Sam Roberts: The Man and the Myth

I’m in Banff, Alta., watching the Sam Roberts Band play their song “Let It In” during the sound check for their sold-out show this evening.

“The truth can’t beat the wish… the man don’t match the myth,” sings Roberts.

Indeed, it’s quite the myth Roberts must live up to. Esquire calls him the “best live frontman in music,” he’s won six Junos, as many MuchMusic Video Awards and, boy, is he handsome.

Following the sound check, I cram into a van with Roberts and the band and we head to the Rimrock Resort Hotel for a photo shoot. While his affable bandmates—Dave Nugent, Eric Fares, James Hall, Josh Trager and Chet Doxas—chat and make jokes, Roberts is shy for the duration of the ride.

It’s not until we’re standing on the Rimrock’s balcony, surrounded by photography equipment and mountain views, that he begins to open up. In between shots, he tells me about playing the violin growing up and spending too much money recording an album in Australia. By the end of the photo shoot, he seems much more relaxed. After doing this kind of thing for 10 years, it’s endearing that he still gets nervous.

Roberts shot into the music spotlight in 2002 when his breakthrough EP, The Inhuman Condition, became one of the best-selling independent releases in Canadian music history. Since then, he has become known for his pragmatic lyrics, workingman persona and traditional rock sounds. But his latest album, Collider, is funkier, with several songs steeped with sax.

Glimpses of battles, mythical afterworlds and spirits also run through the new album so, while on the subject, I ask him if he ever feels guided by a muse.

“It can feel like that,” Roberts says. “Sometimes [songwriting] is so indefinable, you don’t really understand it yourself. You question which well you drew [the song] from, and why you have access to it and not somebody else. And what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? There’s usually a different set of answers for why [a song] exists and how it came to be.”

But where it’s created is less of a mystery. These days, Roberts writes most of his material in the basement studio at his Montreal home, surrounded by his three small children and their toys.

“That’s my world when I’m at home,” he says. “I’m at the park almost every day. I’m shuttling my kids to and from school and I’m trying to write some rock and roll tunes in between.”

When he assures me he’s happily married, I can’t help but wonder aloud if being in a committed relationship could lead to mediocre songwriting.

“I can’t say yes to that, because then I would just hang up my songwriting hat and move on, because I’ve been married for a long time. A relationship is unpredictable enough that there’s still plenty of fuel for the fire. I think it’s when things become too routine, that’s the danger.”

After a year of touring, Roberts has more fuel for the album he’s begun writing.

“It’s all coming out with a certain spirit,” he says. “The records that I like to make the most are the ones that are defined by a specific time frame, state of mind, way of living.”

It must be hard living up to all the hype: the devoted father and husband, the platinum-selling rock star.

“To me, music is such a profoundly important aspect of living and humanity itself,” Roberts says. “I revere the people who make it as essential to human happiness, as conduits of human happiness. If I’m doing it myself, I often wonder why.”