The story is not altogether unfamiliar: A couple guys get together to play music, tour the folk festival circuit and have a little fun.
Suddenly, the duo becomes a full band, a song gets significant radio attention, and record labels come knocking. That's part of the back-story for Canadian bluesy roots rockers Bros. Landreth. Joey and David Landreth abandoned successful careers working for various Canadian touring bands so they could spend more time together.
That they thought playing the folk circuit would sustain them is probably a media-generated story. Digging deeper -- their father was also a well-traveled musician -- it's clear something more was a foot. Raised on a diet of heartland rock, country, soul, and blues -- plus hundreds of nights watching dad play country, jazz, blues, and rock with local acts, the brothers' innate musical upbringing led them to a remote Manitoba cabin in the dead of the coldest winter in 150 years to churn out what became their debut album. That it was 40 degrees below zero helped the group work even harder.
"We weren't going outside," Joey laughs. "No way. It just wasn't possible."
Let It Lie (Slate Creek) comes out, appropriately, in January.
Landreth, slight Canadian accent and all, gave Up on the Sun a call from a Midwest tour stop to discuss how being from Canada's agricultural belt, carrying on his father's musical traditions, and recording his band's debut album during the coldest winter in 150 years all impacts his music.
Up on the Sun: Both Joni Mitchell and Neil Young have talked about the importance of being Canadian to their music. How did growing up in Canada influence the music you've created?
Joey Landreth: For us, we're very proud to be Canadian. We wear our patriotism, not loudly, but proudly. If there's a way it impacts our music, it's probably just growing up listening to a lot of great Canadian musicians, and some great American musicians as well. It's intercontinental in that way. But we grew up with some of Canada's finest musicians coming through our door. Our dad was a sideman with some of the country's best guitar players and songwriters, so we were always overhearing what he was working on. We were influenced by his connection to music in some way, shape or form.
The media puts forth numerous mentions to the "American feel" of your music -- it's bluesy, folksy, rocking, as well as gritty and tender. Yet, really, such music could be made anywhere. It's interesting that people seem to want to put this line in the sand. Yet, when you're on stage and tell the audience you're from Winnipeg what's the reaction like?
It's been pretty interesting to watch. In some places there's no reaction whatsoever. A lot of places that we play that are closer to the border have more access to things Canadian. The further we get from the border the less people know about Canada and that's where people are more surprised. We've had a lot of people go, "I can't believe you play the way you do being from Canada." (Laughs) We grew up on the exact same music, so it's been interesting and at least entertaining in some places.
You talk about being influenced by your dad and the music he was involved with, but also artists like John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Lyle Lovett. You're from the Canadian heartland -- open, agricultural, prairie. These songs and settings kind of fit. Do you think had you been raised in a city you're music might have been different?
I think being from Winnipeg has a massive impact on the music we make for a number of different reasons, but mostly because it is a more agricultural center. We tend to get people more interested in roots music than more commercial music. I think that's a part of how we stumbled onto whatever sounds we're making. It comes from what we've been exposed to. There's a lot of great music in Winnipeg. Being born there, it's kind of born into your blood. I've lived abroad and found myself dramatically missing Winnipeg. I went and lived in Vancouver for a couple years and I couldn't handle it.
I like how you say you lived abroad, but you were in Vancouver, so it's still the same country.
(Laughs) Yeah, I guess so. It's interesting. We were in Ottawa once and went to get some food. The guy must have known we were a band or something because he asked where we were from. I said Winnipeg. He said, "Where's that?" (Laughs) I would understand if I were from another country ... but come on!
I think a lot of people in the Lower 48, and Phoenix in particular, can't really understand how cold it gets in Winnipeg. Coming from Alaska as I do, I know what northern cold is like and totally relate to 30-degrees-below-zero temperatures. When you were in that cabin recording and it was that cold outside, did that cold keep you guys inside working more diligently on the songs? Did it impact the outcome?
I would say certainly. There's a certain work ethic we impose for cold weather. When those cold months roll in everyone just sort of hunkers down and we put our noses to the grindstone and work away the hours until spring shows up again. When it got cold it certainly worked for us in recording the record. It was the coldest winter we've seen in some 150 years with temperatures below minus-40, and with wind chill hitting minus-50. We weren't going outside. (Laughs). No way. It just wasn't possible.
Jumping back to your dad -- he had a good career as a sideman -- and you and your brother David spent a lot of time watching him play. Besides the obvious musical osmosis, what else did your dad offer you guys as far as advice or direction?
The majority of advice we got from our dad came prior to our band's existence. When we were working our way up the ladder that's when we got our talking too: Make sure you're guitars are always in tune, never be late, and stuff like that. That kind of wisdom came early on. By the time the band hit I think my dad was just thrilled to see we were just making an effort. He was incredibly supportive, mom too. We knew it was going to be a struggle -- there's no guarantee or success -- but we were met with a "go get 'em" kind of thing.
The album comes out in January. Is it hard to tour without an album or something of challenge you look forward too?
It is certainly difficult. We've got the record, but we can't give it out yet. It's really good for us too. Though it's a bit of a heartbreaker when someone asks for a record after the show, people are interested in what we're doing. It's kind of exploratory might now. It's challenging but certainly rewarding knowing we'll be able to come back with the record in hand.
Once the album does come out there will be more touring and I expect a positive response as well. Where do you hope the road leads for the Brothers Landreth?
It's funny, when my brother and I started this band we were both touring with other bands and never saw each other. I had just come off a really hard tour and called David. David and I had always been really close, but over the years work took us away from each other. I called and said, "Why don't we start a band, and it will be an excuse for two brothers to hang around, and we'll play little folk fests and other stuff." We'd play around in the off-season. I thought it would be a chance to spend some time together, but before we knew it the project had taken off.
It's funny when people ask us what our expectations are because they've always been incredible low. It's all been happening incredibly quickly. My experience working with other musicians, we've been really fortunate. I really just set out to hang out with my brother and play some tunes -- and it's far surpassed where we thought it would go.
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