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Track-by-Track: Dead Root Revival’s Tom Savage Sorts Through ‘The Controller’s Exam’

Dead Root Revival frontman Tom Savage joins us for a track-by-track rundown of their latest record ‘The Controller’s Exam.’



Dead Root Revival, photo by Dino Silvestri
Dead Root Revival, photo by Dino Silvestri

With a band that has the longevity of Dead Root Revival, you wouldn’t expect them to have not previously ever released a proper debut studio album. Well, good things come to those who wait as the Kingston, Ontario rockers released The Controller’s Exam this past March. Before this, the band had released a few live albums, making this their debut. Dead Root Revival has always been primarily focused on being a live band. This is partially the reason why they delayed a proper debut this long. Their live releases have emphasized the grit and energy they bring to the stage. As a guitar rock-focused act, they feel they have always burned brightest in front of an audience. This is what lies at the heart of their musical chemistry.

The overarching goal of The Controller’s Exam was to capture the energy of Dead Root Revival’s live show. The band is driven by the grand musical vision of its frontman, Tom Savage. Savage is known by many for his solo career as a folk-oriented songwriter with a stripped-down approach. Dead Root Revival offers him the opportunity to do something on a grander scale. He can be more of an electric guitar player and venture into more experimental territory.

The Controller’s Exam was recorded primarily analogue as Savage wanted to conjure an old-school sound with this batch of tracks. He felt that recording to tape raised the stakes in the recording process. In the digital world, you have the luxury of endless takes. With tape, you are on the clock to some extent. Savage liked the idea of injecting the recording process with more urgency.

Tom Savage joins us today for a special Track-by-Track rundown of The Controller’s Exam. He takes us right into the building blocks and the musical inspiration of each song on this standout recording.

1. “Got In Store”

“This one is all about the groove. Lyrically, it doesn’t reach very deep, but the words do what they need to do. The electric guitar and keys play riffs suited for a horn section. You never know, we may play this with a horn section one day!”

2. “Party Girls”

“This song was written, at least part of it, back when I was touring Canada with the Tom Savage Trio, probably around 2009. As DIY touring bands often do, we would find ourselves trying to kill time waiting for the show to start, or we’d be looking for a place to crash for the night once the show is over.

“I can’t remember the exact instance, but I remember being at a house party in, I think it was Calgary, we were kind of waiting for the party to wind down so we could crash at the place. The road is exhausting! I was observing this party going on around me and not really participating in the festivities. This may be the definition of a songwriter.

“The double time Sabbath-style rock out in the middle came later, after ‘Party Girls’ lay dormant for years, and was resurrected by DRR.”

3. “Maybe Baby”

“This song began its life as a folk song, but then our drummer Bonz Bowering suggested switching up the arrangement to more of a rock feel, like a Rolling Stones or Black Crowes vibe. This decision really turned it into a number that fit into the DRR setlist. Lyrically, it’s a ‘working on a relationship’ song, but not a ‘heartbreak’ song. One party is attempting to let the other in on their philosophy of life and, from the sounds of it, not being very successful.”

4. “Wormhole/Solitude”

“We head into prog-rock/fusion territory with the instrumental ‘Wormhole.’ I feel it has a sci-fi vibe, hence the title. We love playing this one live, particularly the transition into ‘Solitude.’ These songs were recorded together live off the floor in the studio. Lyrically, ‘Solitude’ is a commentary on the modern world and the need to take a moment to check out of the fast-paced consumer culture we live in, as it saps us of our ability to live in the moment.

“These songs appear on streaming as a single track, as we didn’t want a track change interfering with the transition. On vinyl and CD formats, they are listed as separate tracks.”

5. “Trillions Of Stars”

“‘Trillions’ speaks to the connectivity between humans, the planet, and the universe, and voices the challenge to us all to wake up and get our house in order environmentally and culturally, moving away from a capitalist societal structure.”

Dead Root Revival ‘The Controller’s Exam’ album artwork

Dead Root Revival ‘The Controller’s Exam’ album artwork

6. “People Zoo”

“‘… and when the pendulum swings the other way, you have the people zoo.’ Overly reliant on technology, embracing AI and robotics that will ultimately replace workers and leave humans more isolated from one another while at the same time dismissing the connection between quality of life and the health of the planet. A most dystopian number indeed with prog/punk leanings.”

7. “Witness The Death of Rock and Roll”

“A mid-life crisis in a song? We’re all fading away, and we’re all trying to hold on. We’re all making mistakes and grappling with our own existence… ‘Searching for the answer, questioning the controller’s exam.’”

8. “Distant Lover”

“‘Distant Lover’ is a song about breaking up with your smartphone. We spend so many hours of our day staring into devices that, on one hand, connect us, but on the other, they apply societal pressures and add new 21st-century stresses to our lives. We are a huge living experiment as we attempt to find our technological balance. It is hard to let those things go!”

9. “Poverty Line”

“This might be the most ‘feel good’ song about economic disparity ever written. People just gotta move and sing along to this one. Perhaps it hits home because it’s all too relatable in our society. Everything is costing more, and wages have not kept pace. We need a universal basic income to help give working people a hand up coupled with a series of tax reforms to deal with our corporate greed/billionaire problem.”

10. “Super Fresh”

“This tune is a nod to instrumental guitar heroes of the 1980s: Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, and of course Guitar Shop-era Jeff Beck. My Gibson Nighthawk is no doubt less forgiving to play than the Ibanez shred machines of the ’80s, but the point gets across, I think. And please don’t send me letters, I know Johnson and Beck played Strats!”

11. “Going Down Slow”

“Punk rock meets Deep Purple with stream-of-consciousness lyrics that I’m not sure make much sense. Choose your own adventure! It’s a powerhouse and a set-ender at many of our shows.”

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