GOLDMINE: Congratulations on your new EP, Rough Side Out. Let’s start with your cover of John Mellencamp’s 1987 single “Paper in Fire,” the first of three Top 40 hits from his Lonesome Jubilee album. The flip side of “Paper in Fire” was “Never Too Old,” a song of encouragement, including the line, “As long as our hearts keep beating, we’re never too old.” I find this song to be as motivating as Steppenwolf’s 1969 single “It’s Never Too Late,” which includes the line, “It’s never too late to start all over again.” Then there’s the A-side of the John Mellencamp single, “Paper in Fire,” which you cover so perfectly, in line with the exciting original down to the violin and background vocals.
ALAN DOYLE: Thank you. The violin and background vocals are both done by Kendel Carson, who performs all over Canada. Cory Tetford, our wonderful guitar player, is also on background vocals, singing in an upper range. I am so lucky to have them. “Paper in Fire” is in the Top 5 most influential songs in my life and I would say that The Lonesome Jubilee could be the most influential album in my life. I was born at the end of the 1960s, in late 1969. By time I was ten or eleven in the early 1980s I was falling in love with glam metal and all that stuff, Van Halen and all the bands that teenage boys would love, but most of my musical upbringing was playing violin, mandolin, banjo and accordion. By the time I was a teenager in the mid-1980s all my favorite bands were hair metal groups or singer-songwriters. My mom and dad listened to singer-songwriters like Kris Kristofferson and I liked the next generation of those people like John Mellencamp, Huey Lewis, and Bruce Springsteen, American songwriters who were surrounded by an awesome band. I was just turning eighteen when John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee album came out and I was already a fan. It was the first time that I heard an internationally famous person do a song not only decorated by, but driven by, instruments that I used in my own backyard at the time. I felt like my eyes opened wider than they ever had before. I thought maybe if John Mellencamp can record songs with a violin and accordion, then maybe my own musical instincts that I grew up with aren’t that strange after all. People might like to hear more music with that kind of thing in it and it confirmed for me that I should be glad of where I am from and to try to not be anyone but myself and have a career in the music business without having to be a shredder metal guitar player. In buying John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee album, with “Never Too Old” being a 45 flip side only not on the album, I never heard the song until now, but it certainly fits that style and is super cool.
John Cougar Mellencamp
Flip side: Never Too Old
A side: Paper in Fire
Top 100 debut: August 15, 1987
Peak Position No. 9
GM: Now on to your compositions on Rough Side Out. “Anywhere You Wanna Go,” is fun, reminding me of Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.”
AD: I love that kind of easy sing-along kind of song. It is meant to sound like all your favorite songs you might have heard in a bar as a late teen and young adult. The song is a tip of the hat and my appreciation for people who are pub singers. I love the guy in the corner of the bar who grabs his guitar and sets up his microphone and looks around the bar and tries to figure out what everybody else wants sung. He is not concerned about what he wants to sing. He wants to perform whatever the people that night want to hear.
GM: “What the Whisky Won’t Do” with Jess Moskaluke is a very nice duet, reminding me of Lady Antebellum. I also like her new song “Country Girls.”
AD: My mom and dad listened to duets from Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, and Johnny Cash and June Carter, those old breaking up duets and I had never really written one. I brought the title “What the Whisky Won’t Do” to a bunch of friends in Nashville and the song was written pretty quickly. I was so delighted to have that kind of song and Jess has been one of my favorite Canadian country singers for a long time. One of her EPs from a couple of years ago has a piano ballad on it called “Past the Past” which is definitely worth checking out.
GM: The other duet is another favorite of mine, “We Don’t Want to Go Home” with Dean Brody. I enjoy the lyrics. It is relaxing and you and Dean do a nice job on it.
AD: Thanks for saying that. I love that song too. It is verbatim a conversation I have had with bartenders over the years about the bane of touring musicians’ lives. You finish your gig and load up your van or bus with your gear and then you run down the street to try to find one bar open so that you can start your night with your friends and you arrive just in time for someone to shout, “Last call!” You spend the next twenty minutes trying to convince someone behind the bar to keep it open for another round.
GM: You used honesty and humor with “I Gotta Go,” reminding me of Uncle Kracker’s “Letter to My Daughters” from his 2002 CD No Stranger to Shame. Your lines “Now I gotta go, go, go, another airplane, another show, twenty songs if they love me, only eighteen if they don’t,” got a chuckle from my wife Donna. My best friend John, who has been a fan of yours since the 1990s, said it was cute and wants to hear twenty songs.
