BY DAVID DeROCCO
It’s not just blowing smoke to say Australia born/Alberta raised Canadian country music star Gord Bamford is a great songwriter. His 24 Canadian Country Music Association awards, his multiple Juno nominations, his two Nashville Country Music Association Global Country Artist Awards and his 22 Top 10 singles – including the #1 smash “When Your Lips Are So Close” – are testament to that fact. It’s just that, regardless of the loyalty Canadian country fans show to the genre, you have to write some pretty good songs to endear yourself to fans the way Bamford has. With a deep and distinct country voice and a catalogue of songs that speak to the joys of the simple life, Bamford has carved out a loyal following that stretches from the rural heartland of Alberta to the sunny climes of the Australian outback.
With his new album NEON SMOKE about to drop and his just-announced 29-date tour rolling across Canada this winter, Bamford fans have a lot to be excited about. In anticipation of his January 29th appearance at the FirstOntario PAC (with special guest Aaron Go0dvin), Bamford took the time to talk with GoBeWeekly about touring Canada in the winter, the new album and cheering for the Nashville Predators.
GO/BE: You’ve just announced a 29-date winter tour through Canada, a country experiencing record colds, followed by a tour of Australia, which at the moment is enjoying record highs. Have you ever considered firing your tour manager?
GORD: (Laughing) Good point. We’ve definitely got to brave the weather but that’s Canada for you. It’s tough to pick your tour times because a lot of my fan base is rural too. In the springtime they’re out in the field seeding and in the fall they’re out harvesting. It seems to be the best time of the year to go on tour. You just kind of cross your fingers.
GO/BE: You’re an Alberta guy so you’re used to cold but last year you were on the charts singing about the joys of “Livin’ On Summertime.” Which of the seasons are you more apt to enjoy?
GORD: Well we spent the last couple years living in Nashville, my family and I, but we’re back now in Alberta building a home. I think Canada is where I love. I kind of enjoy living here in Alberta with all the seasons. The kids sure miss the snow but that’s being a kid. They’ve got it now along with the cold. But we’re happy to be here, excited about getting back on the road with the new record.
GO/BE: I speak to a lot of artists who go down to Nashville and they all sing the praises of being there. Obviously it’s a mecca for country music but even rock artists gravitate there for inspiration. What do you find to be so special about Nashville.
GORD: First of all it was a great experience for my whole family, our young kids get to see a part of the world. We travelled with my sons hockey down there, so that part was great. Creativity is a big thing down there. For me that’s the mecca of songwriting. I’ve got a lot of great people I collaborate with there. It was fun being there every day. I wasn’t on the road so I could write. To be honest, we missed Canada and where I come from here in Alberta. As much as we enjoyed Nashville and wouldn’t take it for granted, we just couldn’t wait to get back to Canada.
GO/BE: And it’s not even a bad place anymore to inspire your son to play hockey given the success the Predators have had recently.
GORD: For sure. We got to be pretty much die-hard Pred fans while we were down there through the Stanley Cup run. My son played great hockey, we travelled all over the States, playing elite hockey. We got to see lots of that.
GO/BE: You’ve put a year and a half of hard work into this new album. What objectives or expectations do you set when starting out to deliver a new album? What’s the measure of success for you?
GORD: For me the hardest thing is trying to outdo the last one. Knock on wood I’ve fortunately been blessed to have a great career in country music. Hopefully we can continue to do that. This is my eighth record. When you have so much success leading up to it you just try to make every project better. You just don’t want to disappoint the fan base. For me it was, taking the time on this one. I was really involved in this record from start to finish, which was a little bit different than the last couple records. There’s a good variety of what’s being played on country music these days. We’ve got guitar on fiddle on this record, going back to where I really had a lot of success with my music. We think this is the best record we’ve ever made.
GO/BE: For you, where is the harder part of the work. Is it developing, conceiving, writing and recording a new album, or touring and marketing it?
