"It's kind of scary," says Corb Lund, talking about some of the darker themes explored on his new album Cabin Fever, which debuted last week at the top of the sales chart in Canada.
Over a beer at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, an urban parlour with a rural mythology to it, the cowboy-hatted Albertan talks about city, country and what happens when the pumps run dry.
You have a colourful writing style, so there's a lot going on with this record. But I detect, above all else, a tension between urban and rural.
For sure. That's my life. I grew up in a ranching family in Alberta, riding horses and chasing cows.
When I was 15, I got into Black Sabbath and all that, as you do. That led me into music, and I ended up in a punky metal band the Smalls for 10 or 12 years.
Halfway through my tenure, I started writing cowboy songs.
Survivalism and the rural-urban divide is what is being addressed on the album's first song, Gettin' Down on the Mountain, right?
It certainly is. They say that if the trucks stop rolling, most major cities would be out of fuel in two or three days.
I'm not really an apocalypse maniac or anything like that. But I read a lot of history, and that stuff comes quick.
It happened in Argentina in the eighties, and Germany in the thirties.
Is that kind of calamity coming our way?
I don't know. I spend a lot of money on insurance for things that are less likely to happen than a power outage or a currency meltdown or a petroleum crunch. So I think it's worth thinking about.
You blogged something about people spending so much time preparing for the worst that they begin to secretly hope it happens.
Well, the other thing about that song and that headspace is that for rural people, it's pretty familiar that we all have food storage, just for blizzards.
It's not about the end of society.
But it's a short leap from keeping food and water and batteries around for a two-week blizzard to something bigger. Is this getting too heavy?
Maybe. Let's talk about your album topping the charts last week. How do you think that happened?
I think attrition – sticking around long enough. And I think it's one of our better records.
Also, we have a pretty good team in place to make sure people hear it.
I've been doing this for years and years and years, building an audience in an organic way, show by show, fan by fan. I think I've reached a critical mass, a little bit.
What inspires your songwriting?
A lot of the time whatever I'm into in my personal life ends up being field research, though not on purpose.
So, whether it's card-playing or antique pistols or reading about petroleum shortages or cattle breeds, whatever is in my brain spills out onto my songs.
Do you think fans are attracted your cowboy authenticity?
I think so. I'm awfully sensitive about it, though.
I know guys who are still working cowboys.
So, it's a bit like saying you're a street hustler, even if you're not anymore. But it's definitely my heritage.
You recently worked with your friend Ian Tyson at the Calgary Stampede. There's a real cowboy musician, right?
He's comfortable in the cowboy setting. But he also subscribes to the New Yorker. He's well read.
In the sixties, he lived in Toronto and New York. He's able to put the cowboy in perspective, in the bigger picture. He gets it.
You have some fun on the western-swing song Cows Around. Can the ranching life be over-romanticized?
You have to work at it. In the early days, being a cowboy made perfect sense.
The whole lifestyle was based on open, cheap land. These days, you have to go out of your way. You have to really want it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.