As one of Canada’s largest urban centres, Winnipeg has long been a multifarious population—city slickers, rural expatriates, transplants from across the country and beyond—and few local bands capture that spirit of eclecticism as well as scrappy country punks Cheering For the Bad Guy.
Their recently-released album, Next Year Country, is their third full-length outing, and is at times both melancholy and raucous, gritty and tender, and frequently laced with meticulous lyrics both conversational and literary. At its heart, the record has the soul of a wandering troubadour, albeit one who could kick your ass. Tales of working-class Joes and far-off—but still familiar—places abound on this album, which is fitting, considering the band’s principal songwriter and wordsmith, Sheldon Birnie, is also an author and journalist.
Birnie was generous enough to take some time away from his innumerable creative projects to converse with the Manitoban about Next Year Country, and the album’s upcoming release party on Oct. 4 at the Windsor.
The Manitoban: What would you say were your biggest inspirations behind Next Year Country? What sparked some of the songs on this album?
Sheldon Birnie: Musically, we were really just trying to get a record down on tape that sounds the way we do on stage live, or in the basement jamming. There is a lot of dual guitar and banjo interaction that we were able to focus on that I’ve always loved from the Stones’ early 70s stuff, and we were able to incorporate some more harmonization with regards to vocal work.
Thematically—and lyrically, I guess—I wanted to really just explore a truly contemporary country music aesthetic. Not like “contemporary country” by way of radio or popular trends, but [the] sort of stories and songs [ . . . ] Hank Williams [would] have written if he were a 30-year-old dude from the sticks, living in an urban centre today. Not relying on codified musical tropes and styles that fit into the country genre, per se, but going to the heart of the “three chords and the truth” idea of songwriting.
M: What are some of the ways you feel you’ve grown as a band since the release of your last album, To the Last Drop (2010)?
SB: When that record came out, the band pretty much changed immediately to sound almost nothing like the band on the record. Over the past three years since then, we’ve changed quite a bit.
We’ve added a solid bass player (Cal Austin Jr.), and Kevin Bones is back in the mix on guitar (he was on the first record from 2007). We’ve been playing together now for about a year solid, and the chemistry is there. We really feel like we nailed that chemistry on this recording, and are keen to share it with folks.
M: How are you feeling about your upcoming CD release, and what can people expect?
SB: Pumped up. People can expect to get good and greasy with us in a great, gritty room at the Windsor.
M: What do you foresee the next year having in store for you, as a band or for you personally?
SB: Just keeping on the same train. We’d like to share this record with as wide a variety of folks as we can. We’d like to hit the festival circuit across Manitoba and into neighbouring provinces come summer, and have a couple laughs along the way. We’re nice enough fellows, and would like to whoop it up with you and your pals in a responsible fashion at some point in the near future. See you soon?
Come enjoy the musical stylings of Cheering For the Bad Guy, the Reverend Rambler, Cal Austin Jr., and some super-secret special guests on Oct. 4 at the Windsor, and grab a copy of Next Year Country on limited edition CD or coloured vinyl. Tickets can be purchased from Music Trader (present ticket at the show and receive a download card of the whole album) for $11, or at the door for $12.