A hero among his musical contemporaries, Al Tuck calls Prince Edward Island home and is renowned as one of this country's most talented and underrated songwriters. He gained much attention during the Halifax pop explosion of the mid-'90s and he continues to earn the respect of fans and peers like Joel Plaskett and Buck 65, both of whom have paid homage to his innovative folk songs in covers or their own songs. Following the dissolution of his marriage from songwriter Catharine MacLellan and dealing with the aftermath, Tuck crafted his fifth and latest album. It's called Food for the Moon, which is not only one of the finest, most essential releases of the year, it may just be Tuck's most accomplished and startling record to date.
Al, I'm quite taken a back by Food for the Moon; it seems like your most focused record in some time; did you approach the recording process for it any differently than some of your other recent releases?
Yeah, I would have to say I did. I recorded the songs in the order they were written over a period of time. That wasn't the case for the one before it or… you've called them recent records; none of them are recent (chuckles).
Well right, the past two were basically compilations of songs you'd been playing for some time and there were different sessions, different players. This one seems more cohesive.
Well, thanks. I'm not surprised it comes off that way because of the approach I took this time.
There's a definite introspective tone to this record and beyond dark, it actually seems bitter in many instances. Do you suppose there's a specific theme running through your latest songs?
(Chuckles) Oh, so it comes off as bitter, eh? In some places I suppose.
Well, there's relationship fare and some interpersonal dynamics you're exploring. But even in the title track's dedication to Gene MacLellan, you seem beside yourself with frustration at the lack of recognition for his work. Can you talk about what inspired these songs?
Well, it's a little hard. There's a lot of water under the bridge since I wrote the songs and I certainly don't want to dwell on the situation that existed then, maritally. The elution and dissolution is all in there.
It's quite stark and there's a lot of mixed emotions. You sound quite conflicted on this record in some ways.
(Laughs) It's just crazy to think about it in these terms. I think more about the sound of the record or how it might sound if you're driving or something. It's really hard to examine like that. I dunno; conflicted?
Yeah, I've said you're a bitter, conflicted guy here I guess. Sorry. I know you're not generally but the perspective you've written from on this record does occasionally come across in that way.
Well, I hope the record indicates some kind of experience beyond the normal. The stuff that the songs are dealing with, a lot of it wasn't really normal and had the unusual to it. I wouldn't dwell on a lot of personal stuff if it was normal and this had the remarkable to it.
Right, and it's all in the songs really. There always seem to be a lot of folks who love you and your songs Al and always expect your music to reach a wider audience. At this point, do you ponder this idea that at some point you might transcend your status as a cult figure?
(Laughs) It's just one day at a time. I've always thought that anything could happen but have often noticed that not much does. Really it comes down to things like publicists and agents and that sort of stuff. There's only so much a person can do; I think you need those sorts of things.
And have you worked with these kinds of people before?
It's never really lasted, y'know?
And why is that Al?
Usually people are only dabbling in it. They're not in those professions in the first place. They might feel that I could use some help but they're not necessarily set up that way [to help]. The last time I had somebody make a serious go of it, there was some good stuff but there was a falling out. I don't know what it came down to. Maybe I don't have a phone or something.
Yeah, it can be hard to reach someone if they don't have a phone.
Well, I'm pretty reachable and I don't think that was it. I think it was something else. If you're gonna have a serious relationship with someone like that, it's very touchy, y'know? It's hard to keep it going. And I'm not so conscious of it out east because there's not a lot of people who do that sort of thing.
Does working with a bigger record label even interest you at this point?
Well, this record's been picked up by Youth Club Records. They've got Ghost Bees and some other folks. Yeah, that should be a help and will make the distribution more real. It'll come out on vinyl; I think a double record. But a bigger label? I dunno.
Has the "collapse" of the record industry affected you?
It affects me a little bit if people aren't buying things. I don't have t-shirts to sell or anything.
People are even selling digital download codes at their merch tables now.
Right, people stick those on their vinyl records. Of course there's solutions to all these things. A lot of musicians are doing all these things themselves. It's the kind of activity that… I mean I enjoy booking shows and things and organizing my near future but, when it comes to covering every angle, I'd just have to spend so much of my waking life that way. I don't think it's what I had in mind when I set out in music, y'know?
Right, yeah. Finally Al, I know you've been playing some of these new songs for a while now and you've got some nice looking shows lined up. What's next for you in terms of recording or any other big plans in the next while?
I wish I had some specific plans for recording; it'd be nice to follow up this one more quickly. There's several records I could make, it's just there's nobody after me to make them.
I'd like you to make them. There's so many of your songs that you haven't been documented or released on any records.
That's right, and there's a bunch I've written since the last one. There's different projects I could do. I'd like to put out a collection of other people doing versions of my songs, combined with me doing versions of other people's songs. You mentioned Gene MacLellan; I feel like a tribute to him might be in order. There's so many of his songs that aren't being used to their fullest extent and could be interpreted by others. So I'd like to highlight the merits of his lesser-known catalogue at some point. Then there's a big pile of songs, some of which I play the most live that aren't on studio records. It's between me and my family when it comes to paying for recording time. I'm used to recording in studios. There's a lot you can do free but, I dunno, maybe I can get with a label who can get a grant. It would be nice this time to get some help in that way. So yeah, I hope I can get something like that going on for the fall.