City, on the other hand, was conceived more by Roberts in conjunction with his band. The rootsy-psychedelic approach they undertook for it is simply an aspect of what he’s always done: evolve.

Roberts seems pleased that a label can’t be pinned on his style of music other than to say it’s just solid rock ’n’ roll.

“There’s a lot of bands that will adopt a sound and adopt it fully, and that’s what defines them. I’ve never been that way. I’m into all kinds of different music and I always have been, from Bob Marley to Bob Dylan. Or bands like the Stone Roses, the Verve and Spiritualized. It’s music that’s been with me for a long time.”

The prospect of breaking into American radio in a bigger way has its obvious appeal for Roberts, but after three failed attempts with U.S. labels he’s in no particular hurry, either.

His growing popularity in Canada is satisfying enough for now, he says. It’s also such that he could have easily played a venue larger than the Starlite Room, and he knows it.

Like everything else, though, it’s an artistic decision he wanted to make.

If you need proof that art precedes commerce for Roberts, look no further than revelation during this interview that he’d been nominated for a favourite Canadian artist MuchMusic award. Sometimes the artist is last to know.

“Really? I was nominated?” he says, laughing.

“I didn’t know. It’s not because I didn’t care. Nobody had told me. I’m on tour, man. When you’re travelling around, it’s like being in an above-ground submarine.”


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