Photo courtesy of Corb Lund/Denise Debelius
Despite being listed in Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of 10 New Country Artists You Need to Know, Corb Lund has been making music and blending different genres since 1989.
The Canadian country music star was one of the forming members and bassist of an indie and punk rock band called the smalls until 2001. In 1995, he started the country-western Corb Lund Band, which later became Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans.
Many of his songs reflect his upbringing on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, both with their lyrical content and western cowboy genre. Despite that influence, he’s known for mixing various genres like Americana, roots, blues, rock and more.
Three of his albums are certified gold, and he’s an eight-time Canadian Country Music Awards Roots Artist of the Year. He’s won several awards from Western Canadian Music Awards, Canadian Independent Music Awards, Juno Awards and more. Despite all of that success, Corb said he just likes to focus on writing songs and telling stories, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon.
He’s about to kick off a big U.S and Canadian tour, and Fargo Monthly got the chance to chat with Corb before his May 19 show at the Sanctuary Events Center for his first visit to Fargo. We talked about performing live shows without a set list, his life growing up on a ranch, what’s next for him and more.
How did your love of music start?
Corb Lund: My family are all ranchers and cowboy people, and I grew up listening mostly to Marty Robbins, so that’s kind of how that started. My grandpas would sing old cowboy ballads. I didn’t learn to play music until later, but that was the first stuff that I listened to. And some Johnny Horton and some Kenny Rogers. I’m a big story-song guy. Not all of mine are story songs, but a lot of them are.
Well it’s good to have that variety so that people can learn different aspects of you as an artist as well.
Lund: I sort of play underground country-western music. It draws a lot on old-fashioned country, similar to western swing and some sort of 70s Waylon Jennings-style country and lots of cowboy themes in the lyrics. It’s a little more rough around the edges than most of the stuff on the radio.
I noticed that. I think there are interesting musical styles within your different albums as well. To go along with that, how do you balance experimenting with different musical styles while still trying to stay true to who you are as an artist?
Lund: I find that if I put on someone’s record and all the songs sort of sound similar, it bores me, so we try to mix in a lot of stuff. A little western swing and a little bluegrass, a little folk and a lot of cowboy stuff. It’s a good mix, and I like the way each song on the record sounds really different. When I’m writing the lyrical content, it’s usually pretty personal, so that keeps it pretty grounded. For the music part, I’m not going to be doing a dance mix anytime soon, but I feel pretty comfortable in all kinds of country or blues or folk or acoustic sub-genres so I like to mix it up.
You were in a band called “the smalls.” Can you tell me a little bit about that, and how that shaped the start of your musical career?
Lund: I grew up in a cowboy family, and I listened to western music my whole life when I was a kid. And then when I was about 15, I discovered rock ‘n roll in school, as you do, and that’s what actually drove me to pick up a guitar. I learned to play rock music and I started a band, and we did that for about 10 years. And then part of the way through that, I discovered that I could play all the old Marty Robbins songs that I learned when I was a kid on the guitar so I started a country act halfway through and we’d do weekend gigs. And then when the rock band retired, I started doing it full time in the 2000s.
I think that if you listen to my music and it’s a little different, any kind of quirkiness or uniqueness that’s in the writing style probably comes from the decade in an indie rock band where you’re encouraged to be different and unique and find your own sound. My music is kind of a combination of growing up really western combined with a sort of punk rock irreverence. I like to take all the old western themes and kind of screw with them a little bit. It’s always a balance between trying new things but not going so far that you freak people out.
How has your song-writing process changed over the years, and how do you decide what to write about?
Lund: I keep a notebook and I get ideas all the time, and I just sit down and flush them out. A lot of it is family history. My family is originally from Utah and Nevada. They ranched down there for a long time, and then both sides came to Canada around the turn of the century. So I draw a lot on that stuff for content. And as far as deciding, sometimes you don’t have control over it because you’ll have 30 ideas and you develop them all, and some of them just don’t work out. And some of them are really awesome, so you just go with what works.
You’re an 8-time Canadian Country Music Awards Roots Artist of the Year, and you’ve garnered a lot of attention with other awards and nominations as well. How do you handle that level of success?
Lund: I don’t really focus on that much. It’s nice to get awards, but I’m mostly focused on playing instruments and writing songs. It’s nice to see your career grow, but when it comes to the part of it that I enjoy, it’s the writing and the performing, so I just try to keep improving at that. Playing live shows is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s super fun.
Is each live show unique in how you approach it?
Lund: Each one is unique, and I don’t use a set list anymore. I just call audibles all night. I have sort of like complicated baseball hand signals to tell my band what song is next. We read the crowd. Sometimes they like to rock out, and sometimes they want to listen. And sometimes it’s just me, I want to change it up. I’ve got eight records worth of material to work with, and about two-thirds of it, we can play at any given time, so that’s pretty fun.
Do you think you’ve had a moment yet when you’ve realized that you’ve made it, or has that moment not come yet? How would you describe success for yourself?
Lund: I haven’t really had one moment in my career that’s been like ‘Wow, this is it.’ It’s been a series of things, like we’ve had some songs on the soundtrack on that Netflix show called The Ranch. And Sam Elliott is in that series, so I’ve been telling people that I’ve made it because I’ve technically worked with Sam Elliott. That’s my latest high point.
So what’s next for you? What can fans expect in the near future or further down the line?
Lund: I’m working on a new record, and we’re firing up the band in May. Fargo is part of a much larger American western tour. We’re doing it all over the west, all through the summer through the end of August. So lots of playing, and I’m trying to record a record this year.
Watch Corb Lund’s live performance of “S Lazy H” below:
Also, watch his live preview of his 2015 album, Things That Can’t Be Undone, below:
Find out more about Corb and his tour on his website. His 21+ show will be Saturday, May 19 at Sanctuary Events Center. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance or $23 the day of the show and can be purchased here.