Spanning over three decades now, the Sam Roberts Band’s musical journey has taken them from edgy, teenage Catholic school rockers to the big stage – and their next stop is RetroFest in downtown Chatham.
The band – known for hits like Brother Down and Don’t Walk Away Eileen – will headline Friday’s RetroFest activities from Tecumseh Park, with the concert’s proceeds going to the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance Foundation.
The band’s frontman, Sam Roberts, started his musical journey as a two-year-old, when he first picked up the violin. But Roberts’ classical career didn’t escape his early years.
“I needed to express myself in other ways than playing Mozart and Beethoven,” Roberts said.
By eighth grade, the newly “brooding teenage” found that expression in rock ‘n’ roll, writing bad songs that he and his bandmates rehearsed in the basements of their parents’ Montreal homes.
“We would just lock ourselves up in the room and play until my dad told us to stop; (my parents) were very supportive within reason,” he said.
With their band name, Happy Death Men, exuding their teenage angst, Roberts said they drew inspiration from British punk and the Seattle grunge scene. They customized their all-boy Catholic school uniforms with skinny ties, tapered pants, and ’60s rocker haircuts to look as “badass as possible.”
“It was the birth, the heyday of grunge so everybody was into that aesthetic,” he said. “The music that we still make today sort of evolved out of that.”
Roberts said it was many years between the band’s roots and their breakthrough. During university and afterwards, they felt the pressure to hang up their instruments and get normal jobs, but they never did.
“You have to devote yourself to it if you ever want to make it happen,” he said. “If you’re good at kicking failure and rejection, then eventually you find yourself playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band for a living.”
They never completely separated themselves from their influences, but always did what felt right and never trapped themselves into one style.
“That’s the one thing that I think we’ve always been pretty good at, just letting our own instincts direct where we go rather than what we think people want to hear,”
Going through life outside of music helped the band use the depth and struggle of their experiences to shape their sound.
“(Our) own lives became more complicated and our music benefited from it.”
The band has been working on new music reflecting their lives and what’s going on in the world in 2019.
“It’s more in the music itself, how are you feeling,” he said. “It’s angry and nostalgic at the same time.”
However, they’re excited to break from the studio, return to Chatham and get back on stage. The band performed here on Nov. 30, 2018, as the headline act on the CP Holiday Train.
Since the beginning, going to smaller “hidden gem” communities – where people love and want to hear music – has always been a part of what they do, Roberts said.
“We’ve managed to reach outside a little bit, that the people we’re connected to are not just in Toronto, not just Montreal or Vancouver,” he said. “Somehow over the years, the music that we’ve made has crept into the fabric of Canada, all of Canada.”