In Conversation With Tom Cochrane

It was 1994, and I was packing up and heading to Europe to spend 6 months backpacking and finding myself.   As an 18-year-old Canadian I proudly donned the Canadian Flag on my bag and trekked the European countryside with only two cassette tapes to keep me company.  Both were Canadian albums of course, as I couldn’t imagine not having a piece of Canadiana with me as I made memories that have lasted a lifetime.   One of those cassettes was Mad Mad World by Tom Cochrane.  As a young Canuck heading out for the first time on my own, it was Tom’s voice that created the soundtrack to my first life changing experience as a young man.  It was this album that made me feel like I never left the back roads of the Ottawa Valley.

Fast forward 21 years and I am sitting in my office accepting a call from the man himself to discuss his latest album and tour.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect in this interview as Tom has done it all from standing on stage with his American counterpart Bruce Springsteen to performing as a “die hard” Canadian to thousands at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  It’s no stretch to call him an icon, so much so that when my wife walked into my office mid-way through the interview and I held up a pre-written piece of paper that read, “On the phone with Tom Cochrane” she mock dry humped the wall of my office and will undoubtedly be indebted to me for letting everyone know it. So here it is…

In Conversation With Tom Cochrane
Tom Cochrane performs in London, Ontario – Photo: Bill Woodcock

Corey: Thanks for taking the time and chatting with us today Tom.

Tom: Ya, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Greatly appreciated.

Corey: With over 40 years’ experience in the industry what have you taken or maybe not taken out of that 40 years’ experience and put into the last album that might be different?

Tom : It’s an interesting question. The thing is this record kind of harkens back to some of my influences and combines them with some of that journey and experiences of that journey in a rock and roll hobo sense, in the traveling minstrel bard.  So I think the album is sort of a combination of that particular spiritual energy and then some of the music that I grew up with.  The Take It Home title sort of touches on a number of those things right.  The essence of really the southern influence and Southern Rock and Roll influence that people like The Band brought to it and old blues artist like Robert Johnson who influenced me and so many other artists.  And we as Canadians, we take those influences and create wonderful hybrids out of them and so we almost take ownership of that influence, because of the strong gospel undertone to a lot of it.  So I have taken a lot of those influences and I have created a record I think that hangs together pretty well as an album and touches on those experiences of struggling through life on both the physical and spiritual level and Taking it Home, you know?  Or as simple as saying to Kenny at the end of Lunatic Fringe , “Take it Home Kenny” – popular musician vernacular for vamping out at the end of a song.  It’s great to do a record that you feel strong about, I don’t know if I could do it any other way and just do a record to justify a contract or something of that nature.   So it’s good to be making music because of the love of it and just wanting to get something out there that you feel proud of and that’s going to impact some people.  So hopefully some people take the time, because this isn’t really a day and age where people are listening to an album all the way through.  We almost have collective ADD as a society with pulling the singles and the gems out we want and disregard the rest.  So hopefully people give it some time and go through the album. Almost in the same essence that Neruda was a concept record, this one is in a sense.  It’s a good piece of work and I am proud of it.   And it’s going to be fun to get it out there and play some of these songs.

Corey: In the writing process of the album or did you work with anyone new or was it just yourself?

Tom: Well, on this one I actually did have one Co-write which was Sunday Afternoon Hang with Danielle Bourjeaurd who is a Canadian artist lives in Nashville and we had a lot of fun writing that one which is good time song.  But ya, that’s the only one that I co-wrote on this album.  I write everything myself usually.  There might be 5% of my songs that I haven’t written and a song like Sinking like a Sunset was written by Annette Ducharme a close buddy from Vancouver.  But for the most part I tend to write on my own, it’s a very private journey for me that way.

Corey: With the age of social media maybe touch on what something like Facebook has done to change things from what they were?

