John K. Samson one of 13 recipients of Manitoba Day Awards. (Trevor Marezylo Photography)
I've never been able to stretch anything out longer than a three minute pop song. But I think I've kind of channeled all those desires into songwriting."
—John K. Samson on how music has fulfilled his desire to be a fiction writer
John K. Samson, lead singer of The Weakerthans and 2011 Manitoba
Cultural Ambassador, may be best known for writing the ironic anthem
"One Great City!" which features the refrain "I hate Winnipeg."
But if you listen to John K Samson's lyrics and read his poetry, you know that this just isn't true, as here is a man who wears his hometown on his sleeve.
With a new solo album titled Provincial and a book of lyrics and poems (aptly titled Lyrics and Poems 1997-2012) that are both being released today, January 24, John K. Samson again has entered our cultural landscape.
But there is more to the man than meets the eye.
Lyrics and Poems is published by Samson's own publishing company Albeiter Ring Publishing (ARP), which he co-founded in 1996 with writer/editor Todd Scarth. And while the book brings together all of Samson's lyrics and a selection of his poems from the last fifteen years, the solo album Provincial literally takes its inspiration from several Manitoba roads, making for an album that again spins stories from the our landscape.
"I started with the idea that I wanted to explore three different roads in Manitoba" said Samson in an recent interview with CBC's Ismaila Alfa on The Weekend Morning Show. "I got obsessed with this idea that, if someone had a couple days of free time, I could take them to the exact site of each song."
For Samson, geography based storytelling is one of his biggest draws to the written word. And yet, his own use of Manitoba as a setting makes him uneasy with being viewed as Winnipeg's cultural ambassador.
"I think that I'm really attracted to regional writers -- to people who kind of distort the place they are from, or live in, in a way that makes us hear it in a way we haven't heard before" said Samson. "And that is kind of what I'm inspired to do. But I'm also inspired by the voices that are totally unlike mine, and this city is so full of that -- it is just such an expressive and varied place."
"I don't think I represent Manitoba or Winnipeg in any broad way" Samson continues.
The book itself, which is sold separately from the new album (it retails for $14.99), still works very much as a companion to Provincial. For Samson, the idea behind Lyrics and Poems 1997-2012 was based on what now seems like a romantic notion from a foregone era; that of musicians supplying their fans with a printed lyrical accompaniment to their music.
Know for his empathetic lyrics, this publishing of Samson's work comes at a time that only makes sense for one of Canada's premier songwriters.
But despite being at the helm of a publishing company, harbouring a childhood ambition to be a fiction writer, and having just published his own book, fans shouldn't expect Samson to hang up the guitar and set himself exclusively to typing.
"I've never been able to stretch anything out longer than a three minute pop song" said Samson. "But I think I've kind of channeled all those desires into songwriting."
"Pop music is a really lovely form because it has all these -- some people would call them derivative -- these frameworks for you to use, a verse and a chorus... It's kind of something to hang up the words on. Which I find kind of lovely."
You can catch John K. Samson performing material from his first full-length solo album Provincial, this Friday, January 27 at 7 p.m. for free at Music Trader on Osborne.