Sam Roberts: Rock At 'The End Of The World' Roberts' sturdy indie-rock sound can feel comfortable, familiar and satisfying. Though his songs often portray dark themes, his sunny sense of humor often reveals their messages as tongue-in-cheek. Here, Roberts tells some of the heartfelt and twisted stories behind his new songs.
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Sam Roberts: Rock At 'The End Of The World'

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Sam Roberts: Rock At 'The End Of The World'

Sam Roberts: Rock At 'The End Of The World'

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Liane Hansen is away but she spoke recently with a hot, young Canadian rocker who just won two Juno Awards. That's Canada's version of the Grammys for Artist of the Year and Rock Album of the Year.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: Sliding a Sam Roberts CD into your stereo system is a satisfying experience. It feels totally familiar and yet unique. The music and melodies can feel comfortable, but the lyrics can be somewhat unsettling.

(Soundbite of song, "Fixed to Ruin")

Mr. SAM ROBERTS (Singer): (Singing) I'm fixed to ruin, you're fixed on me, we could change positions, honey, with no guarantee. Sun down in a southern town, then it came the rain, I saw you in a different light, you saw me just the same. She can dance like she got no bones, I forget, I'm all alone…

WERTHEIMER: That's "Fixed to Ruin" from the Sam Roberts Band new CD, "Love at the End of the World." Roberts is a native of Montreal, Canada and may be coming to a town near you. He and his band mates are touring to support "Love at the End of the World." Welcome to the program.

Mr. ROBERTS: Thank you. Nice to be here.

WERTHEIMER: You've written a love song to the city of Detroit.

(Soundbite of song, "Detroit '67")

Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) This is Detroit, see the skyline, a commotion on the assembly line. Raise a glass to the ambassador, as she's moving you to the dance floor. Does anyone here tonight remember those times? Can anyone here tonight just tell me what they felt like?

WERTHEIMER: "Detroit '67," Sam Roberts Band. You're asking does anyone remember. Do you? You're too young to remember Detroit 1967.

Mr. ROBERTS: Exactly. That's why I have to ask the question. I need some firsthand, I guess, testimony if that's at all possible.

WERTHEIMER: Yeah, those were tough times in Detroit in 1967.

Mr. ROBERTS: That, to me, is what inspired the writing of the song. The fact that you seem to face your darkest hour at times like that and yet they are a very resilient bunch of people living up there.

WERTHEIMER: And a font of amazing music.

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, that's it. I think this is, you know, just an attempt to pay tribute to that music and again to the willpower and determination and hopefulness of the people there.

WERTHEIMER: Tell us about the ambassador and what that meant to you.

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, the Ambassador Bridge spans the water between Windsor, Ontario in Canada and Detroit in Michigan. And for myself and my family, once a year we drive the old station wagon with wood-paneled sides from Montreal the 17-hour trip to Muncie, Indiana and to where my aunt had a farm. And as soon as you hit Windsor, you knew that the Ambassador Bridge was coming up.

And halfway across that bridge, the flag would turn from the Canadian flag into the American flag. And you'd see the skyline of Detroit reflecting off the river. And it was always this moment of transformation and it stuck with me.

WERTHEIMER: There's a tune on the CD - cut four - and it's called "Lions of the Kalahari."

(Soundbite of song, "Lions of the Kalahari")

Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) I had never heard a sweeter sound, till the day that I heard my baby cry, these things I shall carry until I die. Oh, she's never far away from me. Oh, she's never far away from me…

WERTHEIMER: The she in that title is your daughter Miriam.

Mr. ROBERTS: That's right.

WERTHEIMER: Yeah. Direct reference.

Mr. ROBERTS: Perhaps the only really direct reference on the record that I can think of that comes to mind anyway.

WERTHEIMER: So, why this song? How did this song come about?