AD: That song had been kicking around my mind for a very long time. I wrote it with two friends in Nova Scotia. I told them that the greatest dilemma of any touring musician’s life is the push to go on to the next place and the pull to stay in a place that is already awesome. It starts at home. As the tour gets close you dread having to leave the comfort of your own house but you are dying to go too. Then you find that you were looking forward to your Tuesday night in Minneapolis and confirm that it is awesome. Then you get down to the end of the set list and it is almost over and you don’t want it to be over but tomorrow night is Chicago so you are constantly pulled and pushed, torn between where you are and knowing that you have to go. Touring musicians have said that the only thing harder than being on the road is not being on the road. The twenty songs versus eighteen songs is a direct quote from me and my wife and our little girl, who was pretty young then. I was playing in our hometown, a lot at downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland’s pubs. I remember being asked how long I would be and I answered, “Twenty songs if they love me, eighteen if they don’t.”
GM: That’s a great line. Let’s talk about Great Big Sea. I grew up in Ohio and John and I would listen to Canadian radio across Lake Erie. Donna and I married at the end of the 1970s and moved from Ohio in the 1980s so my connection to Canadian music came through John. He heard Great Big Sea’s debut single “When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down)” in 1997, loved it, bought your Play album and mailed a copy of it on cassette to our home in Virginia. That song is another favorite violin driven song of mine.
AD: I love that song. That is actually a song that we covered from one of our favorite bands, and I bet you would love them too. They are very unknown in North America. They are a British Celtic band from around The Pogues’ era called Oysterband. I always joke that they have the greatest song catalog that nobody has ever heard. They were a big influence on us along with Spirit of The West from the western part of Canada, The Pogues of course, and then deeper into classic Irish music from The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners.
GM: In 1999 you were “free of Catholic guilt” in “Consequence Free.”
AD: I had a friend who used to call my songs desperately Catholic. I wrote “Consequence Free” with Sean McCann in Great Big Sea and we joked that it would be great if you could just flick a switch tonight and nothing that you did would have any consequences. The term “Consequence Free” came from the first Austin Powers movie with Mike Myers as Austin Powers agreeing to questionable behavior, as long as people are doing things “in a consequence free environment.” I thought that should be in a song, “I want to be consequence free.”
GM: As the new millennium began, I would visit Canada for work and come back each year with a Juno Awards compilation CD. On the 2009 collection I learned and love Great Big Sea’s “Walk on the Moon,” which is quite an encouraging song about having one shot to take and taking it.
AD: I love that song too. That is the first song I ever wrote in Nashville, Tennessee. My friend Gordie Sampson, who is from the same part of Canada that I am from, stopped playing in a band and moved to Nashville to become a songwriter. He went on to have great success with country stars including Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Faith Hill, Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Lady Antebellum and more. His biggest hit is probably one that he-cowrote for Carrie Underwood, “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
GM: We certainly know that one and I have seen most of the people you mentioned here in Daytona Beach where we had an annual festival, for three years at the race track, called Country 500. In addition to music, you have done some acting including playing a traveling musician in the 2010 film Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe.
AD: I was in Toronto in the early 2000s and Russell was in town doing the boxing movie called Cinderella Man and Great Big Sea was playing a big outdoor ampitheater. I became aware that Russell was a Great Big Sea fan and wanted to come to the show. He came, saw the show, loved it, and we were chatting and he asked me when do I travel to Toronto and I told him, “About every Sunday of my life.” He was basically living there and I would visit him and we would write songs for a band he had in Australia. We wrote a few that made it on Great Big Sea records, too. A couple made it on my solo albums and some in a movie here and there. In 2009 he called me and asked if I knew how to play the medieval lute, and of course I do. I play bouzouki, mandolin and stuff, so I could play the lute okay. He asked me to come and read for a movie part and off we went with Robin Hood.
GM: I see on your website that you are touring with a pretty extensive schedule.
AD: I do it in three week blocks then come home for a couple of weeks. So we cover western Canada first, then eastern Canada, then western U.S., and finally eastern U.S. with the three weeks on and two weeks off schedule. Then we go to Europe for a month. You mentioned you now live in Daytona Beach, Florida. We used to come to that area, to get away from Canadian snow, and rent a home a little bit north of you in a place called Palm Coast.
GM: Yes Palm Coast is just a bit north of us and actually where Goldmine is printed monthly and is also the home of our subscriber assistance group.
AD: We enjoyed it there and I have enjoyed my time with you today. It has been great talking with you. Thank you so much for this coverage. I am so grateful for this.