Joey Landreth is no stranger to the road.
His band, the JUNO Award-winning Bros. Landreth (in 2015, Roots & Traditional Album of the Year, for Let It Lie) is finally taking a breather after four years of almost constant, slow-build touring in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe – each round of roadwork scheduled as the record was released in those territories. During the current pause, Joey is now located in Toronto, guitarist Ariel Posner has moved to Ireland, while drummer Ryan Voth and bassist/brother David Landreth have stayed in the group’s hometown of Winnipeg – the latter with his new bride.
Breather or not, Joey decided to record a new seven-song album, Whiskey (with Ryan and David, in a trio format), and now to tour it, even after those long four years on the highway. As this story is being posted, Landreth has completed a European tour, is about to launch a Western Canadian one (starting Feb. 24th in Saskatoon), and is slated for some Southern Ontario dates after that.
This, despite the sentiment of new songs like “Still Feel Gone” (a co-write with the fast-rising Donovan Woods, who he met via their mutual manager, Stu Anderson), that catalogues the ill effects of touring on relationships, especially the “re-entry period” after a tour, with the chorus line, “How many roads can a man drive a van on / Before he’s called back to the one he’s left alone?”
“At the end of the day, [touring] is all I’ve ever done,” says Landreth. “This is what I do, and who I am. There is a bit of an innate struggle in being away from the ones you love the most, more than you’re with them. But the best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”
“The best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”
In his songwriting, Landreth tends to face these challenges head-on. He digs deep, sometimes for dramatic effect, and isn’t reluctant to search for the subterranean roots of his emotional experiences when he’s writing songs. For example, the title song “Whiskey” – co-written with brother David, and completed at the Sound Lounge in SOCAN’s Toronto offices – cleverly parallels the longing for an old flame with the same sort of yearning typical of a conquered addiction to alcohol. The song is one of those where the first verse leads one way (“It’s about a woman”) until the unexpected “reveal” of the chorus (“Hey! It’s also about addiction!”).
“For me, the idea of the song is, there’s a relationship with a significant other in there, and a relationship with the addiction, and they kind of exist together,” says Landreth. “Looking back at both of them, and maybe blaming whiskey for the demise, maybe the lady for the whiskey… It’s interesting what people take from it. For some, it’s like the country technique of giving an arbitrary name [Whiskey] to a lady. Some think of it as a sobriety song. I like that people can take their own thing away from it.”
There are elements of recovery in other songs, like “Better Together” and “Hard as I Can,” where a sustaining romantic relationship allows the protagonist to transcend his limitations. “I think it reflects the place that I’m at in my life,” says Landreth, who’s been two years sober. “I don’t really play it up a lot, because I’m sensitive to the fact that it gets pretty easy to be self-righteous about sobriety. I really decided to get sober because that’s just what I needed to do.”
Landreth is something of a triple-threat. Besides his brave songwriting, he’s a gifted vocalist, and enough of a guitar hero that he has endorsement deals with Suhr guitars (electric) and Collings (for their Waterloo line of vintage-style acoustic guitars). When we catch up with him, he’s playing some events for them at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) conference in Los Angeles. When he was featured in the Oct. 27, 2016, issue of Guitarist Magazine, he admits it was a real thrill. For many years before co-founding The Bros. Landreth, Joey earned his keep as a studio/touring guitarist-for-hire. His solo on Whiskey’s “Still Feel Gone” – recorded in one take, his third or fourth pass at it, with the lights down in the studio – is arguably the greatest of his many superb recorded solos so far.
As a writer, he’s working with the best, including Stuart Cameron of The Heartbroken and the aforementioned Donovan Woods. “Donovan is one of my favourites,” says Landreth. “He’s such a great writer, such an incredible lyricist, and he writes fearlessly – which I really admire.” You can practically feel Woods’ fingerprints all over the post-relationship line, “She let me walk on time served,” from their co-write, “Time Served.”
And how does co-writing generally work for Landreth? “It usually starts with an hour-and-a-half to three hours of just goofing off,” he says. “Co-writing ‘Time Served’ with Donovan and Stuart Cameron, we sat and kibitzed for a little while, and then we said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this idea?’ And ‘Yeah, that’s cool,’ or ‘What about this?’ I think I came to the table with the first verse… and we just pieced it together. Any places I got stuck, Donovan or Stuart just took the ball and ran with it.”
In a similarly unpretentious style, rather than recording Whiskey with a “name” producer in a famous studio in L.A., Nashville or New York City, Landreth chose to make the record in his hometown of Winnipeg. “I just wanted to make a great record with people that I love with all my heart,” he says.