I recently sat down with Greg MacPherson to discuss his new record Mr. Invitation and his plans for the future:
Itís been 5 years since your last record was put out. What took so long?
Well, when Night Flares came out I toured and toured. I lived out of a bag basically for two and a half years. From the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2007 I was on the road. Travelling and touring was really fun, but the novelty starts to wear off at the end of it. So I came out of 2007 and G7 decided to close its doors and I kind of used that as an excuse to take a bit of a break. I had been living at no fixed address for a long time so I came back home and did a lot of writing. I really focused on recording, learning how to record myself and trying to understand the science of recording. Thatís basically it, the time went by so fast. If I could have put something out sooner, I would have but the way all the cards were dealt it worked out to be a longer process. But Iím really happy with the way things worked out. I feel like at this point, Iím finally at a position where everything Iím doing Iím really excited about and happy with.
Now that G7 Welcoming Committee Records is no longer around, youíre on Smallman. How did that come about?
I had worked with Rob from Smallman before, he was my booking agent for awhile. He was booking for me just when I started at G7 and it just seemed like a natural kind of fit to pick everything up, move down the street and start with him. Aesthetically I think itís funny to be on Smallman because I donít necessarily have the same sound as a lot of their bands. Itís very organic though, Rob is a friend and I trust him a lot. Itís great to work with people I get along with.
Unfortunately Smallman will be closing down too. Any idea where youíll go next?
I know, but Iím not really thinking about the next step. Thereís a chance Iíll be putting out a record in Europe in the fall so thatís sort of what Iím focused on next. Actually, Iím just focused on the present. In the next month and a half, Rob has committed to helping me with this record. Iím booking my own tour to the East coast, thatís almost finished. Thereís a lot to think about beyond whatís going to happen next. Iím not sure, nowadays things are so different. I grew up a bit of a dinosaur, coming out of the 90ís with labels being an important focus. All of my favourite artists were on cool indie labels. But nowadays, Iím not so certain what all is necessary, if you even have to have a label. I like doing things myself if I can.
Itís quite common for musicians to start their own labels.
Yeah, thatís been done a lot. I think in the past you certainly had to have some resources, but nowadays itís not as important with the Internet. Iíve been recording on my own a lot more too and maybe there will be a time someday down the road where I wonít need any of that help and I can do it on my own.
Just releasing stuff digitally is getting more and more popular too.
Yeah. I still love vinyl so releasing my music digitally and on vinyl would be the best option for me. I mean, I like my CD, it looks nice with the digipak so thereís a little less plastic, but itís still not so good for the environment. Not that vinyl is much better, but I do hear that they are making records that are a little more biodegradable nowadays. The music industry as a whole isnít the best industry for the environment. Touring especially, I feel awful sometimes about long trips. Thatís another reason why Iím not as bent on going long distances very often. I try to stick with shorter tours to minimize the amount of fossil fuels Iím burning. But itís hard. Itís hard to balance those things.
How much of the recording did you do yourself on Mr. Invitation?
I did one of the songs on the record at my house and I did it on my own. For one song, the guitars and stuff were recorded at Chris Hannahís [Propagandhi] house. A couple of the bed tracks were done at Mid Ocean School of Media Arts, which is a student recording school in Winnipeg. Everything else was done at the Prairie Recording Company.
What was the writing process like?
One thing I learned very early on is that I have to make time to write. Sometimes Iíll get up really, really early and force myself to write or Iíll stay up really late. Sometimes Iíll drink a whole bunch of coffee or get drunk and try to write. When Iím depressed I try to write or approach my writing from a strange perspective. Like youíll walk down a street every day and see the same stuff, but if you stand upside down youíre going to notice things differently. I think the difference between Night Flares is I realized I enjoy writing and itís really, really fun for me. Up until the last few years, it felt like I had to write. Iím really enjoying myself more, lifeís so short, you know? I feel very fortunate that I can tour and play music. Youíre asking me questions about stuff, it seems like a very luxurious position to be in. It goes by fast so Iím trying my hardest to enjoy myself and so far, so good.
Can you share what your favourite lyrics are?
