Rhett: My friendship with Eric started out different than most. He moved to the southwest in my grade 10 year and became my high school English teacher. While I likely can’t give you a full synopsis of The Chrysalids or Julius Caesar (Beware the Ides of March, am I right?), I did learn some things with Eric at the helm. Most importantly, I learned that listening to music could be a hobby all on its own. Up to that point, music was either something you learned to make yourself (ie. learn an instrument or take singing lessons) or a background soundtrack to other things I was doing. But Eric treated it as something more than that. He was going to live shows, travelling to watch bands he liked and to check out different venues. He had a sound system set up in the classroom and he always had an “Album of the Week” written on the board that we were able to put on while we did work. Band posters from the likes of Wilco, Broken Social Scene, and Neko Case covered the classroom walls. He knew about the bands, he had their vinyl at home, and he likely had a beer stained t-shirt in his closet from their most recent concert.
Since moving on from teaching a year later Eric and I became good friends. From Mr. Anderson to Andy. He is one of the first people I text when a band I like is coming to town and we often (before COVID) meet up at the record store to do some perusing before heading to a pub for a beer. Almost every time we go Eric buys an extra record and then gives it to me once we get outside. He is a wonderful, cheerful, generous person and I can’t wait for you to give his piece a read! I’ve asked him to focus on the theme of “Winter Music” as we start to wind down on another season. (PS. Check out Eric’s podcast “YXE Underground” wherever you listen to podcasts!)
Eric: I think winter lends itself to getting to know an album better because we are in our homes for weeks and months on end. What else are you going to do when it’s minus 40 outside? I mean, you could watch Netflix or read a book or assemble a puzzle I suppose, but isn’t taking a record out of its sleeve, dropping the needle on your turntable and getting cozy with the liner notes sound way more enjoyable? Awkward silence…
Ok, maybe it’s just me, but I have been listening to a lot more albums this winter and so I feel adequately prepared to suggest a few songs that I think lend themselves to Saskatchewan winters.
Just a quick note before we dive in. I’m a big believer/dork when it comes to the sequence of songs so I hope you’re able to enjoy these songs in this order!
The Weakerthans – “Sun in an Empty Room” from the album, ‘Reunion Tour.’
Winnipeg bands understand the importance of a cold winter. It’s a time to write, rehearse and record music and The Weakerthans are one of that city’s best exports. This is one of my wife’s favourite songs and she especially loves the line, “Know the things we need to say – Been said already anyway – By parallelograms of light – On walls that we repainted white.” At our old house, we would open the front door on chilly days to let in streams of light through the screen door that would instantly warm up the kitchen and provide perfect napping spots for our dog, Fred. John K. Samson sure knows how to write a memorable line.
The Constantines – “Soon Enough” from the album, ‘Tournament of Hearts.’
When the NHL season was cancelled in 2004/2005, curling was thrust into the Canadian sporting spotlight and served as the inspiration for The Constantines’ third album. Tournament of Hearts is a fantastic album by one of our country’s most amazing live bands, and this song makes me think of winter as Bry Webb sings about a gentleman hoping his future daughter will one day win Canada’s national women’s curling championship. It’s a great song about a great sport performed by an incredible band.
Gord Downie – “Retrace” from the album, ‘The Grand Bounce.’
There’s a great line in this song from Gord Downie’s third solo album where he mentions a snowy basketball court and it always reminds me of the basketball court behind my childhood house in Swift Current. It was full of snow and yet the rims were just waiting for kids to come and shoot layups. You could also see the footprints of every neighbourhood kid walking across the court on their way to school. Downie sings about retracing his steps, which I think lends itself to winter as it offers us time to reflect. This song is gorgeous and comes near the end of a really adventurous album from a gifted artist.
Leif Vollebekk – “Big Sky Country” from the album, ‘Twin Solitude.’
