Fort MacMurray Today

INTERVIEW WITH THE FORT MacMURRAY TODAY, JUNE 2006

TIM HUS PRESS INTERVIEW WITH RUSSELL THOMAS

1. What roll did music play in your family life growing up?

My father was a merchant sailor and traveled the world so we had sailor songs, folk songs, travelin’ songs, workin’ songs, dust-bowl ballads, - storytelling type of songs were the standard fare around the house – at least that is what I was drawn to. There was quite a bit of singin’ and appreciation for music but nobody that I remembered played an instrument. We had a guitar on the wall and people would always ask if anybody knew how to play it but nobody did. I’m self taught on the guitar – from listening to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot records.

2. In your travels, have you come up with the answer to why being Canadian is so cool?

Would you rather be from somewhere else? I like being from Canada. I have traveled around a fair bit but I am very comfortable here. I like the people and the places. I have often been asked about the Canadian content of my songs but it’s not something that I set out to do in a calculated fashion. I’m very drawn to the storytelling aspect of songwriting and so I just write about the stories, people, and places that I am familiar with and in this case that makes it Western Canadian flavored. Songs about oil rigs, buckin’ horses, loggin’ camps, West Coast salmon fishin’, prairies, bootleggers, bulldozers, etc. The unusual thing about it is that there aren’t very many songwriters taking that approach as it seems to be much more popular to write about Nashville, Texas, or Alabama. Maybe they feel that it is not so cool or commercial to be writing about Canada. Some of the best songs about the Mississippi Bayou were written in Peace River. Why is that?

3. So Long Saskatchewan reflects a province and a way of life that is fading into the sunset. What do you feel personally about the passing of the family farm and a rural way of life?

I wrote that song after a farmer from Swift Current area told me he farms 500 acres and his wife had to get a job in town to make ends meet. Things are changing and the family farm is a thing of the past, I guess. I personally like a rural based lifestyle and there are many who feel th e same. There is a peace of mind that comes from working on the land and being connected with the earth. Maybe it’s just a simpler way of life. The prairies were settled on an agricultural based lifestyle and there is a sense of pride and accomplishment that goes back through the generations. I believe in saving the family farm but I know my views are influenced by nostalgia and it isn’t really economically feasible nowadays. Also, farming is really hard work and looks much more pleasant in a watercolor painting.

4. Judging by how many times you show up in each other's recordings, I get the sense that you've known Corby Lund for quite some time. Describe your relationship.

Corby and I are compadres and we sometimes play shows together and burn down roadhouse saloons. I really appreciate and respect his music and he likes mine as well so it makes it easy to get along. Alberta outlaw cowboy singers. My fast-draw is quicker than his but he is better at playing cards. Also, he always keeps an edge on his knife.

5. What do you love about your life as a traveling musician? What do you dislike?

My favorite part of being a travelin’ cowboy singer is the long-winded storytellin’, western shirt wearin’, skunk-dodgin’, boot shinin’, cowpie duckin’, belt buckle polishin’, songwritin’, guitar pickin’, singin’, howlin’, Saskatoon berry pie eatin’, Pilsner drinkin’, stage settin’ up, truck loadin’, truck unloadin’, endless drivin’, guitar string changin’, greasy diner grubin’, spare tire – can’t find the damn tire iron – changin’, radio station interviewin’, sleepin’ bag sleepin’, to-the-nearest-gas-station hitch-hikin’, roadkill inspectin’, ramblin’, gamblin’, and easygoin’ lifestyle it affords.My least favorite part is workin’ with the computer as I ain’t ever found a computer that enjoys workin’ with me. What kind of a way of communicatin’ is html. anyway?

6. You write songs about Alberta past and present, but how do you feel about Alberta future?

I really hope that they don’t close down all the roadhouse saloons because then we would be forced to take our show to Hollywood where we would have to compete with Britney Spears. I also hope that the oil boom doesn’t end too soon because my oil riggin’ and pipelinin’ songs seem to go over really well right now. Just kidding.
I am looking forward to seein’ what’s comin’ down the line. There are alot of opportunities here and I think the music scene is constantly growing. There are some really good musicians moving here from Vancouver and other places and support for original music is gaining popularity – especially rurally.

7. What role do small festivals (like interPLAY) play in the development of independent musical artists?

Festivals like Interplay are essential for independent music as they provide a forum for indie acts to expose their music to larger and appreciative audiences. If your music is not on the mainstream hit parade it is often difficult to build the fan base that is necessary to support a career in music. Performing original music in a rowdy bar environment, competing with VLT’s, and Top 40 requests can be quite a grind. Festivals and arts council concerts are vital to the music scene in Alberta as they provide a positive setting for listener’s to experience different types of music.

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