Jim, welcome to London â€“ you have been here before?
We have been here many times. We used to come here quite a bit when we were first starting out as a band. We come every couple of years.
Youâ€™ve played the Borderline before; itâ€™s a nice venue I think?
Yes, itâ€™s a good place thereâ€™s no doubt about it.
Although earlier on this year you were playing to 4,500 people, and then coming to the Borderline to a couple of hundred, that must be a bit of a shock to you?
Itâ€™s a very common experience for Canadian bands. Thereâ€™s lots of bands that do well domestically and itâ€™s even more of a shock if you go over the border to the States and you are playing clubs. I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s not an unpleasant experience. Itâ€™s fun to come over and play to a crowd thatâ€™s not as familiar with your music, and you have to try to win them over, and obviously itâ€™s nice to have what we had back in Canada cause thatâ€™s a living.
Whatâ€™s the appeal? Do you see it as a bit of a holiday? Or are you coming to appease the cult following you have here? Is it part of a launch to try and still make it bigger in other countries?
You know you try as a band and create opportunities for yourselves, but I suppose it is not the greatest plan in the world to keep coming back to a place where you only have a modest following. But, I think it is good for the band, I think it makes you play well and it gets you out ofâ€¦ makes sure you donâ€™t establish the patterns, you know, itâ€™s good for the band to have to adapt and if you play to bigger places there is a certain way the band plays, a certain stride, the way that you play, cause you are on a bigger stage you try and spread out to a lot more people. They have expectations in Canada and we donâ€™t have any of that when we travel outside Canada. Still to infrequently try and come over and keep your hand in other countriesâ€¦ itâ€™s just a good exercise.
Are the full band here?
Yeah, this time. The last couple of times we travelled with a four piece but this time we have all six of us.
You appeared on Live 8 in Canada, and I calculate that your band started around the time of the original Live Aid is that about right?
Yes, we, Greg and I, happened to be living in New York and we went back to Toronto in â€™84 and put the band together then. So yeah, so just the beginning of it.
There was an alternative viewpoint about Live 8 that it may have been a bit of a smokescreen for some of the other issues, particularly for people like Tony Blair and George Bush with their involvement in Iraq. Were you conscious of that? In Canada specifically?
Of course, it was a much-criticised event here in Canada as well. It was called Nearly Live 8 as it had all theâ€¦ pretty much all the veteran bands, and of course there was a lot of people saying this was not going to do any good, and it was a big waste of time, and the vanity issue, and I can see all those points of view. And it was perfectly legitimate to line up everybody on whatever side they want to line up. However, I donâ€™t think any of that stuff really mattered to any of the participants. I think all the participants, having been around for a long time, realised that the great thing about Live 8 was that it was incredibly focused event â€“ it was focused on the one thing to get the countries to agreeâ€¦so it could be legitimate as it was a beautifully orchestrated event that seemed to work. It seemed to push the leaders into doing something that they might not have done on their own. Well, I donâ€™t think anyone had any problem participatingâ€¦
It is a much more complicated issue, but it seems to me that one of things that the veteran organisers realised was that you can only do one thing. If you tried to spread it out and actually sort out more than one issue you lose the point. Years ago I went to Uganda with World Vision and I was very suspect about going with World Vision cause I had heard and read many things about World Vision which I didnâ€™t like, but in the end I decided that it was still worth it and by the time I got out of there I thoughtâ€¦ and I went to Uganda and I went to the Projectsâ€¦. I thought it was an incredibly privileged position to think, in North America, that there was some reason not to go, because every little bit does so much good over there. And this will inevitably do good to people in Africa.
Youâ€™ve had a lot of musical collaborations, mostly with other Canadians. Are there any collaborations with any people who you would like to work with, maybe outside of Canada?
Well, I had a little bit of collaboration with the Wilco boys on my solo record. We did a fantastic collaboration last year/summer with Kris Kristofferson and we did a couple of TV shows and a really fun set together.
I spoke to Travis Good (The Sadies), who had worked with him as well, he was very glowing in his praises of the man and what a big experience that had been. Was that the same thing?
