Corb Lund discusses Canadian country, cattle culture and more

All hat, no cattle: Actually, Corb Lund might be a rancher if he were not touring all the time.
Photo: Lisa Johnson

Is there a particular Canadian character to your music?

Yeah, there’s a lot of Canadian stuff that comes up in it. Mostly about the weather. It’s interesting, because culturally—Alberta is directly north of Montana, and culturally we have more in common with Montana and Wyoming and Colorado than we do in some ways with eastern Canada. There is some Canadian content, but it’s sort of Rocky Mountain, frontier, Western Canadian content. And a lot of it resonates. We have a pretty good following in some of the Western states, because they sort of pick up on what we’re singing about.

Before Vegas, you’re playing a cowboy poetry festival in Elko. What’s that all about?


Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans
January 31, 9 p.m., $5
Bunkhouse, 384-4536

It’s about two-thirds cornball and one-third really cool. It’s basically a festival of authentic cattle culture, like real cowboy stuff from the West, as opposed to Nashville bullshit stuff. It’s a celebration of the culture of real working cowboys. They have music and art and artisans like saddle-makers and silversmiths that make spurs and that kind of thing.

Would you classify yourself as a cowboy poet?

Well, I’m a singer. I suppose. I’m more of a songwriter than a poet. But, yeah, there’s definitely a lot of that content in the songs. Some of the stuff at the festival is pretty straight. It’s kind of square. But some of it isn’t. I don’t only write about that kind of thing, but my background and my upbringing was in that kind of a setting, so a lot of my stuff touches on it. I sort of end up blending that with modern themes. I approach the whole thing with irreverence, actually, but definitely there’s a flavor of it. Enough to have them hiring us in Elko, I guess. Personally, I think that’s the key to writing about that kind of thing. There’s already a million “chasing the cattle down the dusty trail” songs, cornball stuff. But I think me and some of the other guys that I know of that write in that vein, I think the key to it is sort of being real about, saying, “Well, this is where I come from, and this is where we are now in the 21st century,” and what does it look like, and how does it affect that lifestyle, and what’s going on.

Do you consider yourself and your music part of that culture?

Yeah. I grew up that way. Both sides of my family are ranchers from 100 years ago. They’re all actually from Northern Nevada and Utah originally, and they moved up to Alberta in Canada about 100 years ago. Both sides of the family are very much entrenched in that culture. I don’t ranch myself, because I’m on the road playing music all the time. My grandfathers are the last generation that just had cattle.

Do you see yourself as a sort of ambassador of that cowboy lifestyle?

Yeah, kind of. It’s a funny thing, because the iconic image of the North American cowboy—everybody in the world know what that means, or they think they do. But actually, the word gets thrown around a lot, but the actual real working cowboys, like men who work with cattle and ride horses and take care of animals in the open parts of the West, that’s a very specific lifestyle with a very specific culture that’s sort of been co-opted by movies and music. There’s a lot of B.S. fake stuff out there, including a lot of stuff that comes out of Nashville and Hollywood. But this is a festival having to do with actual, authentic working cowboys, so it’s very close to the source. Which I think is pretty neat, because I’m kind of a history nut, too, so it helps with that.

Did you ever consider going to Nashville and trying to break into that world?

No, not really. It doesn’t appeal to me. It’s an entirely different sort of proposition. Those guys mostly don’t write their own songs, and if they do, they have to be within a very narrow parameter. It doesn’t interest me. I’d like to have that kind of listenership, of course. And I know guys who’ve done that, who started out in the sort of indie songwriter world and have consciously made a choice to go the Nashville route. I know at least a couple of them personally. For me, it just wouldn’t be any fun. If you take out the songwriting part, and the cool music part, and if I was having to sing songs that I thought were kind of goofy every night, even though there was 10,000 people, I don’t think I’d really have much fun. I’m kind of an art snob about it. The thing that I really enjoy about it is the writing and the transmission of ideas to people.


Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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