This week, entertainment editor John Turnbull talks to Chris Luedecke, the Canadian singer/songwriter better known as Old Man Luedecke, about touring, songwriting and GM food.
Independent Australia: Thanks for your time today, Chris, You’re in the midst of an Australian tour — how’s it going so far?
Old Man Luedecke: I got here about a week ago and went to the National Folk Festival, and I’ve just travelled up to Newcastle for the first of the standalone gigs. I’m loving Australia so far, although I think I under packed for Canberra as it was a little cool!
IA: I understand you have a young family. Are they touring with you this time?
OML: My family isn’t with me this time. I spent a month over here in November touring with Jordie Lane, and he returned the favour by coming over to Canada in January. So for pretty much January, February and March I was travelling with my family and a full band, so now I’m finding myself quite solo by comparison.
IA: I was watching a few of your videos on YouTube and came across Monsanto Jones. Can you tell me about that song?
OML: It’s a tongue-in-cheek sort of singalong, that addresses a pretty big issue in a pretty small way. It’s about a couple of parents who name their kid Monsanto after the Agri-business company and it turns out the kid is carrying some on Monsanto’s patented genetic material.
IA: Is genetic modification of food something you feel passionate about, or is it more about Monsanto’s business practices?
OML: It’s a complex issue. I tried to deal with the issue the best way I could, and in as humorous a way as possible.
I haven’t made up my mind yet, I mean: on one hand you get a lot more food, although at the same time you get one company controlling the availability of food for millions of people, which makes me a bit concerned.
IA: You’re right that it’s a complex issue. It’s amazing how many people only look at one side of the argument. I mean, we’ve been genetically modifying food for tens of thousands of years. On the other hand corporate ownership of genes is very dodgy in my mind…
OML: That’s the thing. Things getting bigger and bigger isn’t necessarily better, in my experience.
There was a famous case where an organic farmer who had been working his land for over thirty years, and Monsanto corn was growing on the farms either side. The guy’s name was Percy Schmeiser, and he was sued for stealing Monsanto GM canola and growing it in his fields after seeds blew onto his property.
IA: Steering back towards music for a moment, can you tell me a little about the Ministry of Stories project you worked on with author Nick Hornby?
OML: That’s pretty cool. I haven’t actually been to the Ministry of Stories yet, but that was a project that came down the pipe when they were looking for songwriters to work with under-privileged kids in inner-city London. They wrote lyrics that were sent to me and I set them to music. The songs were recorded and came out on an album through the Communal record project, which was started by the guys from Mumford and Sons.
IA: A lot of your songs have a very literary feel; can you tell me about your song writing process? Do you start with a character, a theme...?
OML: Often things just bubble up. A lot of the time I’m kind of waiting around for that to happen. Left to my own devices I get a little dark — my journal is full of the starts of songs that are very ‘woe is me’. Usually I end up fighting back against that, and try and at least make it about someone else’s woe and not just mine… I think everybody feels the same pain, and it’s just the narrative power of storytelling that allows me to get that out.
IA: I’m not really a massive listener of folk and bluegrass music — is there anyone you’d recommend I check out?
OML: I made my last record, Tender is the Night, with a guy called Tim O’Brien. He had a bluegrass band called Hot Rize and, for years and years, he has been producing phenomenal music with a deep appreciate of how to make traditional folk music live and breathe. Like any genre, Folk music has some pretty obvious clichés and Tim has always brought a lot of life to the music without compromising what Folk really is.
I also mentioned Jordie Lane earlier — I think he’s doing some amazing things. I toured with him and watched about fifty of his shows, so the fact that I can still recommend him after that says something…
IA: You’re touring through Australia until May 6th. What do you do to fill spare time on the road?
[Ed: This interview was done in late April.]
OML: Well I tend to do a lot of driving, so that takes up some time. I love Tolstoy and I’ve usually got a book on the go, but at the moment I’m hoping to kickstart the songwriting process for my new album so I’m sort of keeping my plate clean.
IA: What’s your opinion on internet music piracy?
OML: I don’t know. I’m not sure how much it effects me directly.
Since I started, I’ve never made a lot of money from selling my music digitally, but I’m aware that I do get shared around online and my albums are on Torrents. So I’ve never really made anything to lose.
I imagine I’d get upset if I had an existing income stream that disappeared, but that hasn’t really happened to me. I’ve always shared tapes with friends and buy a lot of second-hand CDs, so I don’t know that ever did any good for the heroes of mine.
I try to buy CDs from musicians at gigs that I like, and I’ve made my living playing live for the most part — if that ever dries up I’ll probably be full of venom at whoever is responsible…
IA: Chris, thanks very much for your time. Enjoy the rest of the tour.
OML: Thanks very much.
Old Man Luedecke’s EP I Never Sang Before I Met You is available through iTunes and Amazon and at good record stores everywhere.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License