On his seventh studio album Canadiana Grotesquica, released this week on Coax Records, Vancouver singer/songwriter Geoff Berner marks Canada 150 in his inimitable style by referencing our cultural heritage in unexpected ways.
There are nods to hockey but in the form of a tribute to Vancouver Canucks tough guy Gino Odjick. There’s a song about Terry Fox, but it’s more a reflection of finding strength in the face of personal hardship. There’s some of Berner’s patented social commentary on “Hustle Advisory,” and even a charmingly sweet country song with the self-explanatory title, “Don’t Play Cards For Money With Corby Lund.”
Produced by Paul Rigby (Neko Case, Carolyn Mark), Canadiana Grotesquica is something of a departure for Berner, moving away from the genre of klezmer/punk he is sometimes credited with inventing. Instead, Canadiana Grotesquica is a more roots-oriented singer-songwriter affair, with Rigby’s production emphasizing a melancholy twang, while still incorporating Berner’s trademark accordion playing.
Along with the new album, Dundurn Press will publish Berner’s second novel, The Fiddler Is a Good Woman, on Oct. 14. It’s the follow-up to the well-received Festival Man, and the second in a planned trilogy. Berner will be hitting the road this fall in support of his latest efforts, with tours of Canada, continental Europe, Scandinavia, and a few dates in the US, kicking off with his appearance at the 10th edition of the Accordion Noir Festival at Vancouver's Russian Hall on Sept. 9. You can see his full schedule at geoffberner.com.
What makes Canadiana Grotesquica stand apart from your previous work?
Lately, I've been making mostly klezmer-ish albums. But now and then I would write a country or folk song, and there was nowhere to put it. Eventually, I had an album's worth of them. So I took them to Paul Rigby, and we made this.
You're releasing the album at the same time as a new novel. Is there any correlation between the book and the recording?
There's a similar mood and a lot of the same place names. Most of the musicians you meet in the novel also play some country or old-time music, like on the album.
The song "Gino Odjick" has not surprisingly been getting some kind attention in Vancouver, and among hockey fans. Do you know how he feels about the song, and what in your view is his legacy?
I have been told, through private channels, that Mr Odjick thinks the song and the video are good works. It's not for me to say what his legacy is, but I believe he's been a positive role model on how to survive with dignity in a violent system, and how to make a real contribution to your community.
You're launching the album at the Accordion Noir Festival. How important has that event been to you for the past 10 years?
The first Accordion Noir was just my gig with the Creaking Planks and Salmon Avalanche at the Railway Club. It sold out. Each year, something gets added, and that usually sells out too. I planned it as an annual event so that I wouldn't miss my son's birthday, which falls on the same weekend. So it's worked out pretty well for me. I like the fact that it's a festival about honouring oddballs.
If you could change anything about the music business, what would it be?
It is hard to say for sure because the problems are so complex, but we should probably just start by abolishing private property and see where that takes the music industry.