Published Nov 18, 2019Luke Lalonde cusses out the state of the world with such reckless exuberance, it takes a moment for it to sink in. Though he's always balanced passion with heart penning songs for Midland-via-Toronto's beloved Born Ruffians for over 15 years, Lalonde's new solo album, The Perpetual Optimist, might be his most intense. It's both a meditation on climate change and a jingly-jangly, Americana-infused romp.
After releasing and touring Born Ruffian's fifth full-length Uncle, Duke and the Chief last year — which Lalonde describes as "a new high" in his career — the Juno-nominated songwriter has taken the time to record a followup to his first solo effort, Rhythymnals. Lalonde croons and yelps about his indignity being part of the human population that is abusing the Earth, planting tongue firmly in cheek as he howls, "you gotta squeeze that sucker dry." It sounds like Bob Dylan on uppers, and it's full of questions. As Lalonde states, it's all about humans being "suspended on a wire in a hurricane."
What are your current fixations?
My partner turned me on to a writer named Ursula K. Le Guin, who is probably the best sci-fi writer I've ever read. I just can't stop reading her. She writes sci-fi stories that are just brilliant, and always with a social commentary. Check out The Dispossessed or The Left Hand of Darkness. Oh, and Succession on HBO — I think it's the best show going right now.
Why do you live where you do?
I ask myself that question all the time. I spent April to September up north in the Blue Mountains area and I really loved it up there. I always thought I would be a city guy, because I grew up in a small town [Midland, ON] and moved to a city [Toronto], but when I moved back up to this small town, I was like, "Oh, I might like this better now, actually." A lesson that I really absorbed this summer was how important environmental psychology is to me — not just the house or apartment, but the yard and surrounding area. So I've been asking myself why I'm in a city like New York or Toronto. Am I maximizing the use of this city, or would I be happier somewhere else calm or quiet?
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art.
The first thing that pops into my head is Radiohead's Kid A. It did alter my mind at the time, when I was about 15. That's the first record they put out that really hit me — the sounds on it, the production, the way it made me feel.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational show and why?
That changes all the time, but I saw Big Thief two nights ago — I left that show, it made me cry, it was very powerful. I actually saw Adrianne Lenker (of Big Thief) solo at the Longboat in Toronto, when Luke Temple opened and played a bit with her, and during that show, it felt like everyone was floating in the room. I talked to other people at the show and they agreed — there was something magic about that. Everybody felt like they were her friend and friends with each other.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Every year is kind of a new feeling that things are getting better. With Born Ruffians, our last record [Uncle, Duke and the Chief] was probably the highest high. It wasn't a #1 charting record, but I am the most proud of it of anything we've done as a band.
The lowest low was 2008, our first tour of Europe. The night before we left, I had my first panic attack, which carried on throughout the entire tour. I would wake up with panic attacks, have them throughout the day until I finally passed out, and then I'd wake up and it would start all over again. This entire tour I thought I had lost my mind. I went to my parents, went to my doctor — that was probably the worst time of my life, in terms of my career.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Oh! I had a group of girls in the front row at a show in Ottawa all go: "One — two — three — Luke! You're an asshole!" To this day I have no idea what I did.
What should everyone shut up about?
Climate change denial? [laughs].
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
Least would be my tendency to think of the worst possible outcome for things first [laughs]. I like myself most when I'm around my family and the people I love the most.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I hate Sundays. I've always hated Sundays. My perfect Sunday would be one where the whole day I think it's Saturday and then eventually I'm like, "Oh, it's Sunday. Oh, shit."
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
My dad told me from a young age there is no point to holding onto regrets. Born Ruffians got some advice early in our career from the guy who signed us to do things differently, and you wonder, "What if we took that advice instead of sticking to our guns? Would we be as big as Kings of Leon, would we have that kind of thing if we had taken that advice? Or did he even know what he was talking about?" There are definitely days where I think we should have done that, but there are other days when I just look forward.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of our confusing, unimaginable amount of land [laughs]. And I think, how can we be better at being a country with so much privilege?
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
"Weird Al" Yankovic's Off the Deep End.
What was your most memorable day job?
I worked at store called Sports Excellence in Midland for a guy named James Steward. I was a little brat and he would yell at me a lot, and that probably helped me stop being an emotional, moody little shithead [laughs].
How do you spoil yourself?
Oh man, I love doing treat-yo'-self days. I take myself out to dinner and a movie a lot when I'm alone as a way to kill time — I go eat some chicken wings, have a beer and go see a movie.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
Making movies. When I was a kid I was really into Saturday Night Live and sketch comedy, and I think that if I didn't find music, that would be my creative outlet. I think I would still be something in the entertainment biz, but it would be comedy or movies or directing.
What do you fear most?
The death of the planet at the hands of human beings [laughs].
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Marvin Gaye? I guess it's a cliché but, man, nothing really beats Marvin Gaye.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
My favourite was when I ran into Will Forte. I am a huge fan of everything he's done. He walked into Ronnie's in Toronto when I was in there and I saw him and my whole body went numb. I thought I was going to pass out. I had to stare for half an hour before I finally walked up and gave him a bunch of awkward compliments, but then he followed me on Twitter after that — he was a really appreciative, nice guy. Of all the celebrities, for some reason, he starstruck me to my core.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Bob Dylan, why not — he's such a fucking mystery. And I would serve him…ice cream [laughs].
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
Ah man, my mom is just so happy I am doing something I love. If she does wish I was doing something other than this, she would never let that show.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
"Lay Me Low" by Nick Cave. Oh boy — play that one loud.
Luke Lalonde's new album The Perpetual Optimist comes out November 22 on Paper Bag Records.