Tom: The fans are proactive, I am not terribly proactive on it as you’re finding out I tend to be long-winded as your discovering (chuckles as he says it) but I think it’s a sign of the times.  Sometimes it’s a bit of a Pandora’s Box and there are some negative things about it.    And there are parts of the whole social media world we live in that disassociate us from living life and from other people.   The quandary of people being out for dinner and everyone has their heads buried in their phones texting.    It’s good and it’s bad, I think for a lot of young artists it’s been great from the point of view that they can do a lot of micro marketing on their own and get their songs out there on their own. Get out in the world and make contacts that are booking shows in different parts of the world.   Where before we had to be dependent on the Record Label or the promoters for that.   But it’s given kids a lot of freedom that way.    I just hope because it does sort of lend itself to a collective ADD, that people will give this one a good listen because it’s tough now, even I do it but people tend to pick and choose songs opposed to a complete body of work.    This record really hangs together as a body of work and takes you on a bit of a journey.  A real positive one where you go from a good time almost tongue in cheek song like Sunday Afternoon Hang to pretty heavy material like Pink Time, A Prayer for hope and Another year.  And then the record resolves with an almost Yards Birdy live harmonica written version of Back in the Game.  Which I wrote as a Texas Swing, which was influenced by my experiences down in Austin, Texas.  People I meet there and we went to the Continental one night seeing the Marshall Dale Band who are a Swing group and all these kids come in and start dancing to all this swing music.  So what an interesting world and time to live, these are kids in their early 20’s they were dancing like it was Cirque de Soleil.

In Conversation With Tom Cochrane
Tom Cochrane accepts an Ampex Award circa 1983 Photo: Scott Burns

Corey: We have touched on it slightly but maybe you can elaborate on your thoughts on the future of music in Canada?

Tom: That’s a tough one, I think what’s happened is we have come full circle, and maybe this record plays into that.  Before all this happened, and before radio became the huge influence that it was and is and in record companies and big touring became the influence in the late 60’s and 70’s and into the 80’s it was about live.  It became about the album for so long and about that side of it for so long.   But we have kind of come full circle where, the album is the calling card to come and see those songs and see those artists live.   I think that’s the world were living in and that our young artists are living in.   The album is the promo for the tour for seeing those songs and living those songs the way they were meant to be lived.  The way Rock and Roll and Folk music and a lot of different kinds of music were meant to be seen and felt which is live.    So we wanted to capture that essence on this record.  Bill Bell my dear buddy and co-producer who is a wonderful guy and really a great talent.  We kinda set out to really try and capture that live essence and that essence of the rock and roll hobo on this record and we really wanted these songs to be able to translate live which I think they will.

Corey: Final question Tom.  I backed packed across Europe in ’94 and Mad Mad World along with Road Apples were the only two cassettes I lugged around.

Tom: Awesome, love hearing that.

In Conversation With Tom Cochrane
Tom Cochrane performs at CMT Music Fest in London, Ontario – Photo: Bill Woodcock

Corey: It really is a great album but I remember reading a couple of years back that you wrote Life Is A Highway years before you released it.  Can you tell us what took so long to release such a historic piece of Canadian music?

Tom: Well, it was sort of inner politics and bands go through that.  Kenny didn’t feel it was representative of what Red Rider was about.   It was Love Is A Highway at the time and so it just sat there on the back burner.  I went on this trip to Africa, it’s funny that you had it with you when you were backpacking but I was on this long trip with World Vision where we covered 8 or 9 countries and I came back and I was just exhausted, physically, spiritually and mentally and I needed something to pull me out of that.  I brought this song out and got up in the morning and recorded the vocal which stood up in the end it’s the final vocal on the recording in my shed in Oakville.  I made it a pep talk to me and subsequently a pep talk to a lot of other people.  It’s a simple idea really that you can’t change the world all on your own.   All you can do is keep your eye on the road ahead of you because if you don’t you will crash.   So you keep your eye on the road ahead of you and try and spread a little good will along the way and the ripples spread out from there.  It hit a nerve with a lot of people.  People say it’s the best song I have ever written, but I don’t know if it’s the best song, I have written I feel a lot of really good songs for one reason or another don’t reach a larger audience.  But that song seemed to just hit a nerve, but I guess that what hit records are about.

Corey: Tom, thanks so much for doing this.  It has been an absolute pleasure and appreciate the time spent chatting today.

Tom :  It’s been a great interview, I really appreciate the research and work you have done, along with the energy you brought to the interview it really has been a pleasure thanks.

So, that was it.  A 24 min conversation with Canadian rock icon Tom Cochrane.  Sometime’s as when you interview someone you have admired for years you worry that an interview will tarnish your thoughts or feelings with the artist.  I can tell you that this was not the case with Tom.  A real gentleman that made the  interview  such a great experience.  I

I can’t stress enough how great the Hit Exchange special with Dallas Smith is.  If you’re a fan of music I am sure you will enjoy it!  I just wish I was in the audience for that one!