“Weird Al” Yankovic, Smashing Pumpkins, Jeff Goldblum, Sharon Jones and more discuss their neighbours to the north
Published Jul 01, 2022
“What do you think of when you think of Canada?” We’ve been asking that question to artists for many years as part of our Questionnaire feature, and the answers are always illuminating. From platitudes about politeness to more scathing interrogations of colonialism, as well as tributes to natural beauty and some quaint reflections on toonies and Timmies, the topic of Canada raises complex questions without easy answers.
Canada Day provides us with an opportunity to consider the things we’re grateful for in this country, as well as a chance to reckon with the atrocities of our past and present, and decide how best to move forward within these arbitrary political borders.
A couple of years ago, we compiled how Canadian artists have answered this question. For this July 1, we’re looking at how American artists have answered the same question. Often, their answers reveal as much about the US than they do Canada — health care is a common theme — but it’s fascinating to see which elements of our culture stand out to our neighbours to the south: our comedy scene, our legacy of amazing musicians, and “O Canada” (not to be confused with “O Christmas Tree”). And at least one artist doesn’t particularly care for Bob and Doug McKenzie.
Below, read what American artists think about Canada.
I love Canada. I love Canadians. I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience for all my times in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver; I’ve been in the countryside. I have very fond memories of all the times I’ve filmed and toured in Canada, and I always have my eye on the North whenever I think about the current political climate in my country. I always fantasize about escaping to Canada.
[Sings] “Whatever it takes / I know I can make it through!” Degrassi, of course!
Maple syrup! Poutine! And “eh,” they say “eh” a lot. And South Park‘s Terrance and Phillip. I love Canada. Being from Detroit, they right there, you know? We used to just go over the bridge; going to Canada for me was always like a vacation every summer. So shouts out to my people up north.
Spoon’s Britt Daniel
Kindness. I’ve been able to do a lot of gigs up in Vancouver, and this is my first time in Toronto. It’s just got very, very kind people.
The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn
Well, lots of good stuff. The trite answer is ice hockey, but growing up in Minnesota, it bleeds in pretty easily. I think of the North and I think of nice people, cold, and actually a lot of good times I’ve had there.
Sean Ono Lennon
Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, I guess would be the first thing. I think about my friend Rufus Wainwright and his mom Kate and his sister Martha and that family. I remember touring up there with Rufus when I was young and getting to experience Montreal. It was so cool. And their scene was so cool and they’re all so talented. They used to sing Christmas carols and stuff, as a family. I just remember being blown away by that experience. But yeah, I think about Neil Young. I think about John Candy. I think about comedy and music and the cold I guess.
[Singing, to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”] “O Caanadaaa, o Canadaaa,” I think of the national anthem, because oftentimes at a gig I’ll ask, “Does anyone know an anthem that isn’t the United States?” and people will sing that, and sing it proudly. Often a large portion of the audience sings it at my gigs in Los Feliz. I think of my wife, the Olympic team that she was on when she represented Canada. I think of The Fly, which was shot in Canada. And of course, the entirely sophisticated culture in Canada, which seems to have a handle on what good government and refinement and intelligence and civil discourse mean.
Interpol’s Paul Banks
It’s funny, I wanna think about a good answer, but the thing that jumped out straight into my mind was comedy. I think Canada’s a great exporter of world-class comedy. From Jim Carrey to Seth Rogen and so much in-between — Martin Short, the whole SCTV thing that birthed a lot of talent.
I guess the biggest chunks of time I’ve spent in Canada have been in Vancouver, and I’ve always been fortunate enough to go during the summer, so when I think of Canada in my head, it’s sort of stunningly beautiful, because it’s Vancouver in the summer. Which, I know, people have a different opinion of it in the winter. But my experience there is that it’s almost offensively beautiful. It’s almost showing off too much. When the sun’s out and you’re walking over a bridge and looking at three other bridges, and all the buildings are fucking reflective, it’s like, alright. We get it. It’s hella pretty here.
Canada seems like another planet to me. It seems removed from — and I could be wrong — but in my mind, in a way, it seems removed from the rest of the world’s chaos. It seems enlightened, and one step, like I say, removed from everything — almost like it’s, like myself, an observer. All the time, Canada just feels like an observer of the world who stands in the back of the room and just watches and shakes its head saying, “Wow, these people are nuts.” I don’t know if that’s true. If so, then you’re lucky, because the world is crazy.
