Five Questions With… Sam Coffey
The Toronto rock sextet he heads releases its fourth album, Real One, this week. Here he discusses the new record, his favourite songs, the plight of the homeless, fun with TikTok, and the urgent desire to play real shows again.
By Jason Schneider
It’s been three years since Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs released their self-titled third LP, an album that elevated their rough and ready garage rock sound into something with true arena rock ambitions. The Toronto-based group continued to evolve in that direction over the ensuing years, and the fruits of that labour can now be sampled on their new album Real One, out Feb. 19 on Dine Alone Records.
Real One was produced by Kevin Ratterman, known for working with the likes of My Morning Jacket and Strand Of Oaks, and he applies his skills with big, ambitious sounds to Coffey and co.’s latest collection, accentuating the band’s no-nonsense guitar-centric approach with strings, horns, sweeping piano, and gang vocals.
Listeners have already received a taste through Real One’s Cheap Trick-esque first single Back With The Gang, which made an impact on Billboard’s Canadian Rock Radio chart, and was featured on Hockey Night In Canada. They’ve followed it up with the even more hard driving What This City Needs, a comment on the plight of Toronto’s homeless population, something made even more urgent due to the pandemic.
The song reaffirms that Coffey hasn’t shed his punk rock ideals first displayed when he formed The Iron Lungs in his hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo over a decade ago. The band’s current line-up solidified around 2011 upon Coffey’s full-time move to Toronto, building their reputation from there through their own sweat-drenched live shows and tours with FIDLAR, Frank Turner, Billie Joe Armstrong’s side project The Longshot.
We caught up with Sam Coffey to find out more where things stand with The Iron Lungs in 2021.
How does Real One stand apart from your previous work?
I think it displays the most range out of our records. We started out as a scrappy punk band with big songs, but we were always able to fill those shoes and play those songs and make them sound even bigger. Music is one of the few things in the world that you can ALWAYS get better at, and we strive to make each album better than the last and keep it interesting for ourselves.
To top the last record we needed to reach out to the community and to better musicians than we are to uplift the songs to a new level for us. We were very lucky to work with all the fantastic musicians that we did on this album and we think we made our best record yet with Real One.
What songs on the new record are your favourites and why?
I knew Gates Of Heaven was going to be one of the biggest songs on the record, and it's definitely one of my favourites. It's an indirect companion twin song to one of our old tracks Gates Of Hell. I think that song in itself really speaks to where we are sonically these days.
Run Angel was a song that we were kicking around forever and I couldn't be more proud of how it turned out. It's definitely one of the best songs I've ever written, musically and lyrically. We wanted to make something beautiful and thanks to the fantastic string section and [guest vocalist] Siânteuse’s vocals we were able to bring it to life.
15 Minutes came together real organically with the band, and it was one of the first songs where I really say something. My life has been laughably easy and this song is a big look in the mirror.
On the song What This City Needs you're pretty outspoken about Toronto's treatment of homeless people. What do you feel could be some immediate remedies?
There aren't any easy answers, but we need to hold the city responsible. Doing nothing isn't okay. I’d suggest people who want to see action to try contacting your councillors and pressure them into doing something about it.
How have you been adapting to engaging with your audience during the pandemic?
We joined TikTok! We were always a working band, a bit jaded, and didn't bother to really grasp most social media platforms. When the world shut down, it was pretty inspiring to see what some artists were doing and it was enough for us to try to get more into it. I set up a green screen in my little recording room, and we just try to make fun stuff for people to enjoy and laugh at.
What's your mindset looking ahead to potentially playing live this year?
I'm not holding my breath, but I just can't wait to see the guys in the band again. I miss them and I miss playing guitars in a room together with them because that’s where it all started. We really feed off the amazing folks that come to our shows so that's why we've shied away from the livestream experience—it's just not the same. We cannot wait to see everybody in the same place again.