Volume 93, Issue 93
Fridday, March 24, 2000
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Creative tension helps Blue Rodeo go the Distance
Gazette file photo
By Mark Pytlik
On some level, you'd think being a founding member of one of Canada's most consistently successful bands would afford you some measure of creative comfort Blue Rodeo bassist Bazil Donovan wishes this was the case.
"I don't think you can ever feel comfortable you're made aware of that all the time by the people around [you]," he laments.
"It gets increasingly harder to keep people's interests over the long term. People have no preconceived notions your first time around, but when you have seven or eight albums under your belt, people start to go 'Oh them again.'"
Therein lies the paradox that the core members of Blue Rodeo struggle with on an almost daily basis. On one hand, they're somewhat of a national hallmark a collective of road weary and down-to-earth musicians who have been practicing their stark brand of tunesmithery for what seems like forever. On the other hand they're a group of restless craftsmen, constantly battling the impulse to settle comfortably into a single musical niche, while consistently striving to redefine and re-energize themselves as artists.
In order to keep things interesting, the band decided to record their latest album in an exotic location. They eventually ended up at Daniel Lanois' storied Kingsway Studio, the same extravagant and legendary haunt that's been a creative catalyst for people such as Peter Gabriel, Neil Young and U2.
According to Donovan, the band quickly became inspired by the studio's atmosphere. "It's not set up in a manner that has any corporate tone to it," he says. "It's a wonderful old place in the French quarter of New Orleans that reeks of history and ambiance. It's a very ornate place with 30 [foot] ceilings and a huge staircase that comes right down into the control room. I can't find the words to give people a picture of how beautiful that place is and how comfortable it is to make music in."
The outcome of that memorable recording session was Blue Rodeo's recently released ninth album, The Days In Between.
By all accounts it's one of their most detailed and complex offerings so far. According to Donovan, the desire to make a multi-layered record was partially borne out of a need to do something new. "When we listen back in hindsight, we thought that we could've tied up a few things on [1997's hastily-recorded] Tremolo," he sighs.
"Maybe if we had lived with the songs for eight or nine months instead of recording them in the way that we'd learned them, things would've emerged in those songs that didn't get a chance to."
The ever-present prospect of self-repetition is one of the most difficult aspects of being in Blue Rodeo.
"We're very aware if we've been there, done that if we fall into those traps we have to shake it up purposely," Donovan explains. "Sometimes you bang your head against the wall and you end up going back to your original idea because it really was the [best] one anyway. Then you have to decide if you're going to repeat something is it worth repeating?"
Fuelling the band's creative output is the friendly tension between songwriting duo Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor. According to Donovan, this album's initial songwriting sessions were bolstered by a tangible sense of anxiety between the pair.
"I would say from watching the two of them, that there is a friendly, healthy competition," he says coyly. "It's more in the rehearsal process where the tension is. That's when you're most vulnerable, when you're putting your ideas on the line and that's when people are kicking your ass and saying 'That sucks,' or 'That's a shitty idea.'"
And until something happens to disturb that healthy balance, Blue Rodeo will continue making albums deemed successful by their own personal definition: "Records that we can be happy with and that tell a tale of what we're up to at the time."
Blue Rodeo play a sold out show tonight at Centennial Hall and return for an April 13 engagement.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000