Here’s a transcript of my interview with Canadian country star Jason McCoy, former lead singer of the Roadhammers. January 28, 2011. CC = Country Chorus, JM = Jason McCoy.
CC: What’s next for you in your career? JM: Well I’m actually starting a cross-Canada tour. It’ll be called Real Life, Real Laughs, Real McCoy, and it’s a chronological walkthrough of all of the singles I’ve had, to date. And we’ve got a video projection screen and all of this kind of stuff. I tell stories with a lot of videos and photos along with it and so it’s kind of a interactive humorous storytelling night.
CC: That’s what you’re doing here right you’re helping your friend Shane? JM: Yeah, today we’re filming some fiddle and mandolin, and some vocals to accompany me and so while I’m doing certain songs they come in as virtual guests on the screen. It’s really amazing just what technology can do and the people I’m surrounded with now all have a pretty good knowledge of it. We’ve kind of put this show together as an experiment.
CC: What other artists would you like to collaborate with? I know you did something with Willie Mack last year. JM: Yeah, I’ve done a duet with Gary Allan, really enjoyed that. I haven’t done a duet with a female artist, and I would like to, I don’t know who, right now, off the top of my head. I have a few, from yesteryear, the Emmylou Harrises of the world, and stuff like that would be great. But there’s a few artists here that would be great. Sarah Harmer, I’m a big fan of hers, and her voice, and it sounds very real. It’s got a real natural beauty to it. You don’t have to put any audio trickery on it to make it beautiful. The most beautiful she sounds is when she’s just sitting in a room singing. I’d like to work on a project with her.
CC: How do you find it as a Canadian when you’re down in Nashville? Is there a big network of Canadians? JM: Right now – I mean there always have been a lot of Canadians in Nashville, but right now I think there’s probably more than ever, which is a good thing. But, it doesn’t mean if you’re from Canada there’s a clique, or if you’re from Oklahoma there’s a clique or something like that. It’s more the type of genre that you fit into. Like if you’re into eclectic country, alt-country, you’ll fit into a certain group, if you’re into more the mainstream stuff you’ll fit into that group. But I mean Canadians by and large, our music is kind of born of folk music, and we’ve got a lot of that kind of influence, so we tend to colour outside of the lines musically a lot. So I think there’s a natural congregation to Canadians all being in that clique. I think Canadians per capita probably export more globally-impactful artists in all genres than any other country. I mean we’ve had everybody who – not only leaves this country to go to a genre – they don’t just go to a genre, they revolutionize it. You’ve got your Bryan Adams, you know, Celine Dion – but then in comedy you have John Candy, Mike Myers, it never ends. And then in country – you know, Shania didn’t just become a country artist, she changed the world of how we see country. It’s really staggering when you sit back and look at that. What we contribute to the world and continue to.
CC: What do you say to people who dismiss country as ‘all whining about broken trucks and breakups?” JM: Oh, whenever someone says country is all whining about trucks and breakups I say ‘yeah, you’re right.’ [laughs] Well country has certainly taken on a pop flavour in the past ten fifteen years. It’s cyclical, and this is nothing new. I mean we had, Dolly Parton, her and Kenny Rogers were very rootsy in the beginning and then they became very pop. You know you had Kenny Rogers doing duets with Kim Carnes and it just became this pop entity, while traditional country music coming out of the Urban Cowboy thing started to decline and it got marginalized. You start to see that happen again. You had Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakum, it was very traditional, in the late 80s, early 90s, and with Garth it was very traditional, and then you started to get into a pop-crossover and that’s given birth to a whole new genre of pop-country artists. But now it’s starting to get a little more traditional again. The good part about country is there’s elements of all wide aspects of that spectrum. Other genres don’t allow that so much from their radio formats. I think if you’re heavy rock it’s gotta be one thing, if you’re light AC it’s gotta be another. Country at least for now, I think allows more bandwith of what’s acceptable.
