Trying to interview Sam Roberts is like being ghosted by someone you didn’t ask to date in the first place.
I didn’t know he was playing a free July 25 show at the Yukon Arts Centre until a social marketing company in Vancouver pitched me the story. Often, half the work that goes into a piece is just finding someone to talk to you. If Roberts was eager to chat (and that seemed to be the case — a third of the staff at Yukon News got the same enthusiastic email I did), half my job was done for me.
The other half is the background, which I also already had. So do you if you stood, even once, within earshot of a radio in Canada in the early 2000s. Singles from Roberts’ 2002 EP, The Inhuman Condition, and his follow-up full-length, We Were Born in a Flame, were in heavy rotation at the time. Rather than being on the air in the simple radio sense of the word, they felt like part of the thick summer air you were breathing.
Since then, Roberts has won or been nominated for a Juno for every record he’s put out (with the exception of 2014s Lo-Fantasy, which Exclaim magazine reviewed as “perhaps the most dynamic recording of Roberts career”). The Montreal-born musician has made a career of polishing a particular brand of Canadian rock, equal parts anthemic and introspective, that’s gone over as well in arenas as it has in small, sweaty bars. His has been a consistent and successful career.
And now, the Vancouver social marketing press release said, he was going to perform one of a series of shows being put on across the country by Aurora Cannabis Inc. — a federally-licensed Canadian pot producer that bills itself as “redefining the thriving cannabis space,” whatever that means.
As part of the Illumination Series, Kings of Leon would play Calgary, Post Malone would be in Toronto, City and Colour would go to Iqaluit, and Sam Roberts Band would visit Whitehorse. Together, the email said, these musicians would “ignite every corner of Canada with free musical performances.” All prospective audience members had to do was visit illuminationseries.ca and enter to win tickets for the show.
Within minutes of getting the email, I replied to a woman named Nikki and asked to speak with Roberts and to someone from Aurora. We slotted the story into the paper and I waited for a response. I sent two follow-up emails. When the response never came, we re-jigged the paper and found a new story for the formerly Roberts-reserved space.
“Apologies,” came the week-late response from Nikki. “Just wanted to let you know that the band would be available for an interview next week. If you’re still interested, please let me know some dates/times that work for you, and I can pass that on to their team.”
I asked for a Thursday at 11 a.m. When it was confirmed, I emailed again, with a reminder that I wasn’t sure where the band would be calling from, but that the Yukon is in the Pacific time zone.
“Great — thank you!” came the response.
“Bets,” I said out loud in the News office, “on how many hours after 11 a.m. Sam Roberts calls.”
If you guessed three, you win. By then, I’d contacted a different musician, conducted the interview, written the story and gotten promotional photos together in time to fill the space we’d reserved for Roberts. It was being edited when an Ashley from Toronto called to tell me she wanted to connect me with Roberts right then and there.
I explained the situation to her — we were far past my deadline, the paper was going to print and I didn’t have time to chat — and we hung up. Ten minutes later, a Jenn from Toronto phoned. Again, I explained the situation and we hung up. Then Nikki from Vancouver emailed, asking to facilitate a third would-be interview.
“Can I speak directly to whomever is in touch with the band?” I asked. “I feel like having so many different people in the middle is part of the problem.”
Turns out, I was right — somewhere, wires crossed about the timing and Roberts’ people thought the interview was supposed to be at 5 p.m. eastern time.
Nikki copied me on an email to someone named Amanda. I don’t know who or where Amanda was, or what her relationship is to Sam Roberts, but I do know she had a useful suggestion.
“Might be best to straight coordinate timing with (Jenn) as well to ensure clear communication?” she said.
Toronto Jenn texted to tell me Roberts wouldn’t be available for the date I suggested for a phone call. He had a four-day camping trip scheduled.
I thought then of the ‘60s-era article by journalist Gay Talese — “Frank Sinatra has a Cold.” Sinatra, who had a cold at the time, famously stonewalled Talese’s interview requests and Talese made that the story, writing the profile without Sinatra.
This was like the CanCon version of that — “Sam Roberts has a Camping Trip.” In fairness, I don’t believe the runaround was the fault of Roberts, and rather had to do with the sheer number of people involved in managing the weed-promoted show he was playing.
I said I’d stick around the office for a few more hours, if a call worked for that afternoon, but that I was then going to be on and off overnight flights for the next 11 hours. Half an hour later, I got a text back.
“Not likely happening today.”
It was then that I stopped answering. It just seemed easier to write without him, much as I would have loved to ask the long list of questions I’d prepared while listening to his (quite good) 2016 record TerraForm. So I don’t know how Roberts’ camping trip went, or how he feels about playing Whitehorse, or how he keeps things fresh for himself after 16 years as a touring musician.
What I do know is that Sam Roberts has a PR team. And if you want to sidestep them and stick to the music, it’s happening at the Yukon Arts Centre on July 25. Local band Speed Control is opening. Enter to win tickets online at illuminationseries.ca.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org