Canadian music icon Tom Cochrane is back in the race again, but for how long?
“This may be my last record, but I said that after the previous one as well,” says Cochrane during a recent one-on-one session at a country bar in Toronto’s entertainment district.
“I think the time for an exit strategy is gone for me. If I don’t feel like I’m doing something relevant, that may be it. But this collection of songs feels relevant.”
The 61-year-old singer-songwriter and humanitarian, who has churned out a truckload of hits as a solo artist and with Red Rider including Big League, Life Is a Highway, White Hot, Human Race and Lunatic Fringe, has returned after a nine-year absence with a brand new album, Take It Home.
QMI Agency had a chance to talk to a very introspective Cochrane about the impetus behind his return to the spotlight, what his proudest musical moment is, and the inside story behind the making of his biggest hit, Life Is a Highway.
There has been a fairly significant gap between the last few albums. What got the creative juices flowing this time?
I just woke up one day and felt it was time… The long and short of it is, I want to do it – I don’t have to do it. That’s kind of a privileged position to be in after the years of sleeping in station wagons and vans and five guys to a room… you get to a point where you can be selective about it.
Why do you think you’ve been able to carve out such a long, successful career as a Canadian musician when many haven’t?
The more perseverance and dedication you have, the more success you’ll have. You have to draw on that childhood exuberance… I’ve been blessed to have great fans and great support from you guys (media) over the years.
How do you tread that fine line between introducing new songs into the set and also satisfying people with the hits?
When you play Boy Inside the Man or Life Is A Highway, people get off and that’s important to me. I’m not one of those artists that is cagey, selfish or brave enough perhaps to say ‘I’m not gonna play this one or that one.’ I still want to please the fans because they breathe life into the songs. We have a pretty good problem when we’re wondering what songs to leave out. I made this record with songs that I thought would really stand up live.
What song in your body of work are you most proud of?
Big League would have to be it because it’s written from a Canadian perspective and yet it resonates with people universally. (Toronto Maple Leafs forward) Nazem Kadri came up to me recently and said, ‘My dad played your music all the time and brainwashed me with ‘Big League’ (laughs). When you get that kind of feedback, there’s a legitimacy to it.
Did you think Life is a Highway would have that kind of impact and staying power when you created it?
When I wrote that song after my first trip to Africa, which was just mind bending and soul sapping, I was mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted and I really needed something to pull me out of this funk. I had this sketch that I had written and I ended up going into the studio and recorded it in an hour at seven in the morning. The irony is that it was the most positive song I’d ever written, coming out of a pretty heavy experience. I needed a pep talk, and it became that for me and for millions of others.
What advice would you give a young Canadian kid about the music business?
Probably the same as what my dad said to me: ‘You’d better love it and you’d better give it 150%… and know when to hang it up.’ If you don’t believe in the music, you’re wasting your time. The music business is a fractured model now… to think you’re going to support yourself with a hit record, it just doesn’t happen that way anymore, although you have the odd exception. It’s like (Rush guitarist) Alex Lifeson told me, ‘We lived through the golden era.’
TOM COCHRANE REFLECTS ON THE ONE LP THAT HE`D DO OVER
Tom Cochrane has released 14 records both as a solo artist and with his band Red Rider.
But it turns out, if he had to go back and do one of them over again, he just might have.
After the hugely popular 1983 Red Rider album Neruda came out, which contained the hit Human Race, the band zipped right back into the studio at the behest of the record company for the follow up LP (which turned out to be 1984’s Breaking Curfew) to keep the momentum going.
“People still come up to me and ask, ‘Why don’t you play anything off of ‘Breaking Curfew’? I respond, ‘Because it wasn’t a great record,’” he chuckles. “If you’re pressured to release a record like we were with that one, it sometimes doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it. That said; I’ve never done an album where I haven’t tried to do my best work.”