One of the last concerts I saw before the pandemic was Vollebekk at Saskatoon’s Broadway Theatre as part of the Winterruption Festival and he put on an amazing show. This song from his 2017 album paints a stunning photo of wide-open prairie skies wrapped in the warm, mellow sound of keys and drums. It begs to be enjoyed with a glass of brandy beside a fireplace.
Radiohead – “Give Up The Ghost” from the album, ‘The King of Limbs.’
Since you’re already by the fireplace, enjoy this stunner by Radiohead. Full disclosure, Rhett could have asked me for a list of songs relating to pretty much everything and I would find a way to incorporate a Radiohead song. Songs about cats? Myxomatosis. Songs about existential dread? Climbing Up the Walls.
In this case, Give Up The Ghost sees lead singer Thom Yorke tapping into his love of Neil Young for an acoustic slow burner that shows off his incredible voice. Bonus marks for the birds singing at the beginning and end of the song. I may have become a backyard birder this winter. My wife is thrilled.
Also, this song comes from an album that I think is criminally underrated within Radiohead’s discography. I love The King of Limbs and after four or five listens I think you will too.
Interpol – “Hands Away” from the album ‘Turn On The Bright Lights.’
This song sounds cold in the best possible way. The way the band’s guitars sound so steely and distant makes me think of a vast winter landscape and when the synthesizers fade in…it’s just perfect. It’s frigid, desolate and over in just under three minutes. If only our winters were that short.
Also, this is one of my Desert Island Albums. Please listen to it on headphones.
Sarah Harmer – “Washington” from the album, ‘Oh Little Fire.’
This is one of my favourite songs from Sarah Harmer (who I had the pleasure of interviewing once when I worked for CBC Radio and she is delightful. I also once took a bus from Prague to Amsterdam to see her live and still have the photo of the two of us in my office. Yeah…I love Sarah Harmer).
The back story is a group of Harmer’s friends drove from Ontario to Washington for President Obama’s inauguration in 2008 but she decided to stay behind. Harmer has this gift of placing listeners right in the middle of a story and this is no exception. She lists the reasons why she chooses to stay home while her friend braves the winter weather on his way to America’s capitol.
“Cause the fire needed tending and the windows are so wide. Sometimes I feel I’m in the world when I’m looking from inside. I will pack down the snow, make a path to the road and thing of the long ride. I hope you don’t need snow tires through the Pennsylvania night.”
Sarah Harmer…A national treasure.
The Deep Dark Woods – “The Winter Has Passed” from the album, ‘Yarrow.’
This song may be a little on point but it’s really gorgeous. Ryan Boldt’s deep baritone makes you grateful for making it through another winter and the hope that comes with spring. There’s something hypnotic about The Winter Has Passed, which is found at the end of a fantastic album. The chorus has great harmonies and listening to it now reminds me that it has been four years since this Saskatoon band has released new music. I hope that changes soon.
Thanks again to Rhett for asking me to choose some of my favourite winter songs!
- THE WEAKERTHANS – “SUN IN AN EMPTY ROOM” FROM THE ALBUM, ‘REUNION TOUR.’
- THE CONSTANTINES – “SOON ENOUGH” FROM THE ALBUM, ‘TOURNAMENT OF HEARTS.’
- GORD DOWNIE – “RETRACE” FROM THE ALBUM, ‘THE GRAND BOUNCE.’
- LEIF VOLLEBEKK – “BIG SKY COUNTRY” FROM THE ALBUM, ‘TWIN SOLITUDE.’
- RADIOHEAD – “GIVE UP THE GHOST” FROM THE ALBUM, ‘THE KING OF LIMBS.’
- INTERPOL – “HANDS AWAY” FROM THE ALBUM ‘TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS.’
- SARAH HARMER – “WASHINGTON” FROM THE ALBUM, ‘OH LITTLE FIRE.’
- THE DEEP DARK WOODS – “THE WINTER HAS PASSED” FROM THE ALBUM, ‘YARROW.’