Headed to Australia to play at a big festival in Hunter Valley. One show, bam. In and out. It’s a huge country festival put on by the large and mighty CMC (Country Music Channel). It’s interesting how differently we’re perceived as a band depending on what country we’re playing in. There are a number of reasons for this, party the integral tastes of the country/area in question and partly how we’re marketed. Canada has been our original petri dish. We’re from Canada, and that’s where we started playing our brand of country music years ago as the Corb Lund Band. It was the mid/late 90s, and ‘alt-country’ was hot, so we got grouped in with that scene. Richard Buckner, Neko Case, Calexico; that was the scene. Our music was never that arty, and I think a lot of that crowd thought I was kind of a cheese ball because we played more of a 70s country thing at the time, and my tunes were often very literal story songs and not as poetic as a lot of the stuff being done around me. (Abstract word paintings aren’t a strength of mine; some people excel at it.) As we progressed, we (surprisingly) started getting played on country radio stations in Alberta, (notably in Red Deer very early on) and this was a pleasant bonus, because we have a very different sound than most of the other music being played on those stations, although my lyrical content is legitimately very rural. We get less of that airplay now, although occasionally we get a little blip on country radio. But because of our infiltration at country radio early on, to this day our audience in Canada is pleasingly schizophrenic. There are a lot of straight up country music fans who like us, and about half the festivals we play are with radio country acts who we have very little in common with, in my opinion. The other part of our Canadian audience is made up of folk festival patrons, songwriting fans, aging punk people and other underground, subcultural types. This mix is something I’m very proud of, and when I see a bronc rider standing by an old metal head in a Slayer Tshirt at one of our shows, it makes me happy.
In America it’s a different story. I’d say almost all of our audience at this point is into original/indie/underground country music. There’s a lot of that in Texas. We see very few mainstream country fans at our shows in the US. Unlike Canada used to be, the corporate country scene in the states is way too high powered and locked down for us to ever grab any airplay on that format (I think…never say never, I guess..), but we get a lot of support from satellite radio and Americana/roots stations down there. The clubs and festivals we play in the US are almost exclusively venues that cater to original indie country, which suits me fine. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a ton of vitality and I feel much kinship with the bands we get to play with. It’s funny; I think I have much more in common with indie rock bands than I do with commercial country acts. More on this in a minute.
Through a quirk of marketing, and a less restrictive definition of country music in Australia, we are viewed as a straight up country act there. We get lots of mainstream radio and video play, which is very cool. We’ve played a few folk/roots festivals over the years, but primarily we play big country festivals and country music venues. It’s very strange because most of the acts we play with there are nothing like us, but we have great audiences there who love our music, so I’m not complaining. I feel bad sometimes though, because I know there is a large audience in Australia that is into less commercial music and I’m sure they would dig us, but they generally don’t get exposed to us because we never play those types of clubs in Australia. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.
The UK is different again; there we play exclusively to folk/songwriting/Americana fans because basically, commercial country music doesn’t exist there. No radio stations play it to speak of, and the only country music that is really embraced in the UK is the cool stuff; Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, that kind of thing. The way that we are marketed and perceived in different areas of the globe is a very interesting social experiment that I get to watch unfold in front of me every night.
OK, I’m off to see the Aussies!