As Blue Rodeo prepares to hit the road for their umpteenth cross-Canada tour, Greg Keelor is readying himself in his own way. Many people, feeling pangs of post-Christmas guilt, resolve in January to take a more active and pious approach to life. Yet the 59-year old guitarist’s drive to get healthy is part of the job. And it’s an aspect of life as one of Canada’s most respected musicians that he welcomes.
“Years ago the road used to be a party for me,” says Keelor, reached on the phone while driving into Toronto for rehearsals. “But now, I love the discipline of the road. After Christmas, I’m going to have to stop drinking tea and coffee, I’m going to have to stop smoking, stop booze and I’ll have to go for longer walks, steeper hills to get the lungs in shape. It’s sort of funny how things have changed.”
Greg Keelor believes things have changed, but from the outside, very little about Blue Rodeo has changed. They have become one of this country’s most fantastically dependable bands and Keelor’s fixed pre-tour regiment is a testament to this dependability.
Yet throughout our conversation Keelor details the changes that the band have gone through and how those changes influenced the making of In Our Nature, their 13th full-length.
“We came off of last year’s tour and everyone was playing very well,” he says in a charming, small-town Ontario drawl. “The addition of Colin Cripps on electric guitar and Michael Boguski on keyboards, that really helped us bloom on the last tour. So going into the recording we felt good about the band.”
“I knew I had a good batch of songs and I was singing differently,” he continues. “When I write songs at home, I’m not singing them as if I would sing to a crowd. I’m singing to the shadows and I become a shadow myself sometimes. So on this record I felt more connected with the idea of singing directly to a person instead of being greedy about it.”
Every Blue Rodeo record employs a level of the intimacy Keelor is referring to and In Our Nature is no different. The band balances soft, campfire ballads with bouncy, country-influenced rock as they always have, but their confidence is incredibly evident. They’ve managed, throughout their near 30-year existence, to extract an incredible depth of song-writing from a seemingly limited framework. In doing so, the band has transcended the “Roots rock” label and developed a sound all their own: the unmistakeable Blue Rodeo sound.
Greg Keelor is aware of this sound and insists that it’s taken time for him to relax and truly enjoy the process.
“I’ve been writing songs for a long time so I’m a little more relaxed about it now,” he says. “There was a time, when I was younger, when I would finish a song and think to myself, ‘Alright, it’s over, I’m never going to write another song.’ I’d get a little melodramatic.”
Partnered with Blue Rodeo co-founder Jim Cuddy, Keelor has managed to chart his own course, free of drama. He credits the “great friendship” that him and Cuddy have for keeping the band alive and well but ultimately, the songwriting is what has, and likely always will, remain most important for him.
“I’ve realized that writing songs is what I do; it’s how I reflect on my existence of being alive and my relationships with other people. When I’m writing songs I’m at my most content about life. Songwriting is one of my favourites places to be.”
Catch Blue Rodeo at the Orpheum Theatre (Vancouver) on January 2 and 3, Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre (Victoria) on January 4, SAIT Jubilee Auditorium (Calgary) on January 10 and 11, the Northern Alberta Jubilee (Edmonton) on January 17 and 18 and at the MTS Centre (Winnipeg) on January 23.
By Joshua Kloke
Photo: Dustin Rabin