Blue Rodeo’s “Whole New Way Of Playing”

Published 11/08/2013 by

Jim and Greg of Blue Rodeo, Photo by Brittany Leona

“Is that gonna be in the article?” Greg Keelor is teasing me after learning I snuck one of Blue Rodeo’s sandwiches while backstage at the Spencerville Fair (hear me out, it was after they’d left, and I had skipped dinner).

Greg and Jim Cuddy are chatting with me about their new album In Our Nature, Blue Rodeo’s 13th album (count ’em, thirteen), which just debut at the heavy-hitting number-two spot in Canada.

In Our Nature by Blue Rodeo

Before enjoying the guy’s left-overs, I had enjoyed their rockin’ set, and noticed some unique configurations on stage, such as dummer Glenn Milchem’s set-up to one side and behind a plexi-glass divider.

It’s a novel solution the band came up with to accommodate Greg’s hearing issues.

“At first that’s a very strange thing,” says Greg, “because musicians are used to playing a certain way.”

In addition to Glenn’s new corner office with a view, the entire band uses in-ear monitors and keeps all electric guitar amps off stage.

“Part of how [musicians] get into it is the volume of the music, so it was hard on everybody to have to play with these in-ears and not have that visceral intensity… it’s a whole new way of playing,” explains Greg.

Although it’s a big change for the musicians, the spectator may not even notice, unless you’re watching Bazil Donovan.

“[Y]ou’ll notice that Bazil doesn’t move very much anymore… his volume is low, but he stands on a pad that gives him the vibrations of his amp, so the vibrations intensify when he plays more strongly,” says Jim. “It makes him feel a bit of the visceral feeling he used to get from his volume… but it also grounds him on this beautiful little electronic pad,” he laughs.

Greg tells me the guys quickly got used to the new set-up, along with a few other key changes, such as the addition of Colin Cripps to take over electric guitar for Greg.

But change is nothing new for these veteran rockers. Although steady, Blue Rodeo has never been static.

“We’ve been lucky in our careers, we’ve been a band of many plateaus,” says Greg, “but in that there’s these little rises once in a while, where things sort of elevate, and we had that on our last tour, and so for a pile of old geezers, it’s nice to have that ‘Oh my God this can still happen’… and that momentum carried into the recording of this record.”

It’s that momentum that makes In Our Nature flow from beginning to end. “New Morning Sun” has the spirit of a teenager; vocals soar in “Over Me” and the beat clicks along like a train; “Never Too Late” harbours a haunting slide guitar and kick-in-the-butt lyrics; Jim’s outpouring on “When The Truth Comes Out” is a favourite; and the last track is a beautiful cover of The Band’s “Out of The Blue” (although Greg says he was inspired to cover it by Mary Margaret O’Hara and The Sadies’ rendition of it, which is indeed impassioned).

But if you only have time for a couple of tracks, try Greg’s picks:

“The favourites of mine are ‘Tara’s Blues’ and ‘Wondering’, because they’re connected songs. They were written for Tara, my friend, and she had just broken up with her long-term mate, and ‘Tara’s Blues’ is sorta’ the gut-ache of it all. I went to visit her, and we were out and in a bar and everyone was sorta’ drunk, and I sang her this song, and it just destroyed her, she was just a puddle.”

“Perfect” Jim chimes in, a little maniacally.

“Well, what was worse,” continues Greg, “was that as she got more and more upset, I started going deeper and deeper with it, and it was like emotional torture, and then she went to bed and cried herself to sleep. But over that night, because I felt sort of lousy about that song, I wrote ‘Wondering’ for her when she woke up, and it’s a much more consoling song.”

Published 11/08/2013 b

href=””>Blue Rodeo, Photo by Dustin Rabin

And so, as I learned, teasing (and consoling) is just in the guys’ nature, but so is creating and performing music that moves us. Thankfully, they’ve come up with some creative solutions to make sure they can keep doing that well into the next 25 years.

Check out Blue Rodeo’s double-shot music video offering a magnified glimpse into the minutiae of the band, mixed with a creative narrative. You can also catch the guys on tour beginning January 2, 2014!

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