It was fantastic. Travis did a TV show with us and it was really great â€“ he is a very admirable character in all ways, not just in his ability to write beautiful songs, but also in who he is and how he has handled himself and his politics have obviously cost him a certain amount in the United States. He is a hero. He is a great approachable man to be around, hilarious stories, so that was nice. A few years ago we did a sort of exchange of tours with the band called The Whitlams in Australia. We have really always tried to play together with people as much as we can. We tour with somebody, we try to get on stage together, Matt Mays is the band weâ€™re touring with over here, a great young band. We do something at the end of the night together. We always feel itâ€™s well worth the effort to get people up on stage and try to do something â€“ sometimes it is a bit of train wreck but more often than not it is a great joyâ€¦ very spontaneous, do a cover or something like that. As often as we can weâ€™ve played with almost everybody we toured withâ€¦some way or another.
Is there anybody you would like to?
I know, I was trying to avoid the question (both laugh) Thatâ€™s notâ€¦ there isnâ€™t anybody â€“ I think to answer the question genuinely it never works in our career to sorta pick somebody you think is great or famous and say, â€œWeâ€™d really like to work with him.â€ Because unless it happens, unless you actually meet them and have some kind of friendly connection, and go from there, it just turns into bullshit, and everybody around you is so encouraging because the person is famousâ€¦ and so I would love to have a record produced by Elvis Costello, Iâ€™d love to sing with Paul McCartney, Iâ€™d love to work with Conor Oberst, lots of stuff Iâ€™d like to do â€“ it just stays a load of fantasy unless I happen to have the opportunity to meet that person.
I gather youâ€™d worked with Pete Anderson.
Iâ€™d worked with Pete, that was good, very good. That was one where we just picked him from a record â€“ but that worked out, it worked out, and yet it taught us a lot about how we donâ€™t want to make records. Pete has a very, very specific way of making records. We really need to make records in a much more organically way and much more spontaneous way than Pete can do it, and so that was interesting, and of course everybody was all for thatâ€¦ and it turned out well because we got friendly with Pete, heâ€™s a really nice guy, a real talented guy and an incredible guitar player. That was fine. More often than not.
You would not go in search of other producers at this stage?
Weâ€™ve got it set up so weâ€™ve got our own studio, and weâ€™ve really enjoyed the last number of times making our own records, so I donâ€™t know if we want to blow that situation. Weâ€™ve worked in the music business a long time, weâ€™ve produced our own records for twenty years and itâ€™s not that we wouldnâ€™t work with somebody itâ€™s just that we wouldnâ€™t work with somebody just because they were famous or even just because we admire them, or their work. Itâ€™s just not what we are interested in. We enjoy the time frame of work of making our own records and I donâ€™t know that we could involve somebody in our time frame. It takes us six months make a record, who would work with us for six months? I donâ€™t knowâ€¦ itâ€™s like I said, itâ€™s not out of the realm of possibilities, but itâ€™s not something that weâ€™re searching for.
Looking back on the albums, if you were trying to attract new fans to your music here in this country now, which of those would you recommend?
They could listen to Diamond Mine, that is a sort of classic record for us â€“ that is the first record we took the reins a bit. That one contains a lot of standard songs and then the one that follows it, Casino, is probably more of our pop record, but then I am always more interested in the record that just happens. The last two records are also very indicative of what we are, the record we have out now is much more acoustic based, much more simple, and then the record before is orchestrated horns and strings, so those provide nice contrasts. We are certainly not only one thing, but we are not also all things. So I think that the last two records provide a very reasonable example of the contrast that we have in our band.
Where do you think your biggest support community outside Canada is?
Probably where we sell most records is Scandinavia â€“ I donâ€™t know about the last couple have been properly looked after, but then the United States â€“ thereâ€™s probably 10 or 15 cities in the United States where we can do a reasonable concert. And I think, over here, we will play to half Canadians and half Brits â€“ you know that used to bug us was to come over here and play to Canadians, but nowâ€¦ itâ€™s providing a service, people like it, they miss home when theyâ€™re over here.
What have you been listening to that you can recommend to us?
I have been listening to the Bright Eyes, Iâ€™m Wide Awake, which I really likeâ€¦
I have been listening to Songs Ohia, I really like that, and I just heard a band the other day I who are called The Decemberists which I quite liked. I bought that record. You know, you mentioned something there before; I would like to play with Neil Young. We did get to play with Neil Young at the end of Live 8 and that was a really extraordinary experience â€“ if that could be arranged it would certainly step into celebrity folk history.