The last two years haven’t been easy on anyone. For a touring musician like Corb Lund, it’s meant being cut off from all the familiar faces and places that give the life you lead on the road, and the songs you sing on it, their very shape and meaning.
"The best part about recording all these tunes was that they reminded me of all the people who I haven’t been able to hang out with for the past two years because of the plague we’ve all been dealing with," says Lund. "All of these tunes bring a smile to my face and I hope they do the same for you".
Corb Lund’s new album Songs My Friends Wrote will be released on April 29th on New West Records. The record features Lund taking on some of his favourite songs written by close friends and world-class songwriters such as Hayes Carll, Todd Snider and Ian Tyson and making them very much his own.
The follow up to 2020’s critically acclaimed Agricultural Tragic - which earned him the 2021 Canadian Country Music Association Award for Alternative Country Album of the Year - Songs My Friends Wrote is an album Lund says he’s been “threatening to make for years”.
"I’m fortunate to count a lot of world-class songwriters as good pals and I wanted to shine a little light on some of my favourite examples of their work," he says. "In most cases, I’ve picked relatively obscure songs that have always spoken to me, even though many of them won’t be so familiar to people".
The album’s first single, ‘Highway 87’, was written by Hayes Carll. "I’ve known Hayes forever," Lund explains. "We met at a card game in Dauphin, Manitoba, many moons ago; we both lost all our money to my ex, Debbie. Hayes and I have toured together, written together, drank together and he’s one of my best friends in music. This song is one of his that’s older and not as widely known, but my guys and I have been playing it for years. I love it".
Elsewhere on the record, he takes on ‘Blue Wing’ by Tom Russell, ‘Spookin’ the Horses’ by Fred Eaglesmith, ‘Age Like Wine’ by Todd Snider, and ‘Road To Las Cruces’ by Ian Tyson. As well as another Hayes Carll song, ‘Little Rock’.
Lund was about to embark on a completely sold-out cross-country Canadian tour later this week. With the ongoing global pandemic, the tour will be moved to April and May. This year will also see Lund’s debut at the historic Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
He took time out to talk to Holler about making the new record and the inspiration behind it.
Where did the idea for making this album come from?
I’ve been playing a lot of these songs live for years, just admiring others from afar and figured I might ought to document them. By nature of what I do for a living, I hang out with tons of world class songwriters, some well known, some not as well known. So I thought shining some light on some of their more obscure tracks would be cool and might bring a few more listeners to the party across the board.
How different is it for you to sing someone else’s song in comparison to singing a song of your own?
Well, I picked songs that I love that my friends wrote, so the whole writer insecurity component is missing. When you sing your own songs, you always have the critical nagging voice on your shoulder telling you maybe you should have done a better job. When it’s not your tune and it’s already written, that burden is lifted.
Did you consciously try to pick songs that fit together as a whole album?
Not really. I just grabbed a big mess of tunes and kept jamming them with my guys until we had eight or ten that sounded best. There will be lots more to come, I had a lot of great choices.
Did any of the songwriters get involved at any stage with the recordings of their songs?
No, they didn’t. I deliberately didn’t get them involved because I wanted the album to be a bit of a surprise. Hope no one’s pissed off! I also wanted to fully integrate the tunes into my mode of expression. I didn’t want my versions to be too close to the originals. I approached the process in terms of their job ending with having written the songs and my job starting with re-interpreting them my own way. You could do it another way, but that’s the way that appealed to me.
Was it easier to record an album of other people’s songs than an album of your own?
Yeah for sure. You take the whole writing element out of the mix and that’s a ton of the work. Most of the effort here lay in getting a band arrangement that worked, and being familiar enough with all the material that my band and I could be able to present the songs through our lens and with our musical mannerisms. While still honouring the original, you really do have to try to make a cover your own to some extent or there’s not much point in re-cutting it. But shit, not having to write the songs is a major piece of effort that’s not required here.
How have you found the last two years creatively, in terms of writing your own songs?
Strange. Good and bad. It’s definitely put a dark cloud over things, having had my tours cancelled four times now, and no certain end to the plague in definite sight. I’m becoming very sceptical about when this will all get back to normal. It’s hard to write not knowing when you’ll be able to play the stuff for people, and playing live is what drives me.
We had to release a record into the front end of the pandemic in 2020 too; it’s quite demoralizing not being able to play the product of your blood, sweat and tears live. But aside from all that bitching, on a brighter note, I’ve spent a ton of Covid time working on my guitar technique and fixing some long-term body mechanical/muscular issues, so that has follow on effects for my songwriting.
It’s a couple of checkpoints earlier up the chain of events, but being more confident on my instrument and having fewer technical snags really helps creativity. Also, having spent so much time on the instrument, I have a mountain of musical parts to work with and much less lyrical stuff.
Usually, it’s the other way round; writing the songs with lyrics, melody, harmony and basic rhythm then trying to spice up the musical elements. This time, the bulk of my present work is writing lyrics and melodies to some of the cooler chunks of instrumental and rhythmic stuff I’ve already got stockpiled.
A new approach is always good, especially after ten-plus albums. I’m always looking for ways to turn writing on its head. I feel that the second you become complacent about creativity, you think you have it figured out and it doesn’t hurt anymore, that’s when you start to suck. You never really learn to write songs fully, you just get less and less bad at it, hopefully.
Are there any songs by friends you wanted to include but didn’t?
Yeah, lots! There will likely be a Volume Two, Three, etc. I have a lot of friends that write good stuff.
Corb Lund’s Songs My Friends Wrote will be available across digital platforms on Friday, April 29th with physical editions following on June 17th.
A limited Smoke Color vinyl edition autographed by Corb Lund, as well as a limited edition autographed compact disc will be available at independent retailers and directly from New West Records here.