Art Bergmann Talks 'Songs for the Underclass': "They're the Best Lyrics I've Ever Written"

Art Bergmann Talks 'Songs for the Underclass': 'They're the Best Lyrics I've Ever Written'
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Locke
The prodigal punk rock son has returned, after a very long absence: Art Bergmann recently released his EP Songs for the Underclass on (weewerk), a collection that represents his first new material of the millennium. Bergmann tells Exclaim! that although it's been a while, he's pleased with the quality of his new material.

"These songs took years to write and I feel they're the best lyrics I've ever written. I feel it was worth the wait," explains the always opinionated and eloquent Bergmann in his former hometown of Vancouver, where he is rehearsing his band for forthcoming dates in Victoria and Vancouver this week.

He is unapologetic about the outspokenly political nature of the EP's lyrics, noting, "I'm just trying to throw some slogans out there that people can yell when they are tearing down the bank, brick by brick, I hope. Bring it on!"

Songs for the Underclass was recorded in April at Calgary producer/musician Lorrie Matheson's Arch Audio studio. As Bergmann notes, "I had been living out in Alberta for eight years without doing anything much really. I called up Lorrie 'cause he was the only guy I knew in Calgary, and he helped me out immensely. He got me into his studio even though he was under pressure to finish five albums. He said 'we'll make it work.' I put him through the wringer. I said 'It'll just be three days,' but it ended up being a lot more than that. That is about the time Phil Klygo from (weewerk) stepped in and said he'd give me a bit of money to do it. And I mean a little bit, as we did this record for less than $2,000. A full-fledged recording is going to come out, but it has been a tortuous process, I must say."

In addition to producing and engineering Songs for the Underclass, Matheson contributed keyboards; guitarist Joe McCaffery also pitched in and mention of his work draws kudos from Bergmann.

"I couldn't play the finicky stuff, especially on 'Drones of Democracy,' and Joe came in and he pulled that off. He's a phenomenal player, and now he's part of my western coterie."

That searing and vitriolic track was inspired by Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," Bergmann explains. "My first gig after a long time was last year at Wise Hall in Vancouver and I played 'Cortez the Killer' at the end of the night. The way Neil Young plays it, that song makes me weep every time I hear the lines, 'I don't know where and when I lost my way.' Later I looked it up on the Internet and I saw that everybody and their dog was covering that song, so I said, 'Fuck, I have to write my own.' I added another chord and I already had the idea for the lyrics for 'Drones.' I worked on it for about a year and came up with this."

The EP will soon be followed up by a short Canadian tour that is also the maverick rocker's first such foray since the late '90s. Referencing the debilitating arthritis he has long suffered from, the 61-year-old Bergmann says that "I don't know if my body is up for the tour, but I'll be making the attempt.

"I found I couldn't afford to fly people around, so I've been picking up players wherever I happen to be. I have different bands in Calgary, Vancouver and back east now. All the rehearsal is a drag, but that's the way it has to be. It is really kind of cool that so many people want to play with me."

Meanwhile, (weewerk)'s Klygo tells Exclaim! that "we hope to have Art working on the full-length later this fall or early winter. There is no title or release date confirmed yet."

Until then, Bergmann will be writing new tunes for the soundtrack of the impending apocalypse.

"I have a deep well of songs to draw from. I just won't shut up now that I'm back again. What's the point, unless you are going to wander off into the forest and die? You have to do something, even though it is futile. I believe the game is up, but I want to say my piece and pretend I wasn't a coward when the shit hit the fan."

Tour dates:

09/05 Victoria, BC - Upstairs Cabaret
09/06 Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom *
10/02 Calgary, AB - Commonwealth
10/23 Hamilton, ON - This Ain't Hollywood
10/24 Toronto, ON - The Great Hall
10/25 Wakefield, QC - The Blacksheep Inn

* with the Courtneys