Gordie Sampson has been busy writing for other musicians the past few years, but with his second solo album, Sunburn, and first for MapleMusic Recordings, the Cape Breton native has returned to the spotlight with hooked-laden songs he just couldn't resist recording.
"I have been ignoring my identity as a solo artist for a couple of years, my focus has been on songwriting," Gordie says of finally following up his 1998 Juno-nominated debut, Stones, whose single, "Sorry," won three East Coast Music Awards (ECMAs).
Since then, the accomplished songwriter (Ashley MacIsaac's "Sleepy Maggie," Crush's "King For A Day") and producer (Damhnait Doyle's Davnet, Natalie MacMaster's In My Hands) has been spending considerable time in Nashville, pitching his songs to pop and country acts. What prompted Gordie to return to the studio was a successful writing partnership with Troy Verges and Blair Daly, two Louisiana natives now based in Nashville. "They were really into what I was doing and we ended up writing most of the record together," says Gordie.
The trio didn't stay strictly in North America to get inspiration. They went on a writing mission to London, England, where they came up with the poppier "Your Place In This World," the superb "You (Or Somebody Like You)" and the first single "Sunburn," inspired by a break up. They then took the train to Paris, which yielded a couple more songs. The aptly titled "Paris," may be disguised as a love song, but it's actually about the three of them getting jumped and hospitalized on Bastille Day. "There's couple of lines in that --'American blood in the streets of Saint Germaine' -- which is what happened," says Gordie. "We loosely based the song on what it's like to be an American in Paris." A live orchestra was brought in for the recording.
"Hanging By A Wire," is a fun song about the public's obsession with the Mona Lisa. It was written after they were jumped. The two are not connected, Gordie jokes. "We didn't try to steal the Mona Lisa in Paris!"
While the bulk of the record is written in partnership with Verges and Blair, some of the material comes from an earlier writing period. Songs like the bluesy "Don't Shoot The Messenger," is a track no one within his circle would let Gordie leave off the album. "People like it, but it sounds like Eric Clapton or something to me, something I don't want to be," he admits.
Another early track, immensely personal to Gordie, is "All I Know." He co-wrote it a couple of years ago with close friends from Sydney, Cape Breton, one of whom passed away in November, 2003. "It's an important song for me," he says. "One of my best friends growing up wrote this poem called "All I know." The poem was four lines. 'All I know/All I Know is/All I Know is that/ All I Know is that is all I know.' I loved it and I turned it into a song."
On Sunburn, Gordie's way with words is enviable. His rootsy pop songs are filled with I-wish-I'd-thought-of-that lines. For example, in the first single, "Sunburn," he sings, "I trip and I stumble like a scratched 45." That, in reference to a relationship. And in "You (Or Somebody Like You)," he paints a vivid analogy of an ex who vanishes like a ghost: "Call the inspector, the cops and the CIA/they drew major chalk circles around the place where they used to lay."
"I try not to let the song be a story as much as they are images and thoughts," Gordie says. "I changed the way I wrote lyrics along the way because growing up in Cape Breton, there's a tremendous folk song culture there, which is mostly story-telling. Your first lyric starts the story and your story happens throughout the tune. The last couple of years I've been trying to get away from that. It's all about the colour and the characters."
Gordie self-produced Sunburn over the past couple of years both in Toronto studios and at home in his Cape Breton studio. He played the majority of the main instruments (guitars, bass, piano) except drums, and brought in horns and strings. As the producer, Gordie had a vision for Sunburn, which is heard on the 13 tracks, a collection that inspires and moves with its words and arrangements. Since releasing Stones, and producing albums for Damhnait and Natalie, he has become much more adept in the studio.
"It made me a better producer for my own records, but more than that I think producing my own records makes me a better producer for other people's records," says Gordie. "You learn what it's like to be questioning everything, to be that naive soul, putting everything on the line, for a bunch of songs, for a record company. As a producer you can grow insensitive to that, but when you are the producer and the artist, you realize again how an artist feels."
While Gordie's publishing deal still requires him to generate a certain output of songs each year, he is willing to put his time into promoting and touring behind Sunburn. "I'd love for it to do as well as it can," he says of the album. "The most important thing for me is to have people feel really connected and moved by the songs in some way. Being a rock star was not really what I wanted or what I was in this for. I've met so many people who are in the star system, it's like, 'I don't want that. No way. John Hiatt and Daniel Lanois, their star status is based on their integrity."