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John K. Samson
John K.Samson


John K. Samson strikes out on his own

With City Route 85, the Weakerthans frontman strikesout on his own for the first time in 10 years.

By Scott Thomson

Perhaps, should The Weakerthans ever break up, and frontman John K. Samson decide to not pursue anymore musical endeavors, he can get a job with Tourism Manitoba.

With the release of his first solo outing in over a decade, City Route 85, Samson has embarked on the start of a series of three 7”s showcasing some of the many roads across his home province. Each of the three songs on the first 7” focus around Winnipeg’s Portage Ave.

Speaking in a phone conversation, from Winnipeg, Samson said he “doesn’t know” where the concept for the series came from, nor why he decided to not include his long-time band mates in The Weakerthans.

On his reoccurring character Virtute The Cat and the sound that he loses in “Virtute The Cat Explains His Departure”:

“(The sound) is the cats name.” he said. “Other people have had other interpretations, and as I was writing it, I had a doubt that I wasn’t sure that people would get that idea.
The idea is that the cat has gone feral and has forgotten the sound of its own name. I would think that it would be the last thing to go. It is pretty engrained. I would think that a cat, going back to the wild, in all different senses, that (their name) would be the last thing to go. It is the last remnant of it being a human creation.”

When asked if we would ever hear from the cat again:
“I don’t know. I felt like that was it for him. He now lacks any sort of language and I don’t think you can superimpose language onto a wild animal the way you can on a domesticated animal. I guess there could be a prequel.

John K Samson’s picks for 2009:
“I have listened to a lot of Attack In Black, all year and I saw them play live for the first time. I really loved that.”
“I also really love Julie Faders record and (the new) Future of the Left”

On Bigfoot!:
“That song was based on a real person. A friend of mine was making a documentary about this guy who saw Bigfoot, up in Norway House, and he showed me a bunch of footage of this guy.” he said. “I wrote the song based on that footage and thinking about his situation. He saw and filmed what he thought was Bigfoot. He believed he saw Bigfoot and then pretty much everyone who could take advantage of him, took advantage of him. I found it kind of a tragic story. I wanted to talk about the idea that just because something isn’t real that it doesn’t have a real effect on peoples lives. That can apply to a lot of things and we should have respect for that.”

“I don’t really think of it as going solo” He said. “It was just really an exercise I wanted to try out. The idea of putting out a few seven inches that would be focused on roads, streets and highways in Manitoba. I like the idea of a seven inch because the time is limited. You can only put a certain amount on there.”

City Route 85, which is available through Epitaph Records, features three tracks, mostly centered within the largest city in the province, but Samson says the other two will be “in smaller communities, North and South of Winnipeg.”

““The theme was is to let the location dictate the songs instead of people or character and how they interact with the land.” He says. “To start with the actual location and build something with that.”

Samson’s songwriting, has been more fiction based, which goes back to the 2007 Weakerthans’ album Reunion Tour. His personal diatribes have been traded for new characters, this time around, the roads themselves. He said he gets his song ideas from “a lot of different places, but mostly where I am from, here in Winnipeg, is really inspirational.”

Samson is stretching his legs but not leaving the Weaherthans.
Samson is stretching his legs but not leaving the Weaherthans.

Besides the series of 7”, the next of which should be available within six to eight months, The Weakerthans are working on putting out a live CD/DVD combo in March of this year. The package, which will feature a few shows the band did in Winnipeg in 2008, may be the only “new” material the band releases for the foreseeable future. Samson said he hasn’t “really written much for the next Weakerthans album”.

Then there is always the much rumoured project between he and his wife, Christine Fellows.

“Every six months or so, we go ‘Oh, we should work on that’ and we add a couple little things to it.” He said. “We are working on a record, but I don’t know when it will be done. Sometimes it seems like we have 20 songs and then they all get used through other things and then we are back to having six or seven.”

Samson said the two don’t play together “that often”.

“We are both each others first editors but we don’t sit around the house and play music.”

In addition to his musical duties, Samson is also the managing editor of Arbeiter Ring Publishing, which has been operating in Winnipeg for 12 years.

“I started Arbeiter Ring 12 years ago” He said. “Within a month of starting The Weakerthans. It has its ups and downs certainly. It is a really difficult industry but I do love it. It is a lot of fun.”

“It is one of the great things that has been afforded to me because I live in Winnipeg is that all I really do is play music and work with books. It was pretty much my fantasy growing up and it kinda came true. I can’t really complain about it.” Samson said.

The publishing house will be putting out an anthology of the 20th anniversary of the Oka crisis later this year. He says the book will be about “Oka and about what it meant, and what it means still.”

When asked if he has ever tried his hand at fiction, he said he “would really like to.”

“I publish poetry really sporadically, in various places. I have always wanted to write prose, but I have never been able to. I think of myself as a thwarted fiction writer. The only writing I manage to do would be two-and-a-half minute songs. “ Samson said. “That is what I have got for now. Maybe sometime down the road I will be able to stretch it out beyond 500 words.”

Samson, whose name first became heard by many when he played with the punk group Propagandhi, is no stranger to politics. His publishing house, along with his music has always been about it.

In the case of The Weakerthans, he said that politics “is in the atoms of the songs. It is in all the foundation and framework of the songs. It exists there and I think you just have to look for it.”

“I think there is a roll for propagandists and I think there is a roll for other kind of writing.” Samson said. “All of it is political.”

When asked whether he still listened to, or connected with punk rock, he said “I can’t say I really am. I don’t really know any punk bands these days. I still listen to quite a bit, and certainly there are a lot of punk bands I enjoy, but I don’t really have any connection.”

“I still consider The Weakerthans a punk rock band, but I wouldn’t imagine many punks would.” he said.
“I think we are a punk band. It probably shouldn’t count for that much. It is up to the punks themselves.”

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