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When then-newcomer Sam Roberts picked up the three top trophies at the 2004 Juno Awards, he remarked that making the next record was starting to feel "as heavy as the ring on poor Frodo's shoulders."

After all, the Montreal rocker had been hailed as the Next Big Thing after a critically acclaimed CD, several hit songs and two years of touring sold-out venues.

He escaped his own hype and the dreaded second-album jinx with a vacation to South Africa.

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"I had to get off the road," Roberts recalled recently as he made media rounds to talk up his new album, Chemical City.

"Then I still didn't feel like doing it for a while. It took a couple of months actually before I even wanted to play guitar."

The trip, however, was just the trick.

"The freedom that came with that really unlocked the vaults," said the 31-year-old shaggy-haired singer-songwriter.

"It was really about stepping out of that routine that had become so entrenched in our day-to-day lives."

With more elaborate arrangements and perceptive lyrics, Chemical City is more lavish than Roberts's debut album, although the freewheeling spirit fans loved about hits Brother Down and Don't Walk Away Eileen has remained intact.

An avid traveller, Roberts said he found himself thinking about the pull of city life when he sat down to write.

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"This was about travelling and about experiencing different urban landscapes and how people survive in them," said Roberts of the album's title and theme.

"(Chemical City) was a cross-section of all these different places that we'd been to. There were so many similarities in the life people live there, trying to survive really.

"Why do people feel as if it's going to be the answer to all their problems? (They have a) sense of boundless possibility that you could be anybody, then the harsh reality sets in soon after that it's hard to get by. Your dream ends up been further away than ever sometimes."

He wrestles with those ideas on songs like Bridge to Nowhere and The Gate.

In An American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay he sings about a man "going where I can't be found."

He says there's no truth in the song, other than stories he's read and heard over the years about draft dodgers during the Vietnam war.

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Roberts started his musical journey as a child playing the violin at the urging of his parents, immigrants from South Africa. He took up the guitar in high school and started a band.

While studying English at McGill University, Roberts became more serious, playing the local Montreal bar scene. He recorded a demo which earned him some radio play in Ottawa thanks to a friend who mailed the CD out. Eventually, he was signed to Universal Music Canada.

He became a household name in Canada after the 2003 release of We Were Born In A Flame. Its success had Roberts and his bandmates - drummer Josh Trager, keyboardist Eric Fares, bassist James Hall, guitarist Dave Nugent - crisscrossing the country, finding welcoming arms all along the way.

Despite that success, Roberts has yet to find international notoriety like some of his peers.

While he's not dwelling too much on breaking into other markets, Roberts said it's important the band have an audience outside Canada.

"Not in a world domination sense but in the sense that we have more places to play than 20 cities in Canada," said Roberts, who - despite his billing as a solo artist - makes constant references to his bandmates.

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In addition to a slew of print, radio and TV interviews, Roberts started a tour Friday which will take him across the country and to parts of the U.S.

Many of the Canadian dates, including gigs in Ottawa and Edmonton, sold out in a few minutes.

He'll also join superstar rapper Kanye West on Tuesday for a concert special being filmed by MTV Canada. It will air on CTV and MTV affiliates around the world at a later date.

Through it all, Roberts seems bent on staying practical about all the hoopla.

"The emphasis that you put on the release, you do all the press, but really it's just a new bunch of songs," he said.

"It's important to stress that. This is just another record of hopefully many, many records that I get to make in my lifetime."

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