Strong Words from the Weak

Even though he has railed against capitalism for about a decade, John Samson, heart and soul of the folksy punk group the Weakerthans, is distinctly soft-spoken. He's so quiet that New Times' voice-activated tape recorder picked up only about half his words, so some of Samson's ever-so-quotable statements are lost for all time. But what is left is a good look into the mind of a songwriter and man who stands proudly behind his leftist beliefs.

Although his former band, Propaghandi, boasted a speedy punk style, Samson's current group is downright mellow. The group's most recent album, 2000's Left and Leaving, is a country-tinged disc closer to the singer/songwriter genre than punk rock. But Samson stands behind his punk creds. "That's where I come from," Samson says of the punk scene. "It's been a very valuable community to me. I'll always have connections and ties to that community. Having said that, I think there are people who listen to our band who don't come from that background, so it can kind of jump out of the genre. And I want to play for as many people as are willing to listen."

Getting a point across to as many people as possible is important to Samson. The Weakerthans' songs are mainly stories about disaffected people, but the reasons folks slip through society's cracks are often in the back of Samson's mind.

"In a way, it's hard not to feel vindicated," says Samson of the recent rash of American corporate implosions. "We've seen the biggest bankruptcies in capitalism's history. There's very little pleasure taken, because no one seems to be learning anything from it, but these events certainly point to the fact that capitalism doesn't work well for anyone."

Although Samson maintains hope that disgust will draw together various left-leaning groups and motivate them to make positive change, he is realistic. "I think anyone who thought we were going to see CEOs sitting in jail like they should be is deluded," he says. "But I think we can use this as a rallying point for different groups to realize what we have in common and what we're fighting against."

Meanwhile, his band does its part by bringing tales of capitalism's lost souls to the masses. "I think I try and tell stories mostly," he says, "stories that don't get told in the right way. I try to explain and elaborate on situations in the world, and one of the greatest things about music is that it can make people feel less lonely. People realize that there are other people out there who feel the same way they do."

Songwriting for the Weakerthans' next album is finished, and Samson says he expects to begin recording after a 19-day East Coast tour. "We don't like to be out on the road for more than three weeks, because then you start losing your mind," he says. "We try and pack it all in to as short a period as possible. It's not healthy for a human being to live that kind of lifestyle for very long."

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney