For most artists, making albums tends to become a longer, more involved process as they get further into their careers and achieve more success. For Country Western artist Corb Lund, recording albums has gotten simpler the deeper he’s gotten in his career, which stretches back to 1995 when he released his first solo album Modern Pain.
“We’ve made about 10 or 11 records, and each one gets more and more, going more with four dudes in a room playing music,” Lund said in a late-September phone interview. “We started out and would track stuff individually and had a click track in the early days when we didn’t know better. But now we just hit the record button and play the damn music.”
The latest album from the singer-songwriter/guitarist from Alberta, Canada, Songs My Friends Wrote,” followed that pattern, although the COVID pandemic did add one hitch to the process.
“Grant [Siemens], our guitar player, he lives in a different province than us, so he did a lot of his stuff after the fact,” Lund said. “We recorded with my rhythm section and not all of the songs, but most of them, we sent to him after the fact and he added his flourishes to it, which was kind of cool. It’s always interesting to try a different recording method. Usually, we have all four of us going in a room at the same time. So it was kind of cool. It worked out well.”
Songs My Friends Wrote is a different kind of project for Lund in that it’s not made up of his own songs. Instead, he and his band, the Hurtin’ Albertans (Siemens, bassist Kurt Ciesla, and drummer Brady Valgardson) recorded ten songs by other country/folk artists Lund counts as friends, including Ian Tyson (one of the legends of the Western/cowboy country wing of country music), Hayes Carll, Tom Russell, Todd Snider, and Fred Eaglesmith.
“I’m lucky I’ve got a bunch of really great songwriters for friends, and we always learn each other’s songs for fun,” Lund said. “So I’ve been threatening to make that record for a long time and finally got around to it during COVID.”
Lund embarked on Songs My Friends Wrote soon after he finished his 2020 album Agricultural Tragic, shortly before the pandemic hit. With touring paused for what would be an extended period, Lund had time to tackle another project, and he realized a record of cover songs made lots of sense.
“It takes me a couple of years to put together an album [of original songs],” Lund said, noting his own songs tend to come together bit by bit over a course of months. “We had just finished Agricultural Tragic so I didn’t have a lot of new stuff. It was just perfect timing because I had that idea in [mind].”
He didn’t have any detailed criteria for choosing the songs for Songs My Friends Wrote and simply followed his heart.
“They were ones that spoke to me, just ones I like myself,” Lund said. “A lot of them tended to not be their big hits or their famous ones. A lot of them were deeper album tracks I wanted to play. It was very selfish. It was purely what I wanted to do.”
Songs My Friends Wrote includes two songs by Carll, the acclaimed Americana artist who has become one of Lund’s best musical friends– the punchy acoustic-laden “Highway 87” and the driving rocker “Little Rock”.
Two of his other choices were Tyson songs, the lovely ballad “Montana Waltz” and the gentle and unhurried “Road To Las Cruces”, and from Russell’s deep catalog, he plucked “Blue Wing”, a tune with a quick shuffling beat that’s embellished with plenty of lead guitar. Lund met Tyson around two decades ago when he was part of a tribute show for the Canadian Music Hall of Famer, who attended the event, and his friendship with Russell extends back to a similar time.
“When I first met Ian and Tom, it was pretty intimidating because they were pretty established,” Lund said. “But they’ve become good friends, especially Ian. I’ve known him for years and he’s become a good friend and he’s been really helpful. We’ve toured together and written together and drank beer [together].”
Back then, Lund, who grew up hearing country and cowboy music around his home, was still early in a solo career he has built the old-fashioned way, by touring relentlessly and releasing a steady stream of albums featuring well-crafted songs that range from Western/cowboy country ballads to chunky Americana tunes with a good bit of twang to edgy rockers that hint at the heavy metal/grunge rock he favored as a teen and the Southern rock and blues he absorbed during his college years.
“I still listen to that kind of music sometimes,” Lund said of his rock influences and metal in particular. “And it’s actually had an effect on my country songwriting because that [metal] world is a world where they encourage you to be very unique and find your own voice and your own sound. So when I apply those kinds of approaches to Western music or country music, the result is what you see today, especially in the lyrics, I think.”
In fact, Lund was still playing in The Smalls, a metal/punk-influenced rock band that lasted from 1989 until 2001, when he released his first two country solo albums. After going solo full-time and signing with Stony Plain Records, Lund notched a breakthrough in his native Canada with his next album, 2002’s Five Dollar Bill, one of three consecutive albums to go gold in that country.
By then, Lund had begun expanding his touring base into the United States. And he has seen his audience grow tour after tour, year after year to where his two previous albums, Agricultural Tragic and Things That Can’t Be Undone have both cracked the Top 40 on the U.S. Country chart. Lund said he knew he’d have to put in the hard miles to carve out a sustainable solo career.
“That’s what all my heroes did. I just thought that’s how you do it. I thought all of the living in a van and hardship and economic hardship, I thought that was just all part of the process,” he said. “So I didn’t have a problem with it at all. I mean, I’m totally committed.
“That makes for a loyal audience, right?” Lund said. “The people who come to my shows, especially in the states, I don’t have very many casual people. If they’re there, they’re committed. We’ve built a cool community.”
That community will undoubtedly come out for Lund’s shows as he and the Hurtin’ Albertans tour the states through mid-December. They’ll hear some material from Songs My Friends Wrote and Agricultural Tragic, but there’s no telling what songs will get played on a given night.
“I don’t use a set list,” Lund said. “The band’s been with me long enough and they’re sharp enough that they can just follow me. Every night’s different. But yeah, it’s always fun playing newer songs, and the stuff from those two records is in the sweet spot now. If you put them in when they’re brand new, nobody knows them. But they’re hitting the sweet spot now, where they’re still fun to play and fresh, but people have heard them. And we have eleven records now, so it’s kind of crazy. We have a lot of material to work with.”