ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 22, 2003
When Sam Roberts fans pick up his debut album We Were Born in a Flame (due in stores on May 27), they might be surprised to hear that half of the singer’s The Inhuman Condition EP resurfaces on the CD. Among the three rereleased songs is a new version of “Brother Down”, the infectious pop ditty that ruled Canadian airwaves last summer. It appears as though his label, Universal, didn’t want to take any chances on not having a bona fide hit this (second) time around.
“That was kinda how the whole deal that we signed [with Universal] came into being, really,” reports Roberts, calling from his band’s van as it speeds along Highway 401 to a tour stop in Toronto. “They were fairly good with us in terms of allowing us as much creative freedom as we needed, but the one condition was that we put those three songs from the EP on the new album.”
The creative freedom Roberts speaks of was manifest in his choice of producer for Flame. He was allowed to pick Brenndan McGuire, best known for his work with Halifax rockers Sloan. “I was always a fan of the way that Sloan’s albums sounded,” he states, “and I’d met Brenndan over the last coupla years at gigs. He’d be doin’ Sloan’s sound or something, and our paths would cross. We always got along well, which I figured was an essential ingredient to any healthy relationship with a producer, because it does get pretty trying at times, when you’re locked in a sort of dungeonlike atmosphere with one other person. Not that Mushroom resembles a dungeon, of course.”
It was at Vancouver’s famed Mushroom Studios that Roberts and his band recorded the nearly one-hour-long Flame, which is so packed with potential hits that it hardly needs the boost of the Inhuman Condition triumvirate. Anyone who appreciates catchy, well-constructed guitar-rock is advised to check Roberts out when he plays the Commodore on Friday (May 23), or takes part in the massive Sasquatch! Music Festival—which features the likes of Coldplay, Neko Case, the Flaming Lips, Jurassic 5, and Modest Mouse—at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington the next day.
Since Roberts is based in Montreal, one might wonder why he didn’t just hang tight in that happenin’ town and make the album there. “Montreal’s too full of distractions,” claims the 28-year-old tunesmith, “and the nightlife is out of control. These are all things that can keep you away from really getting focused in on a record. And Vancouver ended up being an interesting choice of locale. We were out there last summer and the weather was beautiful, and I thought it would just be an inspiring place that puts you in a certain frame of mind every day when you’re on your way to the studio, just kind of lookin’ around.
“But at the same time, you know, you go out there and you see another side of the city altogether. There are a lot of homeless people and a lot of drug addicts, and it’s very visible. And that was maybe—not necessarily unexpected, but I think in a sense it wasn’t all sunny days and good times in Vancouver. I think that sort of put its mark on the record as well.”