MONTREAL - We recently caught up with rocker Sam Roberts, frontman for the Sam Roberts Band, who is quarantining with his family at home in the Montreal neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grace.
The six-time Juno Award winner has been spending his time wrapping up an important new project for work and keeping busy helping with his kids' schoolwork, with gardening, and of course, by catching up on some old-time Canadiens hockey on TV.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us! Hope you and your family are keeping safe and healthy.
SAM ROBERTS: Well thank you, same to you. I've got a really busy schedule these days. I had to shuffle so many things around just to make time for it - between taking out the garbage one piece at a time to watching the grass grow. I'm a super busy guy these days. (laughs)
Our first question was going to be, "Are there any personal or professional projects of yours that got put 'on pause' because of the pandemic?" but we found out you've just wrapped up a new album...
SR: All this happened at a time when we'd put the last almost three years of our time and effort into making this record. And the home stretch... we were literally within sight of the finish line. And then early March rolled around, and things came screeching to a halt on all fronts, basically. But through all of that we managed to finish our record, which we're just really glad about. I think if I had to wait a year and a half to finish making the record, it would have been a form of torture, the likes of which I'd never care to experience. That's been a nice distraction from some of the stuff that's been going on, although it's weird to juggle recording music with teaching grade three math and French almost in the same breath sometimes. It's been unique, to say the least.
What has a typical day been like for you in quarantine?
SR: Waking up a little later than usual, to be honest. There's a little less pressure to get up and at it. But we have three kids, all in different grades, and they're each required to keep up with their schoolwork on a daily basis. So waking up, coming downstairs, making some very strong coffee, and then we hit the books. I'm now doing grade three for the fourth time in my life, so I've become a real expert at grade three-level geography, mathematics, and reading. I do that for the first couple of hours of the day. And then we have to kick the kids out of the house, because there's just too much energy indoors. So we throw them out and they go play in the yard. And then I try to get back to some work, and then I end up being distracted and watching a Habs rewind, a 1996 playoff run or something like that. I can't believe how many throwback hockey games I've managed to squeeze in in this time.
You're a big sports fan and Habs fan, so have you been able to fill the void that way?
SR: Yeah. I'm a big soccer fan too. It's amazing how emotionally invested you can get in something that happened 30 or 40 years ago. Still. You put on this thing and at first you're noticing strange things about it, like, look at those skates. I forgot those skates. Oh yeah, helmets looked like that, or their skating stride looked a little... and then next thing you know, you're completely time-warped back there, and you're reliving it as if it were happening today. That's part of the magic of sports, really. So I'll watch old Champions League soccer matches and old playoff runs in hockey. Luckily we have that, because I'm not sure what I would do.
What's been the biggest silver lining in all of this for you?
SR: I do have to travel a lot. And as much as I'm looking forward to going back out and performing again, it is a lifestyle that drags you away from home a lot. Professional athletes live a similar lifestyle that way. You have to see it as an opportunity to spend time at home. Maybe too much time sometimes. (laughs) And I'm sure it's not just too much time for the parents. I'm sure the kids are also like, "Dad, let me have a turn with the remote over here." That's certainly one of the things that I'm really trying to take stock of and soak up.
I haven't been able to play music in a long time, and it's dawning on me more and more with each passing day how much I need that, how much I love that, and how much I'm really looking forward to being able to do it again.
So that kind of perspective is hard to come by. Sometimes, something drastic has to happen for that kind of message to really sink in. And I can't think of anything more drastic than what we're all living through at the moment. So, perspective. It's a bit of an intangible, I guess, but it's important.
What are you most looking forward to doing when things go back to "normal"?
SR: I've got a pretty long checklist growing right now of things that I want to do. Montreal, specifically in springtime: we've put in all this work and effort over the winter living through the harshness of six, seven months of winter. Spring is like our reward, and to not be able to go out and sit on a terrasse and drink beer seems like cruel and unusual punishment right now. I've been really wanting to, obviously, go watch a hockey game, all these things that we just sort of took for granted. Just leave NDG. I'll just put that as my umbrella. My umbrella wish to leave the confines of NDG would be pretty high up there. (laughs)
Have you taken up any new hobbies or learned any new skills?
SR: I'm really trying to improve my gardening right now. My lawn needs some work, man. It needs a lot of work, but I've got the time to put into it now. So that's been my main hobby: trying to get things to grow. I have an enormous amount of respect for farmers and schoolteachers, two other lessons that I've learned on this journey into the mind.
We've seen the Isolation Jubilation Sensation performance (Sam and his kids performing "We're All In This Together" from home, see below). We know what the answer to this question is going to be, but in your own words: if you had to pick one of your songs to fit with the present situation, which one would it be and why?
SR: I don't think that's my choice anymore; I think that song's already been adopted. I guess I never would have thought in 2012, when I wrote the song, that it would ever apply in the way that it does to the world that we're living in.
I think the song "We're All In This Together" ties into one of the silver linings, and that's been this pretty remarkable community spirit that you see all around you. Montreal has been one of the places hardest hit by this and we've had to really, really pull together. I can only really speak from the community level, like how our neighbors are treating each other and helping each other out and looking out for one another. That has been an amazing thing to see. I think that this will have affected all of us, in that sense, in a positive way going forward. I think we're definitely going to come out of this a more close-knit city and community, for sure.
Do you have any quarantine recommendations?
SR: If you want to sense freedom in its fullest form, which I think we all need right now, watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off. That would be my one movie recommendation. You're like, "Man, look at all that freedom."
Always have multiple bags of Oreos available. They're still, I think, the most effective bribery tool when it comes to family management. So those are a couple of things. Hopefully, they'll help in some way.