Loonies and toonies! I always think of poutine. Shangela loves to eat, honey! Anywhere I go, I gotta taste the food.
Happy times. I spent a lot of time in Montreal when I started Tune-Yards. Tune-Yards wouldn’t exist without Montreal, and without my friends and without the camaraderie and the way people support each other in art there.
The Killers’ Brandon Flowers
I think of probably a lot of things that people think of. I think of Neil Young, I think of maple leaves, I think of my tour manager — he’s from Toronto. I think of Will Arnett. I think of Coutts; my brother-in-law and sister lived in Coutts, AB, for about ten years. Those are the things that come to mind.
I don’t think of one thing. I’ve travelled in Canada quite a bit, played a lot of places and met a lot of people. It’s a place that’s at least as diverse as we are if not more so. I think of it as a place where I can get some better flavoured potato chips or similar candy bars that come in different wrappers.
Slipknot and Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor
It used to be Tim Hortons. I knew I was going to be able to get a 30-piece Timbits and just get down on some good coffee and awesome donuts. Now when I come to Canada I think of great shows, I think of a “holy shit!” frigid winter when we tour up there — I remember one winter, it was like negative 50 fucking degrees, and I was like “This is not weather, this is an emergency condition. Why aren’t they calling the authorities?”
Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff
Tegan and Sara. Truly. I’m a longtime fan. And Carly Rae [Jepsen].
W. Kamau Bell
Free health care. I’m not one of those Americans who feel like I’m gonna move to Canada because of the state of the world, but I do sit back and think, “Man, they figured that out somehow.” As an American — who has money to pay for insurance — I can’t explain to you how hard to is to get insurance, even if you have a bag of money that you want to hand to an insurance company. It’s still incredibly hard. Health care in this country is one of the dumbest and most frustrating systems we have. For years, I was broke and had to figure out how to get health care. Now I’m making money, just give me the good stuff! If there’s any sign that America is not the country it claims to be, health care is it.
I think of opportunity and I think of medicine. Not the pro-marijuana camp way of thinking about it, but in the literal use of medicine. Not like, “I’ve got glaucoma, I need to smoke weed,” but more than that. I’m into the idea of what it represents for people studying or trying to make THC and the understanding of various strains and the different general compounds that are involved in it and microdosing in conjunction with other herbs and things like that. So, I really think of the opportunity.
Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace
I really think about memories like that tour; I have really fond memories of touring in Canada. We’ve done a lot of cool runs, whether it was early runs we did with Murder by Death or that tour with us, Billy Talent, Alexisonfire and Cancer Bats, which was just so much fun, like everything I’d ever wanted arena or stadium touring to be. And, I’m dating a Canadian right now, so I have fond feelings for Canadians, obviously. I like Canada.
The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon
Honestly, the first things I think of are bands. There are a lot of bands that I got into earlier on in life that shaped a lot of what I was doing, especially when the Gaslight Anthem formed. That’s always been a fond memory. We were really inspired by Matt Mays, Constantines, Neil Young, Tegan and Sara, City and Colour, Arkells. They’ve always popped up, this influx of cool bands. I don’t see a lot of bashing between Canadian artists. They seem to support each other. The second thing: I love maple syrup more than a lot of things, and not to be cliché, but Canada does have the single best maple syrup in the world
When I think of Canada, I’m so close but yet so far away. I would just love to get up there with all that water, fishing, maybe come up and do some ice fishing when it really freezes up. I’ve never done that. Between Canada and Alaska, I would like to do that all, but Canada’s closer.
The National’s Matt Berninger
I don’t know, I like Canada? I don’t overthink about it. What does Canada think of America? I guess that’s hard because everybody hates America [laughs].
Drake. Hockey. Vast spaces. Only five major cities, maybe six. And I think about all the places in Canada that I won’t visit at all, probably.
Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba
John Candy. I don’t know if he’s from there, but that movie Canadian Bacon is hysterical.
I think I should probably qualify for a JUNO. I work with so many Canadian musicians on this record and on my next one: Tegan and Sara, A.C. Newman, Kevin Drew, Lucas Silveira of the Cliks, Tommy Chong.
