MUSIC

Sam Roberts On Income Inequality, Fela Kuti & New Album 'Lo-Fantasy'

03/19/2014 12:02 EDT | Updated 03/20/2014 04:59 EDT
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Sam Roberts knows life is good.

His band recently released their new album, "Lo-Fantasy," a dance-inducing, synth-injected rock 'n' roll trip -- and people still care 14 years after his breakthrough debut, "Brother Down." He's a dad now, to three, but he's always been a pragmatic and aware guy, not a self-indulgent musician living in a bubble.

"Time is pretty much the hardest thing to come by these days, but that's for everybody -- not just rock and rollers," says Roberts, sitting on a giant purple couch in a main-floor room of media giant Corus Entertainment in Toronto, where he has been doing a string of interviews. "That's the thing when you do interviews, you just can't complain. Just don't complain. Don't complain about anything.

"Yeah, there are some people right now with super-shitty jobs, not sitting on a purple couch. We were in New York yesterday and I was watching this guy hacking ice with a shovel. Like fuck. He's there on this windy day and I'm going, 'Ugh! Gotta go to sound check,'" he laughs.

"At least, I’m not hacking ice on a sidewalk, you know? Things are pretty good right now."

His worldview extends beyond the sidewalks of New York. The well-travelled musician, who has been everywhere from Turkey to South Africa for leisure and all across North America with the Sam Roberts Band, said of his new single "We're All In This Together" that he was "trying to evoke the musical love-child of Primal Scream and Fela Kuti" and the album, as a whole, "became based on those two ideas -- make 'em dance but also try to say something about the life we are living."

"I'm trying to do that on every record in some way, and not just from the perspective of a knee-jerk reaction to the evening news. You shuffle through your own experiences, the things that you feel we all do well together," explains Roberts.

"It's not like I feel like I'm in any position to give a State of the Union Address about where we're at. It's just you identify some of the challenges and you try to bring them to the forefront of your song in some way," he says. "Again, it can be through your own eyes sometimes or, in my case, when I'm writing I just create characters who all have to live with different circumstances and how they overcome them and come out of it with a hopeful view of the world is the objective."

There is lots of travel or escape in Roberts' songs, people trying to leave where they are right now for something better out there from "Angola" to "Too Far." "Metal Heat," "The Hands of Love" and "Chasing The Light."

"Yes. That's the thing, never being satisfied with what you have is a driving force in the world," Roberts says. "Excess is a driving force in the world and it leads to some great things. It motivates us in a lot of ways and through that come some of the great things that people do."

In "Human Heat,” he writes about that -- the city and the excess and "so much of everything," as the lyric goes.

"That was an easy one to write. Just take a stroll down the street," says Roberts, who lives in Montreal.

"You know what it's like -- the Kee To Bala [Sam Roberts Band has played the

"When you go to Muskoka and you come back," says Roberts, who has played cottage country venue The Kee To Bala every summer for the past decade, "you see the city for what it is with a little bit more clarity. To me, you need that. I need that contrast between the two different extremes in terms of what kind of life you can lead."

But how does Fela Kuti, the late Nigerian musician and human rights activist, fit into the album?

"He was a very creatively oriented songwriter and he became a threat to the government. They attacked his compound -- I don’t know if you've ever seen that movie, 'Music Is The Weapon'? He was so outspoken…," says Roberts. "[I'm referencing him] for the music, more than anything -- the beat, and, obviously, the fact that he can write music that you can dance to, and then you happen to go back and you just happen to catch what he's talking about, things about chaos and corruption."

“That, to me, is one of the great challenges -- saying something, or putting a magnifying lens to part of the human experience, but people are dancing the whole time and that's sort of the vehicle, the method of delivery, you know? The rhythm is the Trojan horse, in a way."

When asked about the current state of the world -- the gay rights issues in Russia; the political upheaval in the Ukraine, any numbers of crisis and injustice -- what bothers him the most?

"It's the fact that, for me, the one thing is people with such a thinly veiled agenda creating vast wealth for themselves, at the expense of everybody else," says Roberts. "And that it's actually sanctioned by governments the world over. That drives me crazy. And we let it happen. We've let these few people dictate to everybody else. And so clearly everything is skewed towards their best interests."

And who's 'they' specifically?

"The few. A handful. The Pentaverate, you know. No, it’s not some secret organization. We have a few insanely wealthy people out there. I'm not talking about the Bill Gates, who actually give back to the world in some way."

So you like The Giving Pledge, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's challenge to the world's billionaires to give most of their money away to charity -- and not leaving it all to their kids?

"Yeah! Give them a little bit, you know."

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