Media Archive

Backyard Bob


  • Source: Impress
  • Author:
  • Date: 06-9-2000
Bob Egan is a pedal steel player who's appeared on Mermaid Avenue and Wilco's Being There LP, amongst others. He's currently a member of Canadian band Blue Rodeo, but is in town this week to play some songs from his self-titled, solo CD with BR bandmate Bazil Donovan. The singer spoke to Shane O'Donohue from his home in Toronto.

Weren't you only out here recently with Blue Rodeo?

"We came out in May for a month, opening up for The Whitlams. That was quite a bit of fun. We got to be pretty good friends with The Whitlams when they were here in Canada. They took great care of us. I'm not sure The Whitlams crowds knew what to make of us, but I think by the end we won over the ones that were going to be won over."

You moved to Toronto to join Blue Rodeo, didn't you?

"I did. I was living in Oxford, Mississippi, which is between New Orleans and Memphis. It's best known for being the home of William Faulkner."

That's a pretty big move, isn't it?

"Well, I left Wilco right a few years ago, and I decided to make a solo record, so I moved to Mississippi where I knew no one would bother me. And lived in a small town, drank in a small town and wrote in a small town. I was near the end of that cycle - thank God - and Blue Rodeo called and said 'you're moving to Canada'. So there you have it.

So you didn't have to think too hard?

Well, they didn't even really ask me, they just basically told me. They said 'we're not auditioning, and yours is the only name that came up.' I couldn't tell 'em I hadn't played steel for almost two years, I was strictly singer/songwriting. I had a bit of homework cut out for me. But I moved here to Toronto, gladly so. It's a marvelous, marvelous country, marvelous town, I've applied for my citizenship here."

Do you find you need to be continually playing with different people, rather than being tied down to one act?

"I think we've done about 120 shows with Blue Rodeo this year. That's pretty tied down, but I still managed to get on about half a dozen records, other people's records. I mean that only takes a day or two. But no, actually, I really welcome the stability. It allows you to do other things when the time comes up."

How was your songwriting developed?

I dedicate about three hours a day sitting in the backyard writing new songs. I always keep my hand in it so I'm always writing something, at least ideas. But when you start doing three hours a day you realize you've got to start writing an awful lot of crap to get where you want to be. Are you familiar with my first record? I have no idea what you think of the songwriting, but I spent a lot of time in the backyard on that one. I thought this second one would come easier but it's not. There's no substitute for time."

What's the process you go through when you sit in your yard writing?

"Well, there's a couple of things. Number one is you have to dedicate the time to it. You have to say for the next two hours, I'm not going to get on the Internet, I'm not going to answer the phone. And then you need to have your proper stimulants, your coffee and whatever else. For me it helps so much to be outside - I've got a great backyard here, very private - just so you let can let your mind go and babble, sing words, you don't even know what you're singing. And I guarantee you, if you sit for two hours and you don't get anything….after one hour you're saying 'sheesh, I suck as a songwriter, I shouldn't be doing this'. But stick at it, and after an hour and 59 minutes, with the last thing you'll do you'll hit paydirt. As any songwriter will tell you, it's work. I'm currently writing a song about the last perfect pop song. And how I can't write it."

How many new songs can we expect to hear when you're in Australia?

"I should have at least half a dozen, that's one of my goals here. In my three weeks off that shouldn't be a problem. My first record's been out a while and I've been playing those songs a long time, and I'm quite good at 'em, but I'm a little bored. And they're very singer/songwriter oriented. I've got a whole other side - what I call my swamp side - which is … I hate to use the word blues, because I'm a white guy, it's more … it's not even a standard blues, it's got more of a greasy feeling to it, and I've got a lot of things like that on the backburner. It's just whether I feel I can pull 'em off without sounding condescending."

You've also spent a bit of time in Norway, haven't you?

"I did, last year. That's where I met Bazil, actually. I did a solo tour with him and then I was brought back to play extensively on a record by a band called Madrugada. They won the Norwegian Grammy this year. I ended up on like seven songs on the record. It's quite an honor."

Is there much of an audience for roots music over there?

"Well, just like in most countries outside of the States I've found there are a handful of people who hold it near and dear and do what they can to promote it. In Norway there's a handful of people left who think it's great music and they really work to bring us over and it's wonderful. In fact, there's a radio station in Serbia, that has gone through the entire war over the last, I guess almost eight years, on the air, off the air, and he's still one of the biggest supporters of roots type music. I just got a playlist from him and he's working through my record. He's now got like the fourth single on Serbian radio. When the people like that support you, you've pretty much gotta say well, I'll fly to your country and make something happen."

Bob Egan plays the Continental this Sunday 10th with Jeff Williams' Clear Spacemen and the Corner Hotel next Wednesday 13th with Chris Wilson and Shane O'Mara. Bob Egan's self-titled debut LP is out now. Blue Rodeo will be back in Australia later in the year.
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