Les Stroud, best known as the star of the adventure television series Survivorman, is the equivalent of Captain Kirk in some respects… by boldly going where no man has gone before. However, he’s also delivering a musical message of environmental protection with his new studio album Bittern Lake.
Stroud, who worked in the music industry before becoming known on the small screen, says it’s just another way of ensuring people understand how vital their surroundings and actions are. And just how urgent the situation is.
“It’s the same inspiration in everything that I do whether it’s Survivorman or with my music and that is a desire to influence people to reconnect with nature,” he says days before the June 1 release of his album. “Just focusing on celebrating nature.”
Part of that exploration resulted in an eclectic mix of original material as well as adventurous reworkings of signature songs by the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bruce Cockburn. He says his blues-tinged rendition of Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” took some time to craft.
“I struggled with it for a while because obviously it’s been a song that’s been covered many, many times,” he says. “And there’s no way that I wanted to do it the same way she did it with the jangle-y guitar and in the same way, the other band (Counting Crows) was.”
“I thought these lyrics are actually quite dark, so I do appreciate when a song juxtaposes happy music with a dark message – or dark music with a happy message. But I thought in essence how about I just nail it for Joni. How can I go dark with this? Then I struggled until one day I picked up my guitar and it was tuned for sort of Delta blues slide playing. I just started humming, ‘They paved paradise put up a parking lot’ and I suddenly realized, ‘Wait a minute, this works!’”
Stroud also got the thumbs-up from Mitchell who heard the cover and approved. He says having Mike Clink (Metallica, Guns N’ Roses) produce Bittern Lake opened a few more doors for him including connecting to Mitchell. Stroud added Clink “brought in this world-class level of musicianship” to the album from a production standpoint.
The album’s consistent theme is nature, whether heard on a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “If A Tree Falls” or the late JJ Cale’s “Death In The Wilderness,” the latter he discovered on a simple Google search. But Stroud says he’s particularly proud of “How Long” which took very little time to write. He wishes people would connect with the song’s message just as quickly.
“At the moment while I was writing the lyrics I was pissed and I was thinking this is getting ridiculous,” he says. “Why don’t people just wake up and realize that we’re running out of time. End of story, we’re running out of time. In the words of Bruce Cockburn environmentally speaking we’re fucked and I agree. So my song came out of that, it was like ‘God don’t you get it?’
“I don’t think there’s enough of a sense of urgency. I’ve spoken at length with David Suzuki who years ago said we’re driving towards a wall and we’re pushing our foot on the gas pedal.”
In addition to Bittern Lake, he’s in different stages of completion on three other studio albums with one finished and the other two with the “bed tracks” finished. In addition to headlining shows in Canada and America Stroud revealed he’ll make a cameo appearance with Journey on June 1 at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, “blowing some harmonica” on the song “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin.”
Meanwhile Stateside another television series entitled Alaska’s Grizzly Gauntlet is airing but Stroud’s next work behind the camera is seeing his documentary film on the big screen. The film, entitled La Loche, centres on a “healing canoe trip” Stroud and eight boys who survived a 2016 school shooting in La Loche, Saskatchewan took after the tragedy. He hopes the film, which has musical contributions from Bruce Cockburn and Robbie Robertson, secures a broadcast license after appearing at Cannes, Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival.
Finally, while the music business and surviving in the wilderness might seem diametrically opposed, Stroud feels there’s one common characteristic needed to succeed in both places.
“I think the key is and it’s a survival component and that is persistence,” he says. “Let’s face it I’m not 21 and attempting to be a pop star here. But I’m a guy with a message that’s honest and real. I’ve always written, I’ve always recorded and I’ve also put out independent albums while I’ve been Survivorman. I could’ve said no I’ll just be a TV guy years ago. But I still have something to say musically so I’m remaining persistent and that is a survival technique. You don’t survive by giving up.”