EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Emerson Drive
Emerson Drive is undoubtedly one of Canada’s most prized possessions. This five-piece band, hailing from Prairies, has made its mark on both Canadian and American country music over the span of almost two decades with several hits, nominations, and awards to be proud of. They are well known for songs including “I Should Be Sleeping,” “Fall Into Me,” “A Good Man,” and their chart topper, “Moments.” The band has picked up the award for Group or Duo of the Year at the Canadian Country Music Awards multiple times and are currently nominated for Country Album of the Year at the 2013 Juno Awards.
Roll, the band’s latest album, was released late last year and yet the first single, “She’s My Kind of Crazy,” has already been certified gold in Canada. The album features songs written almost entirely by the boys, all of which represent the lyrical, vocal, and instrumental talent that is Emerson Drive.
The band is currently in the middle of the CMT Hitlist Tour, which has seen stops in cities all across the country with fellow Canadians Doc Walker and Aaron Pritchett. We were lucky enough to sit down with lead singer Brad Mates after a terribly long bus ride from Winnipeg to Ottawa. That didn’t seem to matter, however, when we began to chat and Brad’s charming and caring personality shone through.
You’re currently on the road for the CMT Hitlist tour. How has it been so far?
Great so far. Exciting, cause we’re actually out here with a bunch of friends, so it’s not like you’re meeting a new act for the first time and over the course of three weeks trying to get to know who they are. Everyone’s known each other for seventeen years now. So it’s a pretty easy process to get everything loaded up on the buses and travel down the road. I think people are seeing that night after night now. It’s really cool to see reactions from fans that have seen both bands throughout the years and to now see all three of us collaborating on stage and sharing something a little bit different than you would normally see at a concert, so that’s been great.
Do you have a favourite memory from the tour you would like to share?
I love the encore of what we do. You’re taking the show from the start right through to the finish, but you’re getting that big impact at the very end where each night you can tell people are very happy that they bought a ticket. And to me, that’s where it all makes sense.
You released your fifth studio album, Roll, late last year. How has the reception been on the road so far?
Great so far. I love playing the new stuff, like stuff that hasn’t been a single and maybe never will be a single. We have two songs in the show that are brand new off the album that most people haven’t heard yet unless they’ve bought the album. To me, I love gauging crowd reaction when it comes to that kind of stuff. You know, it’s a bit of a departure from anything we’ve done in the past. Kind of like the new step forward of where our sound and direction are going. So I’m always curious to see what the crowd’s reaction will be, but so far so good.
Tell us the story behind your brand new single, “With You.” Why did you want to release it as your next single?
Singles are always a crazy thing. It’s like a chess game. Sometimes you really have to see what else is out there at the time and what makes sense, if it should be an uptempo, a mid, or a ballad. We haven’t had a ballad off this album yet, so going into early spring, it feels like a good time for it. We’re getting good reaction already from stations that are playing it. We just haven’t had that slower song in a while. It represents everything that we’re doing obviously on the new album and it’s kind of a universal message, too, for anyone that’s out there. We’re in the first week of people hearing it on the radio. We’ll see what happens, but obviously we’re looking for big things out of it.
In which ways does this album differ from your last album, Believe?
Direction-wise, I think that we’ve all talked about this over the past couple of years … tweaking the sound to a point where our hardcore fans are definitely going to hear a bit of a difference in the sound. And when I say that, I mean it’s a bit harder of a sound, it’s a bit more organic, it’s not overproduced by any means. It kind of represents a timeline of like ’95-’01 for us when we played a lot of bars and pubs. Those were the days where every genre of music, you seemed to play in the last two sets in a bar. The bar owner would come to you and be like, “We don’t want any more country. We want alternative or rock stuff.” It made an impact on our sound back then. I really feel like those six years represent this album very well. And stuff that’s not foreign to us, obviously, but stuff that maybe we just didn’t push to the edge throughout the last ten or eleven years. So it’s exciting. It feels new and fresh.
What is the writing process typically like? How do you choose songs that everyone in the band can connect with?
That’s a good question. When it comes to lyrics, for the most part, it’s probably more or less about anything that I’ve gone through in my life. As a singer, it’s just easier to sing about stuff like that. Musically, I think that’s where we differ from a lot of other groups. Everybody in the band plays every instrument that is recorded in the studio. So for Mikey playing the drums, his part in that song is obviously what he puts into it. And that’s where you’re always going to get that unique sound as a band. But yeah, lyrically, I’ve always felt like I have to sing about stuff I either know or I can represent well.
You’ve had great success in both Canada and the U.S. Have you noticed any differences between how Canadian and American fans embrace your music and country music as a whole?
We’re very lucky to have had a good run in the States in the early 2000s. Everything back home here in the last few years has just stepped up to another level, too. We’ve talked about this over the years … there are a lot of acts that are from the States that never break through in Canada and vice versa. So I’ve always felt that we’re very lucky that way. We can hop across the border whenever we need to and there’s a fan base on both sides, which helps a lot. We don’t get over-saturated in each country and we’re able to play throughout the year and see fans that have been there from the start
Have you personally had any regrets in the past seventeen years with the band?
(Laughs). No, I don’t think I have any regrets. But I know there will be old pictures and songs … I have a son that is three. I know in a few more years when he gets old enough to look at some old pictures, he’s just gonna be laughing, which I think is hilarious. But I don’t know if I have any regrets. I think that we’ve all gone through different ups and downs in this business, as well as personal stuff. But I have to say, at the end of the day, I think it’s made us better in the long run. We’re more respectful and understand things a little better having gone through some of the ups and downs that you do. So I don’t know that I’d ever change anything if I could go back. It’s all been just a great experience so far, even the bad stuff. It helps you build character.
What is it about country music that you’re drawn to?
For me, personally, it’s definitely the live aspect. I love seeing any empty room right now knowing in a few hours it’s going to be full. That fuel that the crowd gives you on stage – I’ve enjoyed that for the seventeen years that we’ve been doing this. It’s never wavered. It’s always been very consistent, which is cool.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
I think the GRAMMY nomination was a pretty big highlight, just ’cause it was a first in Canadian country music as a band. No one else has ever been able to do that before. I love knowing that we were first in our own country to break a boundary. It was incredible. Obviously different genres have been able to do the same thing, but as a country band getting a nomination – it just sets the bar. You can look back on your career and realize that you were first at something. I think that’s great.
Is there anything in particular you want to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
I think just growing as a band and expanding more and more and building new fans is always the goal at the end of the day. The longevity thing has always been a goal from the start. And now knowing that there are seventeen years underneath the belt, I think and I believe that there are more to come. So again, just building the fan base and having our music reach out to more people is definitely going to help with anything from this point forward.
How do you boys keep busy on long trips between shows?
(Laughs). Well, we had a long trip last night from Winnipeg to here (Ottawa). There are satellites on the bus, so lots of watching T.V. The guys usually have their laptops out, either doing emails or trying to find something to pass the time. It’s one of those things – you get used to the road over the years. And for those people who don’t really understand it, it’s difficult just being confined in a 45-foot bus for many hours at a time, but you do get used to it. You just kind of find your own space and make the time go by.
Be sure to watch Emerson Drive’s BRAND NEW music video for “With You.”