CC: Do you think there’s more of a market for upbeat party songs these days? There’s more demand for that so all the bars can play? Do you think the happy part of country has been there from the start, like “Jambalaya” and so on? JM: Country music in America was born of bluegrass music. And bluegrass music was Appalachian, which was born of poverty. They were basically – it was white man’s blues is all it was, and singing about everyday life and lamenting about everything that you would. And, bluegrass had this real – everybody thinks it’s all fast stuff – but in the Appalachian bluegrass there’s a lot of slow laments and slow dirges that are really moan-ful and mournful. Then country music comes along, and yeah you’ve got Hank Williams and yeah “Jambalaya’ and all these songs that’re kinda novelty-type things, but they’re not when you look at the lyrics. That’s what made them so – that’s what made him the Shakespeare of country of the era – is that it seemed really simple and hokey until you tried to write it – I mean, you can’t. And he’s speaking to a group of people that were really eating it up, and living it at the time. But a lot of it was kind of party, fun music with a sober undertone. I think right now you’ve got a lot of artists that are very rock-oriented, very big drums, the whole bit. Yes, I think people like it, more of the younger demographic like that. You know, the Roadhammers, for instance, that was very much what we did. But, you know, I think whenever somebody comes out with a real beautiful song of any tempo, whatever – as long as it has a sentiment that says something to people, it doesn’t matter if it’s fast or slow or all that. It’s all about the content.
CC: What led to the decision by the Roadhammers to move on last year? JM: Well, the Roadhammers started out as a one-album, just fun little experiment, and it took off way beyond our wildest dreams, so it never was meant to go to America, and to another record and all this stuff. We’re glad it did, but the record label in Nashville went bankrupt, so a couple of our guys were living very far from home, so it was a hard time. You know, Clayton wanted to do a solo record, and always had from the start. He’d also done his own records before the Roadhammers. But, it was time for him to release a record, and I was doing a solo record too, and you know we didn’t “break up,” we just did our last show. If we do more shows and release a new record then we will. If we don’t, then that’s fine too, but you know we all get along fine, we didn’t break up by any stretch.
CC: What will your new album be called? JM: My latest album will be called Everything. The first single is called “She’s Good for Me.” It’s kinda got what we were speaking about before, where country’s got positive and then kinda sad, negative stuff, all within one song sometimes. And this song talks about how, you know, even though I know certain things are bad for me I still do them. I still – the lifestyle that you lead as a musician sometimes – ‘don’t touch the stove, it’s hot ow, and you keep touching it – but this a song about my wife and my daughter, of course, and just they’re good for me, and that’s a good compass to go back to.
CC: What led to your interest in country music? JM: Well, country is something my dad always listened to, and my sister’s were about ten years old, when I first remembered listening to country I was six or seven. And they were listening to pop and so I kinda wanted to listen to what my dad did. But it stuck with me. I don’t know what the affinity for a seven or ten year old kid to listen to George Jones, Merle Haggard, at the time, that’s what I was into. I think I was into the fact that they wrote a lot of their own music and played on their own records, and you looked at a lot of the stuff my sisters were listening to and they didn’t. So it just felt more real and immediate.
CC: What does country music mean to you? JM: I certainly have a lot of fun with it. It’s something that’s just in me naturally. I know country music inside out. What to write about, how to sing it, how to play it and perform it. I’ve never pursued any other genre. I guess it’s almost everything as far as music goes, it’d be my everything – the a propos title of the album. It’s not everything – but in music it’d be where I always gravitate toward.
CC: How do you feel country music relates to Canada? JM: Well I mentioned earlier that our country music has a lot of folk influence in it. So we picked up everything from “Great Speckled Bird,” to Lightfoot, and all the people who built this industry here. You know, all the way to Stompin’ Tom, and these guys sang songs of Canadiana and who we are, and a lot of it went around the world. We always have this identity if we don’t prop ourselves up as much as Americans tend to, you know, but it’s starting to, because we’ve seen these are our greats, you know the Gordon Lightfoots, the Guess Who and all these kinda great artists. Then we’re starting to draw from those roots. Back to the country side of it, I think being Canadian is so tough touring here. We have a limited amount of cities, we have harsh climate, we have all these things. I always say ‘if you can make it in Canada you can make it anywhere,’ it’s the New York, New York of the day, right. It’s not like America, you can’t just drive another hundred kilometers and find another city that’s going to support another concert. We really have to dig the corners here. And so the artists who built that, hats off to them so we can go out and tour now. But when you get to bring that music across the border you get to bring all those other artists with you, the Gordon Lightfoots and everybody all the way back all with you. Country music specifically is a real point of pride with me, because a lot of new country Canadian artists, I don’t know how much they draw on traditional side of things, but when I was a kid I knew Hank Snow from a small town on the East Coast, I knew that he was a member of the Opry, in the 50s. You couldn’t get any bigger than that. I don’t know if people realize the true weight of what he did. He went as a little guy from wherever. Comes in from Podunk on the bus and makes it in Nashville. That’s a big deal. And then you had Montana Slim, you know, Wilf Carter same thing. This guy was a legend in cowboy music culture and not just Canadian. We put Canadian in front of everything. These guys were impactful as far as industry builders of the music industry, not just Canadian music industry. And so these guys laid the blocks. And they were the country guys. I think they need to be praised even more than they have been and are. I’m just a big fan of all that. So being Canadian in country is a big point of pride for sure.