GORD: I think it’s staying with the times, not just where the music is going but where the marketing is going, where the sales side of the business is going. I grew up so old school. It’s tough to turn an older guy into a newer guy – not to say I’m old, but I grew up in an era where you were selling a lot of records and it wasn’t about Spotify and digital downloading. I think just the learning curve behind that as an artist that’s been in the business for a long time is a little bit tougher curve than for someone who’s just coming into it because it’s not new to them. We’ve done some good things to set ourselves up. I think this new single is streaming 100,000 and it hasn’t even been on the radio yet. And the good thing about streaming is you can kind of gauge what your fans are liking before the songs come out on radio or video. It’s been kind of neat to see how the industry’s changed over time. As the same time we still sell records. There’s still room for record sales.
GO/BE: Certainly in the country industry. The whole machinery behind the record labels might be gone but the fans are still there and passionate.
GORD: I think labels really had to adjust too. I’ve been fortunate to be with Sony for many years, just recently signed a deal for a few more years. I’ve had a great relationship with them. But I think everybody got caught a little bit with their pants down so they’ve really had to research and use a different marketing strategy. It’s going to be interesting to see how this record rolls out.
GO/BE: You’re certainly a veteran now after more than a decade of hits. Is there one significant thing you’ve learned over the years that you felt has helped in your success in continuing to make music?
GORD: I think it would be relationships. That’s the case with a lot of things in life. I’ve seen so many people come and go and treat people the way you shouldn’t treat people. My grandpa told me this years ago, just treat people the way you want to be treated. I’ve seen it all go away from people who just don’t want to be humble or be nice. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. You know, you go out with different acts, whether it be a Brooks and Dunn or Reba….she’s one of my favourites and you can learn so much from her and the way she carries herself and treats her fans.
GO/BE: What inspiration do you take away from the young guns coming up. It’s a competitive business and everyone’s trying to knock you off your perch. Is there anything to be learned there.
GORD: That’s what keeps you sharp. If you don’t have competition with anything it’s hard to remain competitive. Now the last few years, Canadian music is as good as anything. Especially country music in my opinion is as good as anything in the world. So you’ve got lots of young guns coming up behind you. That’s inevitable. The biggest thing is to maintain a loyal fan base. My goal has never been to sell out arenas. My goal has always been to sell a thousand plus hard tickets anywhere across Canada and maintain that fan base. That’s kind of what we’re doing. This tour is clipping along really well.
GO/BE: The strength of county music is always the heartfelt stories songwriters weave into their songs. You’re one of the best at doing that. I know you’ve recently reunited with your dad after 20 years. I was wondering if that experience found its way into songs on the new album.
GORD: It has found its way into songs. Nothing that’s been put on a record yet. There’s some stuff I’m working on and that experience has definitely triggered it a bit. It’s just that sometimes in life when you’re writing songs you want to tell the truth. And sometimes in life the truth hurts. There will be a time I’ll put that song on a record. It just wasn’t for this one that’s for sure.
GO/BE: There’s a lot of joy in the songs you write. Even when dealing with serious subject matter, like the song “Where A Farm Used To Be,” there’s none of the dark tones of a song like John Cougar’s “Rain On The Scarecrow.” Is that a conscious decision as a songwriter, or just something more reflective of your personality.
GORD: Probably a bit of both. I grew up in a rural community where urban sprawl started to take over. There’s so many places like that. It’s’ not a bad thing. We try to keep everything pretty relatable to people. Byron Hill told me years ago to keep things simple. That was probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten from anybody. It’s not rocket science. Just say what you want to say, just make sure people want to hear it.
GO/BE: For the people in St. Catharines who may not have seen you live before, what can they expect on this NEON SMOKE tour.
GORD: We’ve got a world class band and crew. We’ve been rehearsing for a while, we’ve got more rehearsals in Toronto. It’s probably one of my favourite shows we’ve ever put together. It’s very impactful. It’s going to be up close and personal for people. They’re going to see what I’m all about and we’re going to have lots of fun. It’s a very engaging show. It’s refreshing because it’s brand new for us too!