Satellite Radio and Saddlin’ Up

Corb Lund’s Cabin Fever Mixes Old-Fashioned Whisky and Subversive New Country

Today, Corb Lund has settled on “subversive country” to describe his music.

music. While most country musicians wouldn’t even attempt using a word like that, “subversive” joins “ulterior” and “dissident” in the rope of adjectives that he pulls out to lasso his sound. “Our stuff is old-fashioned country and our audience is really fragmented,” said Lund. “It’s got enough of that old-school, Johnny Cash/Hank Williams feel to it that I think people who like old-school country like it.”

But if it’s clear now from Lund’s lyrics that his roots are buried deep in the mythology of the Albertan prairie soil that raised him, it was a decidedly un-country sound that first tugged him away from the ranch—hardcore punk.

The 12-year stretch with his ’90s hardcore band, The Smalls, instilled in him an indie-rock mentality that the country can’t buck, and which allows him to use terms like “subversive country” in his slight cowboy drawl without sounding absurd.

“The difference between the stuff I do and the stuff on the mainstream is that I write all my own songs—other guys don’t,” said Lund. “Even when they do, it tends to be kind of schlocky. There’s definitely an underground, bubbling subculture.”

Lund’s subculture seems to be populated with urban cowboys and their parents—classic country crowd.

His last three albums; Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer, Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! and Losin’ Lately Gambler are stylistically diverse, running from the themes of gambling addiction to the tales of cavalry soldiers.

“The difference between the stuff I do and the stuff on the mainstream is that I write all my own songs—other guys don’t,” said Lund. “Even when they do, it tends to be kind of schlocky.”

Lund says the range is a result of his boredom with the familiar and his goal of making every record a little different then the last—not better, just different.

With tightly-wound lyrics and raw recordings void of what he calls “studio trickery,” Cabin Fever, Lund’s seventh album, flirts with apocalyptic themes and makes ample use of firearm metaphors. It’s been touted as an album that pushes the boundaries of his style, but Lund doesn’t agree with that insinuation.

It took three years to write—three years peppered with restless travelling in an attempt to kick his writer’s block. Lund finally settled in his cabin west of Edmonton—a cabin he built with an uncle who passed away during the making of the album.

Emotional fuel from this—and the disintegration of a long-term relationship—contributed to a desolate, lonely tone in songs like “One Left in the Chamber” and “September,” about a love being lured away from “1,000 acres in the Rocky Mountains” by the hustle of the big city.

While clearly his darkest work to date, Lund manages to blend suicide ballads with swing-country tunes. Tracks like “Cows Around,” in which Lund lists off a litany of cattle breeds, and “The Gothest Girl I Can,” both evoke his traditional brand of quick-witted barn-raisers.

Lund and his band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, recorded the album in a whisky haze at Riverdale Recorders in Edmonton.
“I want to be [Pendleton Whisky’s] spokesperson, but they won’t take me up on it,” said Lund.

He adds this niche style was—somewhat counter-intuitively—propelled out of cities into rural locales by satellite radio and the Internet.

“It’s interesting, because years ago when I started, ironically, the people most into it were in the city, because they had access to it,” said Lund. “Out in the country you don’t have many choices. You can listen to CBC, or the rock station, or the country station and that was about it. But now everybody can do exactly what they want.”

Lund’s label, New West Records, is putting its weight behind Cabin Fever in a push to capture the country music market in the United States. Debuting at number one on Billboard’s Canadian charts in September, it has yet to crack the Top 50 in Country albums south of the border.

“It’s tricky, because none of them can believe we’re from Canada; they think we’re from Texas. I have to explain to them that we have cattle in Alberta.”

Corb Lund and The Hurtin’ Albertans / Nov. 19 / Petit Campus (57 Prince Arthur St. E) / 8:00 p.m.