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Sam Roberts: ‘This is a time when people need music, and therefore, musicians, more than ever’

Sam Roberts performs at First Avenue, 2017. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
Sam Roberts performs at First Avenue, 2017. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

by Sylvia Jennings

April 08, 2020

As a part of her "Phone a Friend" series, Morning Show host Jill Riley made her first call to Canada to check in with Montreal-based singer-songwriter Sam Roberts. Roberts discussed his response to the global pandemic both as a musician and as a parent, ranging from how one should explain what's going on to children, to finding a silver lining in providing comfort for others through music.

Jill Riley: Sam, how are you doing?

Sam Roberts: Hey, I'm doing well, thanks. I'm honored to be the first Canadian on board.

Are you calling from Montreal this morning?

Yes, that's right.

How are things going in Montreal? What are you observing in your community?

Empty streets. Not many cars or people. Basically, any of the sort of trademarks of existence in Montreal, or in any city, not just in North America but in the world, seem to be eerily absent at the moment. I am locked in my basement hiding from my children upstairs.

Sam, when folks have been talking about being a community and helping our neighbors, I kept seeing the phrase "we're all in this together," and I thought of your song. You've been spending time with your family, and you guys posted a video of a special performance of that song.

That's right. I put the song out in 2013, but I never really thought, at the time, that we would be living through an experience like this, let alone, with our children, and having them also go through something like this for the first time in their lives. I find, as a parent, that I don't have any answers for them. This is so new to our generation and older generations. Nobody can really find the words to describe any of this.

The easiest thing was to get together and do something that helped to take our minds off of everything, so we got a little jam going. We spent a few days rehearsing to make sure we knew what we were doing. Then we put the song up, just as a way of saying thanks to everybody who's out there working on the front lines, putting their lives in jeopardy to help the rest of us get through it.

How old are your kids? It's nice to see that they're playing instruments.

My oldest daughter is 13, and then I have an "almost 11-year-old" as she makes me say, and a 9-year-old.

So many parents are wondering, "How do I explain this? How do I explain what's happening to my kids and family?"

It really is difficult. The vocabulary almost doesn't exist. You sort of have to choose your words carefully. You want to be as open and honest as possible, but at the same time, not spark panic. In some ways, being a musician, it's so awesome what you turn to when you don't have the words to describe something. There's a real comfort in that, and it's a great way for our family to find some relief from the whole thing.

It's hard to find the words to describe the global pandemic to families, but to describe what's going on in the music industry right now. What have been some of your observations with musicians and what's happening in Canada?

It was definitely a big shock, especially as we come into the summer touring season, when all of the bands are getting revved up and are ready to go out and hit the road. All of the sudden that came to a shuddering halt. It's been amazing to see the response and resilience in the music community specifically. We may not be able to go out and tour and do our work that way, but this is a time when people need music, and therefore, musicians, more than ever, whether to bring answers or sometimes just levity [or] sometimes escape. Any of those things. Musicians just run into battle mode, and realize that the world needs as much [music] as ever, if not more. It's just been great to be a part of that community. It makes you really proud to say that that's what you do.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.