|The Tragically Hip|
The Tragically Hip has been one of Canadaís biggest rock bands for almost thirty years. Thereís not enough room here to list the amount of awards and accolades, this band of good rockiní boys from Kingston, Ontario have received through their time, and with the new album, We Are The Same, being their most organic and country rockíish to date, we thought it was high time we gave The Hip the attention they so truly deserve. So as the band set off for a short UK tour starting tonight in London. we called up lead singer Gordon Downie for a chat about Frank Sinatra records, trusting their instincts and playing to a bunch of Canadian exchange students in CopenhagenÖ
Interview by Soren McGuire
Hi Gordon. Youíve been making music for well over twenty years now, and We Are The Same is your eleventh studio-album. How do you think the bandís longevity has affected your music?
When you go in to make a new record, twenty years should matter. But Iím afraid it probably doesnít. Thereís not a lot you can use. You go rummaging around for the blueprints, but you never seem to find them. The way you work, write and record always changes. I like to believe that I evolve as a musician Ė or shrink, I donít know. The changes I make are in my daily life and ultimately I hope that the music and the art will reflect that.
So having been in the record-making business for almost three decades doesnít necessarily make things easier?
I wouldnít say so, no. You still have the limited amount of time to finish the record and we still run right up against our deadline. Youíre working late at night, the candleís burning down and youíre still convinced you donít have a clue. You keep pushing to get there, but you never really seem to figure out how you actually managed to get there.
What did you know when you began working on We Are The Same?
Weíd made the last one, World Container, with Bob Rock, and we knew we wanted to make a second one with him as well. So the conversation really started there, cause even though we wanted to work with the same producer, we didnít want to make the same record. We had to make a different record, a better record for lack of a better word.
Well, we talked a lot about how we should do that and then you write the songs. On the basis of that, you proceed. You either go back to your promise of making a different record or you go where the songs want to go. Know what I mean? Itís ultimately about listening to what the songs want to be. If youíre stuck on a premise or method, you might miss out on opportunities. I mean, you talk about making a different kind of record, a polka record, a country record, a Frank Sinatra record or a heavy metal record, and you talk about recording it in the woods or in a submarineÖyou have all these plans and ideas, but in the end itís just about you and your song. Whatís the best way to present this song, this story, to people? Iím as surprised as anyone as to how it comes out, how it ends up sounding. I never really regret not following the initial path or straying from the path.
Even though the record might in fact end up not sounding different?
Do you find it difficult always trusting your instincts?
Ultimately, our instincts are all we have. And I have to remember who Iím making these records for. If you try to follow a trend or if you to catch hold off the latest thing, youíre destined to fall, I think. You try to improve your relationship with your family, your friends and the people you work with, you try to improve yourself, and I think that also affects the stories you tell through your music. And if that resonates with other people, itís a bonus. Itís a blessing. But itís ultimately about trusting that what you do and who you are is good enough.††
Iíve been a big fan for years and years, and to completely honest with you, albums like Day For Night (1994), Fully Completely (1992) and Trouble At The Henhouse (1996), would be pretty hard to beat in my world. Do you as a band still search for the perfect Tragically Hip album or do you think itís already behind you?
Those albums you mention are all the results of the five of us pushing and tugging ourselves to make the perfect Tragically Hip album. Theyíre the result of us pushing and pulling and debating about what the perfect album should sound like. Miraculously the debates never get bloody or demeaning or odious. In the end you get this record that weíre all really happy with, and to be honest I donít really know how we do that. And I donít think other bands know how they do that.
Why do you think the relationship and the friendship you seem to enjoy in the band have survived through all the years?
First of all, we havenít succumbed to any new technologies for getting along. We donít use various strategies for improving our relationships, and by doing that we live in denial that there is anything we can do to improve our relationship. We havenít gone on any military boot camp excursions Ė Iím trying to be funny here Ė and ultimately, I think the only honest answer to your question is that we all probably feel like we only have each other. We started doing this together, we played to five people in Hoboken together, weíve been in some hairy situations together, weíre family. Ultimately, thatís what weíre selling, Soren. With every night and every record, thatís what weíre selling. I can understand if that doesnít appeal to everybody, but what we sell is our relationship to one another, who we are and if thatís a fraud, if our relationship is a fraud, then thatís what weíre selling. And we want to make sure that we arenít fraudulent.
Tell me about working with Bob Rock
I would say itís nothing short of huge on every level. Heís a great friend of mine, and on a personal level, just a wonderful, helpful man. In terms of professionalism, Iíve never seen anything like it. Heís full of enthusiasm for the job, he remembers why we all do this. Some people say itís because of love of music when in fact they have lost it years ago, but with Bob, itís like working with a 14-year old who still canít believe heís producing records. Heís the first one in the studio and the last one to leave. I think heís helped us get pretty damn close to the perfect Tragically Hip record.
I once saw you at a small club in Copenhagen. I think it was about five or six years ago or so. It was basically me and 498 Canadian exchange students. Whatís your thoughts on making that final breakthrough into Europe?
I canít really think about it. We make the records we make, we put on the shows we put on. I have to say Iím happy with that. We get what we get. My heroes are people like Howliní Wolf, Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, and whenever I see pictures of them, I see people who are very much in the moment. Theyíre not concerned about anything else, and thatís really what I try to do with my music.
The Tragically Hipís new album We Are The Same is out now on Rounder. Their tour begins this week, so go straight to Thehip.com for tour dates.