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Exclusive: Corb Lund Talks ‘El Viejo,’ Going Acoustic and Honoring the Late Ian Tyson

March 7, 2024 4:41 pm GMT

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Fresh off the release of his 2024 album El Viejo and just ahead of his Canadian tour, Corb Lund took some time to chat with Holler about the record, the reason he left electric behind for this release, the delicate art of paying tribute to a friend and more.

For decades, the Alberta-bred balladeer has been honing his brand of spirited Western folk. It’s a style that has become increasingly sure-footed with every new release, brimming with confidence and power.

El Viejo, especially, bears a pinnacle of Lund’s sound, not because he throws years worth of hard learned musical stratagem at the record, but rather because he doesn’t.

“I’m constantly searching for new styles and rhythmic feels and stuff to put into the songs,” Lund shares. “Songwriting, for me, extends well beyond lyrics and melody. I’m also very particular about instrumentation, the recording process and stylistic flavor. I dug really deep on that stuff for this record.”

Captured entirely in his living room alongside his band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, the album sees the artist take a step back, unplug and hit record, allowing the songs – every blistering word and sweltering note – to shine.

As a result, El Viejo exudes an unpinnable energy – it’s all at once slick and swaggering, yet jubilant and jaunty – something Lund credited to the recording process. “We cut it live sitting in a circle with lots of mic bleed and virtually no overdubs. Live vocals, live guitar licks, all of it.”

From opening track ‘The Cardplayers’ to the album’s closer ‘Old Familiar Drunken Feeling’, Lund’s stripped-back approach can be heard rustling through the album’s delicious choruses and straight-shooting lines about bad habits and questionable behaviors.

“The longer I make music, the more I dislike ‘professional’/’nice’/’full’ sounding records, and the more I like gnarly, organic, raw-sounding stuff, scars and all,” he continued, praising his band for their inimitable skill.

At the end of the day, El Viejo wouldn’t have been the triumph that it is without The Hurtin’ Albertans. “Not everyone can pull that kind of recording off,” Lund shared.

“With all the computers and overdubs and isolation available these days, the easier it is to make a record when you can’t really play. The acid test is whether a band can pull it off live or not, and my guys can, they’re a bunch of badasses and they really made this record come alive.”

In addition to touching on the creation of El Viejo, Corb Lund offered a brief history behind the name of his exemplary backing band, discussed his penchant for card games, explained his sometimes prophetic songwriting and more:

On the not-so-aggressive name of his band, The Hurtin Albertans:

“That name was meant to have more of a hangover reference than anything. It was bequeathed to me by another artist from Alberta, that came up with it to put on her tip jar. She sort of retired from touring I think, and when I asked, she gave me permission to take up the Hurtin’ Albertan mantle. As far as physical confrontation goes, within the band it’s discouraged.”

On gambling and the more “autobiographical” parts of his latest album:

“I gamble quite a lot myself, so those parts are largely sort of autobiographical. I play a lot of pot-limit Omaha Hold ‘em poker. It’s a more complicated and classy version of all the no-limit Texas Hold ‘em you see on TV. It’s more of a drawing game, and I prefer it. I’ve never been very good at Texas Hold ‘em, plus there’s no edge anymore because everyone plays it decently now. I also like cribbage and backgammon a lot, and pitch.”

On ‘El Viejo’ and Ian Tyson:

“The title track is about losing Ian. There are a lot of subconscious references to some of his songs in that one. The obvious one is in the chorus, where I borrow the signature line from his song ‘Summer Wages’, about playing blackjack. More subtly, the verse/chorus relationship is sort of a nod to his song ‘MC Horses’ which has a similar dynamic boost when the choruses kick in. Also, the reference to Stockmen’s Casino in Elko, Nevada, comes from ‘MC Horses.’”

On lyrics coming to life:

“I wrote ‘This Is My Prairie’ years ago and it was pretty much a fictional account of resource extraction companies screwing over a rancher and him fighting back. That’s all come true. I’ve been drawn into a mortal fight with our provincial government and some ruthless foreign coal companies that have conspired to put a bunch of unnecessary coal mines in the foothills of the Rockies where I live – right at the headwaters of a bunch of our rivers that are the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Albertans.

“It wasn’t even left-leaning eco-warriors that asked me to help fight the coal mines, it was generational ranchers who were going to have their water contaminated and their ranches strip-mined. I don't have any political allegiance, and I'm not anti-resource, but this particular project is really stupid. So I’ve spent the last two years doing everything I can to fight it using various means alongside a consortium of the aforementioned ranchers and other impacted parties. It’s like the plot of a Meryl Streep movie, except it’s my lyrics come to life in the most unfortunate way.”

On touring with 49 Winchester and Pendleton Whisky:

It should be super fun, and I’m really glad those guys agreed to come out with us, they’re killer. Having said that, my guys and I are on a relentless tour for four months and then on into festival season, so we’re gonna have to pace ourselves. I can’t get shitfaced every single night like I used to... only every other night.

For more on Corb Lund, see below:

Written by Alli Patton
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