America’s political relationship with Canada may be testy these days, and Maple Leaf rock icons the Guess Who reflect some of that ambivalence toward their neighbors on “In America,” a track from The Future Is What It Used To Be, the group’s first new studio outing in 23 years.
“The chorus says, ‘In America, you can get anything you want, you can get anything that you need,'” drummer Garry Peterson, the sole remaining founding member in the current lineup, tells Billboard about the track, which premieres exclusively below. “It’s in the spirit that America’s a land of opportunity; If you really want to work hard you can become a rock musician, you can become a brain surgeon, you can become a doctor — you can become president, if that’s really what you want to be. It kind of celebrates that.” But Peterson notes that the song’s lyrics, by singer Derek “D#” Sharp, also “celebrate troubles you can get into — in any country — when the men in black can come for you at any time, if you’re behind in taxes or into illicit things. There’s that side of it, too.”
This is not the first time the Guess Who has commented on American society, of course — most famously on “American Woman,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970. But Peterson claims that song was misinterpreted at the time and ever since, even if it seems spot-on 50 years later. “From our perspective we really didn’t write it as a protest or a knock on America — where we’ve made all our money, in effect, in the Guess Who,” the drummer explains. “America made our success. However, coming from a small place like Winnipeg and going on tour, there were all these things that are not prevalent in our world, in Canada at the time. We talk about the ghetto and the war machine; We saw all of this happening before us, and we didn’t know what to make of it, and that came out in our song. It’s America personified as a woman that we didn’t quite know what to make of.”
The Future Is What It Used To Be‘s 10 tracks were recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville and will be released Sept. 14. In addition to the band, the set also features guest appearances by Tommy Shaw of Styx, Whitesnake bassist Michael Devin and Guess Who founding bassist Jim Kale, who retired from the band before the album was recorded. “We thought it would be neat to have him on one cut on the album (‘Long Day’),” Peterson says. “It was a great performance by him, and for me, because I played with him almost all of the time I’ve been in the Guess Who, it was great to have him on the album.”
That said, Peterson is hoping The Future Is What It Used To Be will be well-accepted in the context of the Guess Who’s 53-year history, by both older fans and also youngsters to use as an entry point to discover the group’s heritage.
“People will come out and say, ‘Oh, this doesn’t sound like the Guess Who,’ but when you go back and listen the Guess Who has had a lot of people through the band and changed the way it sounded a lot over the years,” Peterson says. “The album tracks don’t sound like the big hits. It was a band modeled on the Beatles, with no boundaries of where we were going musically. We’re not trying to replace or copy or anything, but there’s a thread in the music back to the heyday of the band, and especially for young people who hear ‘American Woman’ or something they can go, ‘Wait a second — there’s 14 albums there? What’s this about?’ And we’re still here to play them the music.”