Sliding a Sam Roberts CD into your stereo system is a satisfying experience. It feels familiar, and yet unique. His sturdy indie-rock feels comfortable, even when the lyrics are somewhat unsettling.
"When I die, won't you please feed me / to the lions of the Kalahari," Roberts sings. "I don't care if they eat my bones / 'cause I know I won't be goin' home."
"Lions of the Kalahari" appears on The Sam Roberts Band's new album, Love at the End of the World. Roberts, a native of Montreal, recently won a Juno Award — the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy.
In spite of its blunt and vaguely disturbing lyrics, "Lions of the Kalahari," a kind of alt-country rock lullaby, is a direct reference to Roberts' daughter, Miriam.
"I think it grew over a couple years preceding the birth of my daughter," Roberts says. "We were taking a trip to the Kalahari desert in Botswana, and it's just one of those places that leaves a mark on you. I figured if and when I die, that an appropriate fate for me was to have my bones fed to the lions there, if they'd have me. And, of course, to counterbalance that, it was the introduction of brand-new life into my world. It was a way of spanning the whole cycle."
The song is Roberts' most personal statement on the record, but it's been jokingly dubbed "Lions of the Calamari" by his bandmates.
"I guess it was too good to resist," he says.
Roberts met with Liane Hansen to tell the stories behind a few of the songs on Love at the End of the World. "Detroit 67," a bluesy love song about the Motor City, follows Roberts' childhood fascination with the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit with Windsor, Ontario. His family made the 17-hour trek each year from Montreal, and seeing the flag change from Canadian to American always stuck with him.
"Oh Maria" takes the idea of unrequited love to the extreme, through the story of a woman who's both a borderline psychopath and a convicted murderer. Though Roberts' songs often portray dark themes, his sunny sense of humor often reveals their messages as tongue-in-cheek.