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InterVue Article

The Keelor Inside Me

Blue Rodeo's Days In Between is no interim album


The cover of Blue Rodeo’s new disc, The Days In Between, shows a lone car drifting down a barren road. The isolated journey the image evokes seems to fit Greg Keelor’s personality–unlike the rest of the Toronto-based band, Keelor headed out into the country. He’s never been comfortable with being famous. If he had a choice, he’d move even farther away.

For now, Keelor is happily tucked away in his home, an hour east of Toronto. In a short while, he will join his bandmates–Jim Cuddy, bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem, organist James Gray and guitarist Kim Deschamps–out on the familiar road for their latest tour of this home and native land. His manner over the telephone is much like his posture onstage–a bit like that of a dreamer.

Vue Weekly: There’s something about Blue Rodeo that’s fascinated me, and that’s the consistency in the music. You can go back and listen to Casino, and listen to something recorded later on, and they sound like they were made at the same time. It seems like the band hasn’t allowed itself to be affected by musical trends whatsoever. What’s your opinion on that?

Greg Keelor: In our world, we’ve taken turns. We went from Lost Together to doing something like Five Days, which was a totally different thing for us. But it’s always Jim and myself as songwriters, and there are certain styles that we write in. We’re prisoners of who we are, and there’s no getting around the kind of songs we make. The musical route is always the same, but you take detours all the time.

You’re also one of the few Canadian bands that can lay a claim to longevity. Do you have any contemporaries that you think should have received as much attention as you have?

When Jim and I started the band back in 1978, there was this guy around at the time who was like a hero to us. There’s a song about him on the new album called "Rage." Keith Whittaker sang in a band called the Demics, and Keith was an amazing songwriter. He was a gifted poet, a great singer and a great physical presence onstage–menacing and intimidating. I can remember back when we were first making it–whatever that means–and people would ask about success and stuff like that. To these people, the phenomenon of success is more important than the music you make. I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud and a cheat because there were people like Keith who were natural poets, and I felt that I wasn’t in the same league. Here I was experiencing this success, where people who I thought were better than me were still in obscurity. Keith died a couple of years ago, and he’s still an inspiring character. The second gig that Jim and I ever did, back when we were the Hi-Fi’s, we opened for the Demics. After the gig, he threw a drunken arm around me and gave me a lecture about what rock ’n’ roll was. I believed him at the time, because he was Keith Demic!

How do you relate the song to Keith?

The song is about sitting in this bar in Toronto, the Cameron, where everybody used to hang out. It was a great scene. And he’d sit there, and after three pints he’d start singing these stream-of-consciousness songs–about the people in the bar, or some book he had been reading. These songs would be caustic, but a lot of fun. After six beers, he’d get a little meaner, and then he’d want to go to another bar. That was when it would get really scary, because you’d be out on the street, he was a nut, and you didn’t know where you were going. The line in the song–"When will you rage again?"–refers to the fact that after the Demics broke up, Keith never found another outfit to work with. He was always talking about it, but nothing ever seemed to pull together. It doesn’t refer to throwing a beer bottle across a room. It’s asking about when you’ll get back to doing what you do so well.

Tell me about the first single, "Somebody Waits."

It was one of those numbers that was fun to hear percolate into being. While we were recording the record, Jim would go over to this piano in the corner during breaks and start working out the chords for it. So we’d hear him over in the corner, working away on it, and every day it would flesh out a bit more. I eventually asked him if we were going to put the song on the record, and he said, "Oh, I dunno. I don’t really seem to have a song yet." We liked hearing it so much that we recorded the music. Once we did that, Jim was able to actually finish the song."

Were there many more surprise moments like that in the studio?

The communication was really good. People were making lots of suggestions and everyone seemed open to them. There have been times in the band where communication wasn’t good, where people would make a suggestion and you’d tell them to fuck off. I can think back a couple of years ago, and I wouldn’t listen to somebody who thought that a lyric wasn’t very good. People were helping shape the songs this time, and that was kind of fun.

Is this a sign of maturity for the band?

I think we went over a bit of a hump a couple of years back. We did some solo records, which were like a release valve for us. Plus there was the issue of identifying with the band and all that stuff–we deconstructed things. Time, too. The recording sessions were timed just right–starting rehearsals right after a tour [like Stardust Picnic] isn’t a good idea.

What was the attraction of heading off to Daniel Lanois’s studio in New Orleans to record this album?

There aren’t that many great studios around Toronto for making records. There’s a few that have nice vibes, but the gear isn’t spectacular. Besides, the places that have all the good gear are kind of cold and corporate. We’ve always had this problem. This studio in New Orleans, though, was built for making records. It has this old recording board from [legendary New York record studio] the Hit Factory. Tons of great records have been made on this board. This was the place where Trina [Shoemaker, producer] learned her trade, too. We were just comfortable down there.

The New Orleans vibe worked for you, then.

But I didn’t even go outside for the first five days we were down there. It’s a big old place, so you never feel like you’re on top of each other. There’s so many little rooms and corners that you can get away from whatever you’re doing. It’s nice to be able to go to bed in the same place you’re recording in, so you can get your head firmly planted up your own ass for a few days.

So are you going to leave everything and move to New Orleans?

Naw. I’d rather get more isolated than anything. That’s more my kind of speed.

Blue Rodeo

With the Whitlams • Jubilee Auditorium • Mon-Tue, Feb 14-15

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