Power of the word

IAN NATHANSON

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Two things The Weakerthans believe will never go out of style: One is the printed word. Two is communication through word of mouth.

The former comes as little surprise, given that singer/guitarist John K. Samson is one of four employees of Winnipeg's Arbeiter Ring Publishing, a not-for-profit, worker-owned and collectively run publishing house.

That would explain Samson's non-traditional lyrical approach throughout the indie-rock quartet's second effort, Left and Leaving. A leaf through the CD booklet shows how each song is structured in a narrative form -- a far cry from the conventional verse-chorus format most bands tend to follow.

"I tried to get a little more fictive on this album," explains the soft-spoken Samson on the phone from the 'Peg, where he, guitarist Stephen Carroll, bassist John P. Sutton and drummer Jason Tait are gearing for another road jaunt. "They're stories, though not specifically about myself. They're just like little pieces of fiction."

The Weakerthans will be joined by The Constantines, Nineteenseventyeight and Chubb for an early show at Babylon tomorrow starting at 6 p.m. (A second act, Brooklyn hardcore rapper Necro, has been booked for 10:30 p.m.)

Books do play an important role in The Weakerthans' existence. The band's website (www.theweakerthans.com) endorses a list of current must-reads: Among others, Coke Machine Glow, the collection of poems by The Tragically Hip's Gordon Downie.

"It's a brave and stunning piece of work, and I'm a huge fan of Gord's lyrics," Samson says. "I've been incredibly inspired by that book and yet I'm bewildered by the critical malaise it met."

So far, no such malaise has hit The Weakerthans. Originally a bassist with politico-punks Propagandhi for five years, Samson split from the group in the mid-1990s and formed The Weakerthans in '97 with Sutton and Tait, adding Carroll shortly before recording their '98 debut Fallow. While politically charged punkers in nature, their melodic and lyrical twists and turns defy musical categorization.

Word of mouth has helped stir up enough buzz to warrant Left and Leaving being on many year-end Top-10 lists, from fans and critics alike.

"It kinda freaks me out," says Samson, whose group also wound up with a Juno nod earlier this year. "It does make us feel a little strange to be flirting with the corners of the mainstream."

Yet when the mainstream dangles a proverbial carrot -- in this case an opening spot for tonight's Billy Bragg/Lowest of The Low concert in Toronto -- it's hard for The Weakerthans to pass up that kind of opportunity.

"The standard quote from me is that 98% of being involved in the music industry is incredibly embarrassing, but that 2% makes it worthwhile. Those moments make you go, 'Ahhh ... this is the best thing ever!' "


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