Sam Roberts reflects on the power of music in dark days

By Paul Rodgers

Sam Roberts believes in a great responsibility when it comes to songwriting.
Photo: Paul Labonté

CALGARY — In a song entitled “Uprising Down Under” from Sam Roberts Band’s second record Chemical City, the Montreal-born Canadian music staple wrote, “Whoever said you can’t be saved by a song, whoever said that was stringing you along.” In 2016, a year painted with a brush of disdain by the vast majority of the population, the multiple JUNO award-winning group released their sixth album TerraForm, and that refrain still rings through as a motto in their mentality towards their songwriting and outlook on their role as musicians.

“It’s been a pretty dark year on all fronts for people and for humanity,” says Roberts. “We have not put our best foot forward, on many fronts this year. And I kind of feel like when you’re a musician and you’re writing music or playing music in the face of that, that you first of all have to realize the significance of what you’re doing and the potential influence that it can wield over people’s lives and take that responsibility to heart, take it seriously.”

The group put out TerraForm after what Roberts described as a period of “frantic hibernation.” The year began for the group as a “blur” as they were locked into the songwriting process.

“You don’t get a chance to make a record, even every year, so there’s always such a weight, a significance put on it by ourselves, because you have a chance to do something meaningful.”

Beyond creating something of meaning for themselves as individuals and band mates, the group’s hope is that their music can reach people on a meaningful level. Whether if be through their live performances or the records they release, they strive to pour themselves into their music in order to give people something they can carry with them or as Roberts puts it, “So that they can go out there and deal with this heap of shit that’s thrown at them all the time from all sides, and then actually have some kind of will and desire to do something about it.”

Hopefulness is always a fundamental component of Robert’s songwriting, and is a cornerstone of the new album; the ability to realize that despite feelings of brokenness or bleakness that can abound in troubled times, there is a power within us to begin anew.

“If you are an optimistic person, if you are a hopeful person, you will find light at the end of the tunnel,” says Roberts, “but that doesn’t mean that you don’t hold a mirror up to the darkness as well, and I think that to me has always been the challenge. It’s not just singing about the cheerful solution to everything, it’s been about trying to at least show that there’s something that needs to be fixed, something that’s not necessarily broken but has cracks and the seeds of its own destruction there for all to see. It’s how do you go about addressing that? And how do you go about dragging it back to the light? And that, to me, is the true challenge of writing a meaningful song.”

When asked about the line from “Uprising Down Under” and if it still rings true today for the group, Roberts responded, “I think we sort of live by that motto in a way, and I think for our own sanity and our own sense of survival we believe in that wholly, and we trust that other people, if they don’t believe it already, come to see the truth in that some way.”

So while 2016 was indeed rife with darkness and times of despair, it’s important to reflect upon the simple, but profound power of music to inspire hope and light within a listener, and it is something that the Sam Roberts Band will continue to integrate into their music in years to come.

Sam Roberts Band plays Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg on January 31st, O’Brian’s Event Centre in Saskatoon on February 1st, Grey Eagle Event Centre in Calgary on February 3rd, Kelowna’s Community Theatre on February 5th and The Orpheum in Vancouver on February 7th.

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