Wow, thatís a good question. No one has asked me that before. Thatís tough... Iíll have to think about that for a second. Well, the first song [ďFirst ClassĒ] is a story and I really like that story. Itís kind of really real for me, I can relate to it. I get to make fun of Canadians a bit, which I like to do and I also get to make fun of Germans, which is fun as well because I know a lot of Germans. (Laughs)
How do you relate to it?
Itís the story of a man, a wealthy man and he goes travelling to Europe. Heís on business or something like that, but in reality heís there to find himself. He lost himself somewhere. Heís on a train with a woman who he finds intoxicating, but she doesnít have the same reaction to him. And he has this different view of Europeans and what sheís all about. And thatís not a real view, itís just his imagination and thatís kind of the point. Heís caught with this imaginary notion of the world and I think thatís real. Iíve struggled with that myself and I think we all do. I also like how it has humour in it. Iím at the point now where in the past, I wrote a lot of dark songs, but now Iím able to express a broader range of emotions and dimensions.
What made you decide to call your record Mr. Invitation?
Itís what one of the songs on the record is called. I wrote that song in about 20 minutes, it was really quick. One of the phrases that I really like in that song is ďMr. Invitation.Ē Itís kind of just about human nature. In my life and my experience, Iíve found that people can surprise you. You never know what youíll find until you get there, you never know how youíll react to something. You think you have it all figured out, but surprise yourself with your own reaction. I think that an invitation can be a good thing, youíve been invited to something, but when you get there you might find itís not anywhere you want to be. I think itís about the duality of human beings. We all have the capacity for good things and we all have the capacity for bad things too.
I read that you have a degree in labour history. How would you say that influences your writing?
Yeah, thatís sort of a funny thing. Iíve worked a lot of jobs over the years, lots of jobs and Iíve had some problems where I had to go to the labour commission. I was fired without reasonable cause so I ended up getting really interested in the labour market and the relationships between workers and employers. Iíve always been interested in history and since it was interdisciplinary, I took mostly history courses. Iíd certainly say it has played out in my music. It got me interested in left-wing politics, activism, the community, the history of our city and why Winnipeg is so crazy, you know? The relationship between classes and cultures, different parts of town, segregation. Learning about the history of that informed me of my perspective as a writer and got me interested in G7 and what they were doing as well. Being part of the activist community in Winnipeg and making those connections, thatís sort of where my music has gone. Another good question, no one ever asks me this stuff.
Whatís made you decide to call Winnipeg home? I know youíre originally from Nova Scotia.
Well, Iíve come and gone a bunch of times. Iíve moved away from Winnipeg a few times, but the last time I came back it was because I found love, which is a good reason to move back. But beyond that, Iíve never been far from Winnipeg ever since I came here and made it my home. Itís a really neat place to be a musician I think. Itís affordable, to be practical, you donít have to pay a huge amount for rent. And itís a small city, but itís big enough. There some anonymity, but itís also small enough that thereís a tight knit community. You end up with a lot of networking, there are people I know here that I can call if I need photocopying or someone to make a poster for me. But I think even beyond that, itís that Winnipeg has this very particular sort of vibe. Thereís a darkness here and itís very particular, you wonít find it elsewhere. Itís a great place to be an artist because thereís this visceral quality of being a Winnipegger.
Any other touring plans other than Eastern Canada?
Iíll probably head out to the west coast again with my band and there are some festivals coming up too. In the fall, I hope to be in Europe depending on whether this record gets released there. Iím working on another record that will be released in Europe too so thatís really exciting. I may have had four and a half years of nothing, but I hope to put out two records in a year. Thatís my plan anyway.
Any plans to do stuff in the States?
Iíve toured a lot in the States over the years, but itís always a challenge to get across the border. I like the scene down there though. A lot of my favourite bands are on labels down there like Touch and Go and Matador. Itís kind of the home of rock Ďní roll so you have to go down there at some point, but I also find itís a challenge for me. The border is a pain in the ass and a stumbling block for people who want to travel and play music. I love the people in America, itís a strange and beautiful place. Itís scary as hell too. I always felt like when I went to the States, it was such a relief to be back in Canada. Maybe itís because I didnít have medical insurance. (Laughs) I donít know.