ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON APRIL 15, 1983
By Steve Newton
Red Rider plays the Commodore Ballroom Tuesday, April 19. I spoke to the group’s lead vocalist and songwriter Tom Cochrane over the phone from Toronto last Monday.
I understand your group had a bus accident in the Rocky Mountains not long ago.
Well we lost a wheel going through the mountains, and the bus kind of slipped off to the side of the cliff, but our bus driver regained control of it.
Were you fearing for your life?
I was asleep [laughs]. It was about three in the morning. It woke me up, but sort of after the fact. Some of the other guys were up in the lounge, and they were slightly petrified, but I had passed out with a John Irving novel on top of me.
Which authors have influenced the lyric style you use in Red Rider?
This album is named after Pablo Neruda, and I’d say that he probably influenced the main body of it. He’s a Chilean poet. The album wasn’t directly based on his work, but a lot of the moods and textures, and some of the ideals on the album have strong parallels with his work. I used him as a metaphor for the character that’s stumbling his way through the album.
There’s an overall theme, which is the survival of the individual at times when everything in society is undermining that individuality. It’s about standing up for your beliefs in spite of the odds. I think that in the computer age, and the age where there’s the threat of nuclear war continually hanging over our heads like a dark cloud, that it’s easy to get beaten down and I think one of the things rock and roll has always stood for is survival of the individual and freedom of thought. A lot of those themes are explored in this record.
I used Neruda as a metaphor for that because Pablo Neruda was chastised for being the sort of individual who wrote what he felt he had to write. He got expelled from his homeland for his beliefs.
Where did the idea for “Power (Strength in Numbers)” come from?
The idea behind that was spawned when I was witness to a jumper at Toronto City Hall about a year ago January. There were people chanting “Jump!” and a lot of people looking indifferent–and I became really depressed and repulsed by the whole thing. I thought about the whole crowd dynamic and the fact that there was a lot of excitement generated by this sort of thing, and that people really liked to court this kind of tragedy.
What about “Napoleon Sheds His Skin”? That’s kind of a strange title.
That is, once again, a metaphor. Napoleon is a metaphor for power and how power corrupts. That song is basically about the pressure, the elixir of power and the fact that we’re all drawn to power in different ways. It’s a corrupting force and an erosionary force, and it undermines all the good in mankind.
In the end of that particular song the character has been captured. It’s about an incident that actually happened in Latin America. He was captured by the forces that were in power in that particular country, and in the end he found himself in jail, realizing that he really didn’t want a lot of the things that he had gotten involved in and the power that he was striving for. All he wanted was to be with his loved one and his family.
And I could relate very strongly to [Dire Straits’] Love Over Gold album, when it came out, because of that. We explored some of the same themes that they did. It’s funny that the albums should parallel and be released at relatively the same time.
Did your first album, Don’t Fight It, have the themes of power as well, or was it more just a collection of fun tunes?
Most of the songs that have gained attention for the band have been the songs that have been somewhat thematic, and there’s a few songs on Don’t Fight It that perhaps lack the depth of a “Lunatic Fringe” or a “Napoleon Sheds his Skin”. “White Hot” got most of the attention, and that was one of our more left-field songs.
We began to realize during As Far as Siam that we were one of the lucky bands in that we could do the kind of material that we wanted to do and indulge ourselves, and that people were still responding to it. That was the secret to our success. “White Hot” and “Lunatic Fringe” were the songs that we thought were least likely to get any airplay, but we really wanted to have those songs on record. So we got them on record, and they turned out to be the songs that got the lion’s share of the attention. They were never the songs that we thought would be the singles.
Do you think there’s too much “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” in rock and roll today?
Well I have said that haven’t I [laughs]. I think there’s a lot of junk, a lot of crap out there, and I’m tired of journalists and writers trying to justify a lot of it and trying to place a lot of it on pedestals. I think there’s a lot of material out there that doesn’t deserve to be on record–it’s a lot of trendy bullshit. And I think a lot of the press and a lot of the radio reaction to things is based primarily on fashion and on trendiness rather than on substance.
I think that bands like ours tend to get overshadowed by a lot of this junk. It comes and goes so quickly that two months down the line you can barely remember the names of some of these bands and artists.
I don’t understand why some very intelligent people in press and in radio seem to respond to this kind of thing. Maybe it’s because they don’t feel it’s a threat to them. They like to think that they’re above it, but as soon as anything comes along that challenges their own intellect it scares them.
But there is a lot of good music too. There’s a lot of really relevant new music and it is going through an exciting period right now.
Where did you find the cover art for the Neruda album?
It was a collaborative effort between myself, [keyboardist] Steve Sexton and the designer Hugh Syme. It was just an idea that I had, and I was really determined that the artwork should tie in with the feel of the music, and the whole theme of the album.
It’s sort of an image of a man disintegrating.
Yeah, a lot of people call him The Nuked Man. He’s still standing in a very proud pose, and yet he is disintegrating. He’s almost like a jazz figurine–the kind of thing you’d see etched on a shield of the Mika Indians or something.
Living in Toronto, and having your management in Vancouver, do you find any differences between the music scenes on the East and West coasts?
I find the attitude is much better in Vancouver–and I’m not saying that because I’m talking to a Vancouver paper–I truly believe that. I think there’s much better interaction between musicians, and a much more active musical community in terms of sharing ideas in Vancouver. Toronto is much more competitive and more cutthroat that way.
It’s very common to slip down to the Savoy and find people from Chilliwack playing with people from Loverboy, or Bryan Adams jamming with people from Chilliwack. That sort of thing goes on all the time. I find that it’s exciting and fun and a real good opportunity to share ideas and stimulate each other.
To hear the full audio of my 1983 interview with Tom Cochrane subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 350 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
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John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
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Kate Bush, 1985
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Jeff Healey, 1988
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Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
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Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
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Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
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Jason Isbell, 2007
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Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
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Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
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Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
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Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
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Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
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Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
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Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
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Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
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Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
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Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
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Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
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….with hundreds more to come