“Survivorman” actor and musician, Les Stroud, was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and has been an avid fan of music and nature for as long as he can remember. After working a few years in the music business behind the scenes, he then worked a few other jobs to help pay bills. He began playing his harmonica when he introduced his take on contemporary rock with his self-titled album in 2006. Since then he’s released a series of singles and music videos, and his most recent videos are for “How Long” and his version of Joni Mitchell’s hit single “Big Yellow Taxi.” His album, Mother Earth, was produced by iconic Mike Clink, and features a solo from Slash (Guns N’ Roses) on the lead single “One Giant Farm.”
His most recent album, Bittern Lake, features themes surrounding what he’s learned from the years he’s been in the industry. Stroud has performed with some of the biggest acts in the industry, including Journey, Jakob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alice Cooper, Tesla, to name just a few. Stroud chatted with us, quote humorously in some answers, about his passion for the outdoors and music, his cover of “Big Yellow Taxi,” with the music video accompanying below.
You’re known for your love of the outdoors and your love of music, among many other things. In your opinion, what do you think makes music and being outdoors relative to each other?
Les Stroud: They are both inspiring. They are both escapes. Like art they both seem somehow vital for life, at least a healthy spiritual life, but also a healthy physical one. Time in nature is actually the only thing in my life that has ever been able to replace music and vice-versa.
You provide a unique interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s iconic single “Big Yellow Taxi.” Why did you choose this song to cover?
Les: Of course it is known as one of, if not the greatest environmental songs of all time, and it’s message rings true and is every bit as vital now as it was when Joni wrote it. However, it comes with a jangly guitar and a kind of happy melody – I wanted to give it a dark overtone, or in other words, I wanted the music to match the darkness of the lyrics, as they are certainly dark.
Your upcoming album, Mother Earth, was produced by Mike Clink of Guns N’ Roses, including the single, “One Giant Farm,” featuring a killer solo by Slash…how did that collaboration come about, and what was production like with Clink?
Les: It’s a much more ambitious album with full studio production, and as you point out, some special cameo appearances. Mike Clink has also produced my recent release, “Bittern Lake.” Mike had been introduced first however to the tracks I was spending a lot of time on for the album, Mother Earth.” He liked the music – which was first and foremost for him. He also has a strong affinity to the message. He and I are both recycling Nazi’s, and we are both angered by the lack of care for the planet. Musically, having him help me with this genre of music; big production, heavy guitar, etc. It made alot of sense as it is right in his wheelhouse.
Bittern Lake, one of your recent albums, is a reflection of your time spent in the music industry. What led to create an album of this nature? Was it cathartic for you?
Les: No, it’s actually a reflection of my, and other artist’s thoughts on nature – whether it be celebrating it or lamenting environmental issues. I have been recording this way for the past few albums; wonderful things and off the grid; that is to say they were recorded live off the floor – old school kind of thing – all the musicians together for a week in one place eating and drinking and making music together. But those other albums were simply collections of what I had recently written. Bittern Lake was most decidedly focused on songs about nature.
You’re a man of many incredible talents, including creating, writing, producing and hosting Survivorman. What do you get creatively out of television that is different than what you get out of the creativity in music?
Les: Well, the obvious – the visual aspect. Music is all audio – and emotion through sound. Film is visual and emotion through sight. They are both artistic endeavors just focused on different senses, even though there is some overlap. With film I get to be a little lighter, a little funnier, and I can show a wink and the twinkly in my eye; but with music I can get deeper and more solemn, and use poetry underscored by melody.
What was filming like for your most recent music video, “How Long” and “Big Yellow Taxi”?
Les: Matt Mahurin (U2, Tom Waits, Disturbed, Metallica) is a genius…a dark genius. I am so focused on film work that it was delightful to simply let go of the reins and let Matt do his thing. It was incredibly freeing for me as I am such a control freak when I make my films.
When it comes to filming videos, do you have a lot of idea input in creating and making them or is it very hands-on with all involved?
Les: The answer is both. Sometimes I take over and call the shots, Other times I step back and keep my place as the singer-songwriter or artist, and let someone as talented as Matt Mahurin do their thing.
A few fun questions!
What’s one song that you automatically sing really loud upon hearing it?
Les: Wow! This is so lame, but “Only the Beginning” by Chicago.
Who was your first concert, and do you have an overall favorite one?
Les: The Guess Who: I still have the ticket stub. It was also my first cigarette. My favourite would have to be Elton John in Toronto, when he still had his voice. But recently John Fogerty blew my mind in Las Vegas. Lisa Fisher is a new favourite too. But The Eagles opening up their shows with “Hotel California” was pure genius!
What was your first album on CD, cassette and/or vinyl?
Les: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the first real one, but before that it would be kids stuff, like 24 Groovy Greats from K-Tell.
What five albums or artists would you want to live without?
Les: If I read this question right you mean, which ones do I disdain? Hmmm…tough question, no one ever asks that, but okay, I’ll bite:
I could live without most of the 80’s bands of the synth genre, such as Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet, Thompson Twins, but also Motley Crue and Poison.
What is your guilty entertainment pleasure?
Les: Big a** fantasy films like “The Avengers” and “XMen.” Musically – early 70’s novelty songs like “The Monster Mash” and “The Night Chicago Died.” (smiles)