CC: There are a lot of up and coming country musicians in Southwest Ontario. Do you think southwest Ontario is becoming a hub for country music? JM: I don’t know about Ontario as a whole as a country music hotbed. It seems like Kitchener-Waterloo area and London there’s a really high concentration of them. So you have Cedar Tree Studios down here that record a lot of great country music and continues to. We also see kind of the fruit of early stations here like CFGM when they were 1320 AM and they brought all the country here. It’s always had a strong country influence. I think our country music in Ontario is more geared toward – heavier to the working man kind of country music as opposed to the poppier country music, cuz we’ve got a lot of hardworkin’ folks across the province. There’s been a lot of great artists come out of Ontario, and it’s proximity too, we’ve got Toronto, such a large area, there’s going to be people doing great things. But country, yeah it’s got a pretty strong future with the names that are coming up already. It’s pretty amazing to see. Cuz you know when I was living in Barrie as a kid there weren’t a lot of country artsists. I mean there were a few, like Dallas Harms was a big one, and then Johnny Burke was Ontari-based, and Paul Wieber and guys like that. But now the stage is set even more for the national fan base to see who’s coming out of Ontario.
CC: Do you think most Americans or Europeans realize how popular country has become in Canada? JM: No. I live part time in Nashville and when I’m down there and I talk to people about Canada, or I’m writing a song with an American, they may say ‘well I don’t know if that line will work in Canada.’ And I say, ‘man, if it’s a hit for George Strait in America it’s a hit up here.’ Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change at the border. Country music is country music. It’s lament of the working class and that’s what it is. So, I don’t know that Americans get how powerful country music is in Canada, but I don’t know that they need to. I don’t know that they would write a song in Nashville and know exactly what would work in Texas, they don’t always know that. So it’s all regional. And it can be too, you know, you look at bands that came out of the West Coast versus bands that came out of the Nashville area, and Buck Owens to Dwight Yoakum and Merle Haggard of the Bakersfield sound to Nashville and Owen Bradley and the big strings and Chet Atkins Productions of the early years. Those things were polar opposites. But everybody liked it, it was just a regional thing.
CC: So you feel that country music in the bandwidth it can encompass it can translate pretty well to fans? JM: Yeah I think country music is universal. I think they have country music festivals in Japan and stuff. There’s different types of country, too – traditional all the way to the newer stuff, and you don’t it’s just about the sentiment of the songs, I think.
CC: What do you think of the future of country in Canada? JM: I think the future of country music in Canada is pretty strong. We’ve got a lot of artists to build upon, so we’ve got a strong foundation. And with that building of the artists, comes the building of the industry too, so all those people who are behind those artists start to have more influence nationally and globally. And then of course into the Nashville infrastructure. And that’s probably the key to the success of country music is having those vehicles to get it heard.
CC: Anything else you want to add? JM: No, that’s good. I think just that the fact that we’re doing this interview here is a really good example of the fact that there’s interest in country music specifically, and all these questions about it’s history, its present, its future. I think that that’s another key to it as well is the media. It’s been so long since “Hee Haw” and things like that have been on the air, yet country still has a stigma of that. And it’s amazing how media, sponsorships, retailers, things like that, look at it as an antiquated musical form when, per capita, it’s one of the highest-sellers. You don’t get a lot of hip hop artists selling singles and CDS, physical units. But country music consumers still buy CDs and physical units and that’s a big deal. We still downloads too, but as a retailer you’d think you’d put that at number one as a priority. Sometimes country music does have a certain antiquated stigma – not with everybody but with some people. That kind of bothers me, because I just see how far it’s grown as a country fan and as a country music student I see all that and all the progession. And then when someone makes a comment of ‘we’ll get you a cowboy hat and a hay bale and we’ll make it more country.’ And it’s like aww, no. I mean that’s country too, sure, but it’s only a small part. Some of the most advanced-schooled musicians play country music. Musicians from other parts of the world come to Nashville to play and they’re blown away by the caliber of the musicians in Nashville – how schooled and fantastic they are.