Mr. ROBERTS: I think it grew over a couple of years, actually two years or so preceding the birth of my daughter where I'd taken a trip to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa and Botswana. And just one of those places that leaves a mark on you. And I figured if and when I die, that might be an appropriate fate for me was to have my bones fed to the lions there - if they'd have me anyway. And, of course, to counterbalance that, it was the introduction of brand new life into my world. I figured it was a way of spanning the whole cycle.

(Soundbite of song, "Lions of the Kalahari")

Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) When I die won't you please feed me to the lions of the Kalahari. I don't care if they eat my bones, 'cause I know I won't be going home…

WERTHEIMER: Is it true you and your band mates, they'll call this lions of the calamari (unintelligible)?

Mr. ROBERTS: There's supposed to be a moratorium on bastardizing our own lyrics and album titles and song titles for at least five or six years after the inception. But I guess it was too good to resist for a few of my band mates, so they've dubbed it lions of the calamari, which disturbed me to no end because it was the most personal, and perhaps is the most personal, song on the record. So, I'm glad that that's now been aired on national radio.

WERTHEIMER: Get that out of the way now.

Mr. ROBERTS: Might as well. Exactly.

WERTHEIMER: Does Miriam, your daughter, travel with you on the road?

Mr. ROBERTS: She does. She comes and bounces along in the back of the van…


Mr. ROBERTS: …and the bus once in a while. Absolutely. So, it's important that, you know, we try to keep together as a family and not necessarily have two separate realities.

WERTHEIMER: And now that she's walking, you know, now is she dancing around to your music and, you know, bopping a bit?

Mr. ROBERTS: She does dance around to my music. Sometimes she tells me to turn it off. And in fact at home, I think she sees the guitar as pulling me back to this other life. So, as soon as I pick up the guitar to try to play, she grabs it out of my hand and tells me that I'm not to do it. That I should rather play hide and go seek with her for two or three hours at a time.

So, no, the guitar is off limits at home. So, I'm not really sure how the next record is going to come about at all.

WERTHEIMER: How do you know when a recording's done?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, the car stereo has always been the definitive mix in terms of, you know, our own analysis of the work that we've done. So, this is going back again to when we were recording our demos on a cassette, on a four-track machine in our basement. And the only way that you could proof the mix was to take it into your parents' car and put it in and listen to it.

And if it sounded good in there, it meant it was going to sound good anywhere. And that's still the tried and tested rule to this day.

WERTHEIMER: So, you've been said that you like to sculpt the show to be its own unique experience and the set list has to reflect the mood of the band and what you're trying to establish.

Mr. ROBERTS: Yeah, and that's part of our daily ritual to sit there as a band and we hash it out. And are we feeling more sort of tight and intense or is it sort of going to be a more open-ended and maybe psychedelic set list? So, we tend to shift every day. And we rarely, if ever, play the same set twice in a row.

WERTHEIMER: What song would you like to go out on?

Mr. ROBERTS: I think I'll go with "Oh Maria."

WERTHEIMER: Tell us something about it before we play it.

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, it's a song that's not just based on personal experience. I think everybody out there, all the fellows out there, you know, in some way relate to that relationship where you're completely wrapped around a woman's finger. In this case, this woman just happens to be borderline psychopathic and has to be institutionalized several times and then goes to jail for murder. So, I just took that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBERTS: …the unrequited love story and made it, you know, took it to an extreme.

WERTHEIMER: Oh boy, I like to leave them laughing, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: The new CD from the Sam Roberts Band is called "Love at the End of the World." Thanks for coming in. It's been nice to meet you.

Mr. ROBERTS: Thanks. It's been a pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Oh Maria")

Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) Saw a photograph of you today, your eyes looked tired but you haven't aged. And now I see that you made the front page. Married for the money and you blew him away. Oh, Maria, when you were doing time, you only had five words on your mind. Life is for the taking…

WERTHEIMER: You can hear full songs by the Sam Roberts Band, watch videos and hear a live concert at

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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