Brock Zeman: More than radio-friendly

Brock Zeman believes he writes radio-friendly songs — they just don’t happen to fit the format of mainstream radio stations. Today’s commercial radio is all about beer-party music, said the Ottawa-area troubadour, who performs Wednesday, July 22, at Gilmore’s Guitars in Red Deer.

Brock Zeman believes he writes radio-friendly songs — they just don’t happen to fit the format of mainstream radio stations.

Today’s commercial radio is all about beer-party music, said the Ottawa-area troubadour, who performs Wednesday, July 22, at Gilmore’s Guitars in Red Deer.

“The only thing coming out of radio right now is Everybody’s Working for the Weekend. … That’s pretty ‘Big Brother,’ if you ask me,” he added with a wry chuckle.

But if Zeman’s catchy roots-pop songs lie outside most radio play lists, he’s in good company.

This occurred to the musician after he began covering a tune beloved by audiences everywhere — Superman’s Song by the Crash Test Dummies. The slow, beautifully written melody with its quirky, comic-book-inspired lyrics dates back to 1991.

If the song was released today, would it get much radio play? Zeman doubts it.

“The subject matter is so creative. …”

Songs on his own latest noir-tinged album, Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil’s Back, are more grounded in reality, but his release is still winning high praise, including a few five-star reviews, from critics across North America and the U.K.

Zeman, who’s been compared to Tom Waits for his gravelly vocals and gritty tunes, is pleased, saying he tried hard to “step up” his game on his 11th album, which contains material that’s both autobiographical and observational.

His story songs are about regular people and their everyday struggles. For instance, 10 Year Fight concerns a father who’s been through the emotional wringer with a troubled daughter and missing wife. The basis of the song started with a relationship Zeman once had with the daughter, and a peripheral meeting he had many years later with her father. “Embellishments” were thrown in from stories that Zeman heard happened to other people.

“I was once a bartender and — whoo! — what colourful characters you meet in bars,” he recalled. “The stories you hear … I was doing more writing in my notebook than serving drinks. …”

Don’t Think About You Anymore took years to get onto an album. Zeman said he had to make sure the recorded version sounded as good as the one playing in his head. “I finally got a cello in there, and I got it right.”

He dug deep for the poetic lyrics on the title track, which reveal his feverish songwriting process: “I live in a house full of ghosts that won’t let me be. I let ’em in myself but now I can’t get ’em to leave. …”

On other songs, he serves up vivid imagery of late-night dog walks and the power of Elvis.

Zeman believes everyone gets knocked down in life, but it’s how you react to adversity that sets the course for your future.

“When people are down and out, and have given up, that really bothers me,” he admitted. “I see a lot of people who get a hard attitude and they don’t fix it.”

Zeman said he tries to include hope in his tunes, because listeners need to hear it. There’s so much depression in the world, he added, “I try not to write about it anymore.”

Tickets to his 7:30 p.m. show, with accompanying guitarist Blair Hogan, are $20 from the venue at Bay 6, 4676 61st St. For more information, call 403-872-0006.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com