I enjoy Canada a lot. Toronto has seen some of my best shows. I’ve been all over Canada. Vancouver, Whistler. I’ve been up and down, east and west. It’s a great place to be. It’s a beautiful place.
White people who say everything like a question, teenage punk-styled summertime homeless kids that go home when it gets cold, hockey, SCTV, Asian people, McGill, getting stuck in the elevator in the Delta hotel in Montreal, how clean Toronto is, smoking pot in Vancouver and swearing I was going to write but never getting to it.
I made a movie in Toronto, so cold weather and great strip clubs. Oh my God! Just great. I can’t remember the name of it, but the girls are fully naked in your lap! Awesome! Awesome, I tell you!
“Weird Al” Yankovic
A lot of people just assume that I’m Canadian. That was dispelled at some point, but I did so many specials for MuchMusic early in my career, people just assumed I was Canadian, which I was totally comfortable with. I think Canadians have more of an affinity for my kind of comedy. In fact, most of my early albums charted better in Canada than they did in the States. So, I always love coming to Canada and I look forward to the next tour.
More benevolent, and less edgy than America, but all that seems to be changing.
Mostly I think of Montreal and Vancouver — I don’t really think too much about the in-between part. Depending on what city I’m closer to, I either think of poutine, late nights and stumbling drunk down the street, or I think of super-healthy amazing sushi, Stanley Park and getting a blowjob from a strange man.
I had an incredibly fun trip in my early 20s to Quebec. I always think of that famous hotel, the Frontenac. Taking the train from Manhattan to Canada. The singer, Helen Murray. No, Anne Murray — don’t tell Helen Murray I said that.
The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne
It was, previous to three weeks ago, a marvellous place where I first saw the Northern Lights, somewhere between Montreal to London. Is London a city here? Out in the middle of nowhere we saw the Northern Lights. But then, we played Quebec City about three weeks ago, and we didn’t get in until about one o’clock in the morning, and we were one of the last people on the late-night flight that had to go through the border crossing guards. They were so pissed off at us, and went through every molecular crevice of everything we had. They were so sure that we were smuggling drugs of some kind. We were all laughing about it, but they were so… mad, and so determined. They did swabs over everything.
Are you seriously going to ask me that? Honestly I think of my neighbour Kelly Oxford, who is one of my best friends. She’s got three kids that were all born and raised in Canada, and they’re the coolest fucking kids I know. I fucking love her kids. And truly through my friendship with her I’ve learned a lot about Canada. And I’ve spent time in Toronto and Montreal, but that’s not where she’s from. She’s from Calgary.
Home. Most of the most exciting and beautiful years of my life.
My Morning Jacket’s Jim James
Health care. We really need to figure that out here in the States. I think of Canada as providing a good example to the world of being able to take care of Canada before being a policeman to the rest of the world. Obviously this is a gross generalization and every country has its ups and downs, and I am proud to be a citizen of the United States, but I believe the US could learn a lot from Canada in that way. We need to solve our own problems, get health care figured out, take care of our homeless, educate the children, make people feel safe, create good-paying and long-lasting jobs, create real incentives and a new sour or morality for companies like Apple to bring production/jobs to the United States, etc., etc., before we can worrying about being policemen to the world. But obviously we have not figured that out.
I think of giant bearded men that wear red flannels, Bell, beer and killer whales and bears. Is that pretty accurate?
Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard
There’s real pride amongst the Canadian musicians that I’ve met about being Canadian. They gravitate towards each other and give each other a leg up. I really admire the sense of community they have.
Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan
I’m always impressed by the collective spirit of the people of Canada. Overall, very earth conscious, ecology conscious, and certainly seem to live a bit better than Americans in terms of health, and seem more politically engaged on a deeper level than the American social classes. That always strikes me when I come in contact with friends who are Canadian or I spend time in Canada. You feel a little more clarity about what the country is trying to get out of itself.
Tenacious D’s Jack Black
Progress. Peace. French. Sasquatch.
Neil Young. The Band. Hockey. [Laughs] I’m pretty obsessed with Neil Young.
Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss
That song, “Blame Canada.” This answer is for our manager Julie Butterfield. If I don’t say this, she’ll be mad.
Sleater-Kinney’s Corrine Tucker
I love Canada. I was thinking about Quebec City today. We did that whole tour of Canada with Pearl Jam, which I loved. And we had a day off there, and I thought it was so amazing. There are so many things I love about Canada. The maple syrup, the hockey [laughs]. The nice people.
