Apart from his creative song topics and witty storytelling, there are two things you need to know about Corb Lund. He makes Western music, and he’s from Canada.
“There’s not a lot of people writing Western stuff at all anymore, period,” laments the tall and broad-shouldered Albertan. “Country is more Appalachian-based, and Western is more like old-school ranchy trail ballads.”
That may be true, but after six albums steeped in the Western culture and numerous Canadian Country Music Association awards, Lund is keeping the tradition alive.
This summer saw the release of Cabin Fever and, in it, Lund explores a wide range of inspiration, from his Western heritage to the end of the world.
It’s his most ambitious project yet. Actually a double album with the same track listing on both parts. One is strictly acoustic (the cabin side) while the other is electrified (the fever side).
He recorded the project in a comfortable cabin hideaway but ended up torn between the two versions, so he included them both.
“I’m not sure if anyone’s done that before. It’s like the two discs are the same track listing, and then the music nerds can compare,” he laughs.
His home in Alberta and its unique culture play a huge role in Lund’s music. But while his music is traditionally minded, that doesn’t mean it has to be serious.
Lund brings his buddy and fellow roots musician Hayes Carll in for the hilarious how-to guide of border crossing, “Bible on the Dash.” He also explores the likely effects of a societal collapse in “Getting’ Down on the Mountain,” expresses his love for German motorcycles on “Mein Deutsches Motorrad” and manages to get in a few drinking songs as well.
But stepping back, it’s clear that Lund’s devotion to Western music is not just personal preference. Those trail ballads and mountain songs are in his blood. He says his family started off in Utah before driving their cattle into Canada. Since then, they’ve “been chasing cows the whole time.”
Earlier this year, he even got the chance to put on a special series of shows with legendary Western songwriter Ian Tyson for the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, Canada’s oldest and biggest rodeo.
“He’s kind of the patriarch of cowboy music up here,” beams Lund. “One of the goals we had was to dig into why there is a cattle culture in Calgary and Southern Alberta and where it came from — and it came from Texas. They came up the Rockies and drove longhorns up here.”
On the album, Lund expresses reverence for that hardscrabble lifestyle. In “September,” he sings of a rancher begging his love to stay with him through the bleak winter. In “You Ain’t a Cowboy (If You Ain’t Been Bucked Off),” he deals with failure in the typical cowboy way — by getting back on the horse.
And showing an unwavering sense of humor, he has a little sarcastic fun with the cow culture on Cabin Fever, too. The song “Cows Around,” for example, explains how everything is better with cows around — like how they take up all your money and time, distress your marriage and need help giving birth in the dead of night at 40 below zero.
But the album’s most striking message is one of an impending apocalypse. “Gettin’ Down on the Mountain” puts his fellow mountain men at the top of the food chain.
“They say that if the trucks stopped rolling into the cities, major cities would be out of food in two days,” says Lund. “It might not be a huge crisis. It might just be a week-long blizzard or a power outage or something minor. So thinking a little bit about putting some food away isn’t such a bad idea. And if you’re from the country, you kind of grow up thinking that way, anyway.”
“Gettin’ Down on the Mountain” describes the world as a place where money is worthless and those with the skills to survive are the only ones who do. It’s a hypothetical celebration of those already living a self-reliant lifestyle, since they will be insulated from the initial turmoil.
Lund isn’t paranoid, though. He’s just curious.
“I’m kind of cursed with chronic inquisitiveness,” he explains. “So I read a lot, and I’m interested in a lot of things and I end up just writing about whatever I’m into. I’ll write about cowboy stuff but also card games and preparing for the end of the world and cattle breeds and whatever happens to be interesting to me at the time.”
In the video for the track, Lund (sporting his finest frontier beard), hikes around in the deep snow near his own cabin looking distraught and all alone.
“When we made the record, we kind of had to have playoff beards going [since it was hockey season], and I just kept it going for a while. My girlfriend hated it,” says Lund.
His part-Western, part-Canadian approach to music may not make him rich, but with Cabin Fever, Lund is right where he wants to be.
“I know it’s probably not going to make me a huge commercial success,” he says. “But I don’t care. If I had to do stuff that was easier to sell but not as satisfying, I’d probably go back to law school or something.”