Alberta country favourite Corb Lund is a man with a mind out of time

Musician can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to make music, play his songs, run a business and ride a horse. He performs this Saturday at the Banff Centre’s Shaw Amphitheatre with Leeroy Stagger.

Morning came early for Corb Lund during a phone call from Lethbridge, where the songwriter was trying to wrangle a few details before heading into the studio to demo some new songs. Mornings come early, but then again, so do afternoons, evenings, and even the non-existent to a musician weekends. Everything comes early when you’re trying to round up details that don’t want to be corralled while trying to squeeze out a few hours with a few tunes.

It would be easier if he could escape to his cabin seven hours down the highway, or if he could drive to the nearby historic ranch lands of his family in Southern Alberta, but, alas, that takes time. Lund has the chops — he can write a song to make a hardened rancher cry — he has skilled, loyal musicians, track record (in 2015 Rolling Stone picked him as a county “newcomer” to watch over 20 years into his career) and he even has the voice and the curb, er, Corb appeal. But what Lund doesn’t have in great supply is time.

“I am just nuclear busy. I have to do something about it; it’s a bit much. It’s crazy. I just never have any time to do anything,” Lund says when asked if he has been riding much. “Not enough riding,” he says wistfully. “I don’t even own a horse.”

And that’s the thing. When you release an album like Things That Can’t Be Undone (2015), produced by Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) on respected American label New West, received with reverence by an expanding fanbase, well, then things get busy. Things like playing in the Yukon on a Friday and Banff on a Saturday — as he’s doing this week, July 15, for a show at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Shaw Amphitheatre with Stagger — before coming home and getting ready to head to Oregon and B.C. later.

“When you do a regular tour, it’s kind of linear, but summers are always crazy. You never know; it’s just random which fairs and rodeos and festivals you are going to get,” he says.

Some things are further off on the horizon in either direction, like the well-received 2013 Glenbow Museum exhibition No Roads Here, which featured Lund’s music and artifacts connected to ranching history, or the upcoming Calgary Philharmonic presentation of several of Lund’s songs. Then there are, of course, his approaching gigs with Ian Tyson in the fall that stretch from Ontario to B.C.

“That’s on my plate, too. We gotta rehearse that. I see him pretty regularly and that’s one of the cool things about doing shows — it forces you to rehearse. I talk to him all the time on the phone.”

As for writing the songs that create these opportunities, Lund is clear: “I don’t have nearly enough time to write. You end up running a small business. It’s the number one problem in my life is time management. It’s actually a real bitch. It’s constantly fixing the van, and making sure T-shirts get ordered, and people have got their flights to the right place. Then there’s playing the shows themselves.”

While it’s surprising a musician of Lund’s stature is attending to these details (“It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much”), it harkens back to the do-it-yourself ethic of Lund’s past.

“The only reason I’ve been successful is I’m tenacious. In the early days with (his punk-metal band) the smalls and my own country band I did everything, because if there was no one around to book the tour, then I would book the tour. If there was no one around to print T-shirts and make a poster and put it up all over town, then I would do it. I’ve been doing it that way for years.

“I end up talking to friends of mine that run small businesses because it’s very similar in some ways. I have more in common with them than I do with guitar players. It’s your operation you’ve got to make sure it’s working. It’s always tough to find people to help you that understand your vision and that care about the same things. Any small business owner would tell you that.”

But the muse must be indulged. “I’m sure some people can do it, but I can’t switch from accounting mode in an hour to songwriting mode. I have to have a big chunk of time so my mind gets into my mode. And it’s harder and harder to find those spaces. It’s a different part of your brain.

“You have to be in a zone and I find that I need to have a long period of time with no constraints or parameters, like open free time afloat.  It’s almost like to be really creative I have to be lazy; I can’t have my mind on my to-do list.”

Even with all the things going on in his life, Lund must have assuaged the muse because after the interview, he’s heading to Leeroy Stagger’s Rebeltone Studio in Lethbridge to record some demos. “It’s totally fun and it’s a great facility. I recommend it; it’s really cool.”

He says his next album will be more western themed than Things That Can’t Be Undone, which explored various musical subjects and styles with a some hallmark western gems, like S Lazy H, nestled among the tunes. Lund received an outpouring of feedback on that song, which chronicles the demise of a sixth generation ranch due to family strife and an over-ripe housing market.


That feedback can be verbal, like people telling him it happened to someone they know, to physical. “I see people with tears on their faces in the front row when I play that song. Afterwards, I find out they lost their family ranch in the same way. I’m proud of that song; I didn’t know I could write a five-minute song and maintain it (his ability to connect music to real ranching and western experience) that way.”

As for the new album, “It’s a little early to tell, but there’s a lot more horse stuff.”

So maybe more saddle time would help satiate the songwriting muse?

“I’ve been thinking about buying (a horse.) I don’t even own a cat. I’m on the road so much. I have to check in with my uncle see if he’ll look after him when I’m away.”

There are some things that can’t be undone, but at least you can always undo the lack of a steady mount.

Corb Lund performs live at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity Saturday with Leeroy Stagger. For ticket information, please call 1-800-413-8368.

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer who covers her two passions, music and horses. She has written in the Calgary Herald, FFWD Weekly, Swerve, Western Horsemen, Western Horse Review, Horses All and other publications, for over 25 years.