Art Bergmann: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: Gritty rock with piercingly honest, politically charged lyrics.
File next to: Neil Young, Lou Reed, Ron Hawkins
Playing: Wavelength Music Festival 15 – Night 1: Friday February 13 @ Sneaky Dee’s – PLUS a free Artist Talk with Art, Saturday February 14, 3:00PM at the Wavelength Pop-Up Gallery @ Huntclub Studio, 709 College St.

I recently realized that one of my favourite qualities in a person is irreverence. I like those people that do what they do because they want to do it. and they don’t care if you or I or their Mom like it. They do it because that’s what needs doing. And I’m not talking about hipsterdom, where irreverence is worn like a pair of designer jeans. I like the people that truly do not give a shit.

Father of Canadian punk, Art Bergmann (formerly of The Young Canadians and Poisoned) is irreverence personified — charming irreverence. This interview with Art is just as honest and cutting as his music. Incapable of pandering to societal expectations, or candy coating his life or the state of our country, his new solo EP, Songs for the Underclass, criticizes capitalism, democracy and our government.

“I am nobody, you call me enemy. I too am a drone, I know, I know. Drone of democracy, I’ll sleep in western peace waiting to be told, when to explode!”

If you’re ever having a particularly strong, “F*%# you, Harper” moment — which I know I’m prone to have — this record can be your anger’s soundtrack and might even leave you in a better mood.

Let’s talk about your new record that came out in October of 2014, Songs for the Underclass, your first release since the ‘90s. How did it feel not being active in the music scene for a somewhat large period of your life? Can you talk about what drove you to put out an album after a long period without any new music? What drew you back? Why now?

What drew me back was the clock on my life and a need to get a few things I’d learned over my hiatus out of my head… but foremost, I wanted to see if I could make a bit of a living doing do the only thing I know how — songwriting. I did not miss the gossiping, backstabbing business, I can tell you that much. Played a sellout show July 1, 2013 in Vancouver… was kinda nice… one more in October of that year… and over the year ‘til spring when I worked on the four songs I recorded.

How long had you been working on the record before you recorded it last April?

Most of the work was done in my head for a year, especially lyric-wise. But we learned the music in-studio while recording bed tracks. Of course I came in with basic arrangements.

Your album titles, What Fresh Hell Is This?, Sexual Roulette and Crawl With Me, to name a few, have always had a delightful irreverence to them. Your newest title, Songs for the Underclass, is just as evocative as ever. Where do you see yourself as sitting in terms of class, and how do you view the notion of class in society today? How has this impacted the music?

I am definitely in the underclass… with 600 dollars of oil money a month for my medical issues. Today we are being split into the owners, the middle-class collaborators and the vast low-income underclass. So well, having no budget, I depended on the kindness of many people of like-mind to get the record out. Can’t really answer your question on economics… there are libraries full of that stuff… but a few words won’t do it justice. Our economies are dependent on a huge manipulated casino called the “free” market.

I read that you recorded this album for under $2,000, which is virtually unheard of for many musicians, much less for someone of your success and notoriety. Why did you record this work in so little time and for an independent label?

In one word: penniless.

What aspect of your new work are you most proud of, or have you most focused on?

I wish I’d had more time for the musical nuances I had envisioned for these songs. I am proud of the lyrics, I worked endlessly on them honing and cutting… especially on “Drones of Democracy.”

Your voice sounds as fantastic as ever and I love the rawness of the album. What has your relationship to music been since you’ve been out of the limelight?

I left it alone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the music scene today and how it has changed since you released other albums.

I don’t understand what the music scene is… there is definitely a lot out there. It’s become democratized… so there is a lot of dreck… especially floating on the surface. How to make living in this digital-virtual-fizzy age is beyond me at the moment.

Have your songwriting practices changed over the years? I’d be interested in learning how you approach songwriting.

I am very lazy… I am scared to finish a song, because then I get sick of it. These days it’s the lyric push of an idea that I let bang around my skull for days, weeks, sometimes years in this last case. The lyric usually suggests phrasing, which in turn will suggest a melody. The trick is not giving up on it when it seems to be drivel in the morning. If you play it just once more you will find something new to keep it on your plate. The hardest part is finishing though.

Your new album is bound to thrill old fans but is also reaching people who didn’t know your work. Because of this, your older music is being discovered by a new generation. Do you think your older music will be received and interpreted differently today than when it first came out? If yes, how so?

Trying to play the songs that have relevance, my few fans don’t care what I play, it’s all genius to them — hah. Good songs don’t age, though at the time I was not thinking of any future.

When you wrote some of the songs that would come to be your most popular and iconic even, did you predict their success?

I don’t recall any success.

What bands or artists are you listening to these days?

Tuareg bands, East Indian slide sitar-guitar… talking drums… I wanna combine that sound with mandolins and steel guitars. There are too many bands, you’d
have to play a song and I would tell you if I liked it. I like the airy desert sound of Calexico, Willy Vlautin… also Deer Tick’s latest… Lou Reed always… you know now there’s centuries of great music, I don’t care what genre, it is either good or bad… fizzy pop not good. Heard an amazing song just now called “Glacier” by an Irish guy… I love a despairingly heart-rending ballad, Bob Dylan 1965, the Cramps, the Replacements, ‘60s psych, Kula Shaker, I could go on… I listen to CJSW here in Calgary. They play everything weird old and new and local! And global…

What’s next for Art Bergmann?

A song at a time.

Find out more at our free Artist Talk with Art, Saturday February 14, 3:00PM at the Wavelength Pop-Up Gallery @ Huntclub Studio, 709 College Street!

— Interview by Shannon Roszell