Royce da 5’9″
Clean. Canada is very clean, and sort of peaceful. Whenever I go to Canada, it doesn’t feel like I’m in the States. You can use Detroit as an example. Compare my city to Canada. Obviously, there’s many parts, but overall, when you talk Toronto, Vancouver, they’re pretty to me. Clean. You don’t see a lot of crazy shit going on. I think of pretty girls, clean cities and low crime.
Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine
I love Canada! Our drummer is Canadian, and at some points 50 percent of the band were Canadian, so it has always felt like another home. I also love hockey. Whenever I find out that an NHL player is a fan, I make a point to try and meet them and become friends. I’ve always really liked Canadian hockey players for their toughness.
Seventy-five degrees and grey. I think Canada is spread out, and generally I assume Canadians are smart and a little less easy to manipulate and ramp up politically. Everyone in Canada seems to have a best kept secret place to go to. You go to Toronto and people are like, this is the best, this is state of the art, precision living sort of thing that goes on. And when the music is corny, it’s really corny. And when it’s really good, it’s really unique and free of precision.
The Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger
I think of good-natured, good-humoured people. And they love music, I think maybe even more than Americans. Every time I’m in Toronto, I have a really good experience. I often think, “Yeah, I could live here.”
Social Distortion’s Mike Ness
I like Canada. Being able to travel to other countries and see how different countries are run. I always thought the US could learn from Canada. You’re not at war with anyone and seem to have a pretty good foreign policy with everyone. There are great bands from there, and when I see MuchMusic, the videos are cool and creative. Most people who make fun of Canada haven’t been there, don’t take time to check it out. I have a good time there.
My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way
I think of hockey. I think of probably the really dumb, stereotypical American versions. Strange Brew. Really whacked-out television. I think the craziest senses of humour and TV personalities have come out of Canada. Like You Can’t Do That on Television, SCTV. All that stuff. That’s what I associate with Canada: snow, maple leaves and really funny people.
I think it’s the birthplace of Jesus. That and Kyoto.
Melissa Auf der Maur
The Shins’ James Mercer
I think the one time we toured Canada and I just remember seeing a lot of wildlife. Kind of boring maybe.
Superchunk’s Laura Ballance
Maples. Puffins, or birds that look like puffins. I also think of Howard Bilerman, donuts and frozen orange juice.
GWAR’s Oderus Urungus
Fucking metal. You know what I love about Canada? People up there support music way more than they do in the States; they’ve got a way better attitude about things in general. Canada’s got a bit more of a Europe thing going on, which really reveals America as the shallow, idiotic society that it is. People rock out, and there’s even an unconfirmed rumour that I, the lead singer of GWAR, came from there in his human life which is complete bullshit but it’s also absolutely true. Canada rules because it’s the only country that banned us and then welcomed us back with open arms. “Aw fuck it, c’mon back, GWAR!” It was amazing because, for a long time, we couldn’t get to Canada. They figured out we could go wherever we wanted, so they started giving us bad directions. “It’ll take you about seven years but you’ll find it. Just stay on land and go North.” We love going to Canada but I’m gonna stop now because it’s starting to sound as if Oderous actually likes people and I can’t have that.
The Distillers’ Brody Dalle
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Conrad Keely
Loonies and toonies. I wish that we had dollar coins. No, the people, obviously. I have a lot of friends in Canada, on both sides — Vancouver and Toronto. They’re both great places.
I think of purple and brown money. A lot of times I think of Canadian nickels. We used to get Canadian coins a lot somehow. We’d go to the store when we were younger and they’d give us change and somehow we’d always have a Canadian nickel or dime in there. I think of Canada Dry soda. Y’know, the ginger ale I used to drink all the time. That’s a popular brand here in the States. I don’t know if it is up there. Yeah, so those are the things I think of, and I think of French.
I’ve not been there since Blade: Trinity a couple of years ago, but I like Canada. Especially the warm part, know what I mean? But even in the cold part. I think about it like America’s cousin. I don’t really understand the border we’ve got when our cultures are so close.
Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Smarties.
Banff. One of the most beautiful places on earth.
Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow
The first thing I always think is that I wish I was born in Canada. It’s a great place. It’s better than the United States. Always has been, quite possibly, always will be. When I was young, living in Michigan, we would go over to Windsor and I would think, “Wow, it’s a whole different place!”
I have wonderful memories of Canada — I was married to a Canadian, in Canada. I think it’s beautiful up there, and I love to play up there. I think of long bus rides though.
I think of being 12 years old again and sending postcards out to all of the Canadian tourist boards in the different provinces asking if they would please forward me information on the attractions that their provinces had to offer. And I always felt for a two-penny postcard I would get enormous envelopes of brochures and information. So I think as a kid I liked the idea of getting mail, but on the way to that I learned a lot about Canada. I was kind of an expert at the age of 12. I do feel a closeness to the country because I’ve grown up with it, sending to the tourist boards, and I have a bunch of friends up there and played a lot of gigs in a lot of cities. My favourite thing about Canada is that you go into a hospital when you’re sick and they’ll charge you two bucks. Here in the States they’ll let you sit in the waiting room until you come up with something worse or die.
The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow
I think of Canadian bacon, lots of snow, and gentle people who like hockey. Also, the Canadian and English sense of humour is more developed than the American one.
I think of wonderful times I’ve had there, in East and West Canada.
Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis
Smiling Canadians. I know a lot of Canadians right now. Like the bass player in my other band Witch, and this guy that lives at Kim and Thurston’s house right now. Day to day, they seem to be smiling a lot.
Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham
We get customs officials giving us the hose. We’ve actually never had the hose, but always joked that we’d get the hose. They say, “Bend over, we’re going to stick a hose up there,” which has never happened, but they do sometimes make us wait. It’s like, Canada is where drugs come from, why would we bring drugs to Canada? No, I really think of sanity. It’s always nice crossing over to Toronto, where we’re in a country that’s really sane.
Slayer’s Dave Lombardo
I think of the maple leaf. The cold — Montreal and Winnipeg in the winter are brutal. JUNOs. The great crowds — amazing. Montreal and Quebec City, and Winnipeg were really good, although we did have problems getting into the country. You know, it’s really sad, we cooperated and everything. We went up through Winnipeg from North Dakota and crossed. It was really rough. But we had a good show.
Well, I think of Canada… I was there a couple years ago, we came to do a show and… are you from Canada? Yeah, it’s really nice. It’s cold, too, and I’m from West Virginia so I was used to the winter cold, you know, and it was really cool. I’d like to come again some time to do a show or something.
I’ve been there. Canada’s a nice place — I love Canada. But I’m not allowed in Canada based on my previous records and all the other stuff like that from since I was 15, 16. These guys at the border, they be playing games and shit. Even if you got permission to go out there from the judge and everything, the border be playing games. That’s the only thing I don’t like about Canada, the people at the border who don’t let me come in to perform for my Canada people, my Canadians. There’s a lot of people that love me in Canada!
Truthfully, I think of being cold, because the first time I ever toured Canada, we were in Quebec in the winter and, having grown up in Boston and being used to intense winters, I just remember stepping outside of the bus and it was so cold. I had no idea it could get that cold. My face was frozen in seconds.
Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus
I think of the maple leaf and I think of large empty barren spaces of Alberta and I think of Montreal, a little bit, the French-speaking people. I think of border hassles in Vancouver, and junkies stealing from our car. I think of Chris Bosch and the Raptors and their future, and Rafer Alston’s temper — he’s got to get that under control. And the storm cloud of Vince Carter leaving. He was a quitter and lame. Molson, we drank a lot of that when we were kids. Moosehead and the way that it smells when you open it — yeasty and kind of weird.
Faith No More’s Mike Patton
Those two morons in ski caps that say “eh” all the time. Bob and Doug or Tom McKenzie or whatever.
Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo
Well, I’m married to a Canadian so I have a lot of fond thoughts about Canada. I think about the Prairies of Manitoba where my wife is from, and I have a lot of friends and relatives on both coasts and have spent a lot time in Canada from Nova Scotia to BC. In some ways, it’s a much more sane country than the U.S.
Vancouver and Victoria. I don’t even want to put it out in print — it’s like a fantastic cultural secret. I don’t even want anyone to know how beautiful they are. Everyone’s gonna end up being there. Why would you be anywhere else, really? What am I doing in L.A.?
Beautiful women, clean air, friendly people, good shows.