Pity the poor Canadian music journalist who interviewed Gord Sinclair, bassist-vocalist for The Tragically Hip, a few weeks ago and was convinced he was the same Gordon Sinclair who spoke the praises of the United States in the 1974 leftfield hit, “The Americans (A Canadian’s Opinion).”
Had that writer done his math, he would’ve realized that Gord Sinclair was in kindergarten at the time. (Never mind that Gordon Sinclair was 74 when the song was recorded and that he died in 1984.)
“The guy was firing off all kinds of questions about an essay that the original Gordon Sinclair had written about American-Canadian relations in the early ’70s,” Sinclair said recently. “He kept going on and on; ‘I didn’t realize you were a broadcaster with the CBC before you were in the group.’
“I’m like, ‘Uh, I was probably about 6 years old when that happened; yeah, I was a pretty prodigious child – I was very good with my weekly radio show.’ “
Dippy journalists aside, there’s no mistaking that The Tragically Hip are the premier rock band of the Great White North. Look no further than the Hip’s Zoë/Rounder debut album, “In Violet Light” (released June 11).
Produced by Hugh Padgham (Sting, Genesis, David Bowie) and engineered by Terry Manning (Led Zeppelin, Lenny Kravitz, Shakira), the album builds on the group’s passion for music, from the reflective first single, “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken,” to the soaring “Silver Jet.”
Sinclair credits Padgham and Manning for setting the pace at Manning’s Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas last fall.
“What we set out to do in writing and recording the record was approach it as minimalistic as we could,” Sinclair said. “We set really strict timelines and guidelines, which forced us to really focus in on the material in advance of recording.
“The last three records we’ve done, we made at our own space, our own recording studio, which is a cool thing – it’s a great luxury to have your own studio, but with that luxury comes the tendency to be a little indulgent time-wise and studio-wise. We would work a couple of weeks and then take a couple weeks off, then go back in and tamper and put tracks on and take tracks away. Sometimes you can lose sight of the end goal.
“With ‘In Violet Light,’ we set out to say ‘We’re going to strip things way down; we’ll approach the writing and the recording like we would a live show,’ where we’re going to strip ourselves down to the essentials of the group. We started out in the middle of November and said, ‘Okay, we want to be finished tracking this record by Christmas time.’ Sometimes when you keep an eye on an end-goal like that, you can reach greater heights. It forced us to be a lot more prepared going in – have our songs together and our chops together.”
Padgham was really the ringleader of that approach, Sinclair says.
“He wanted to go back and make a minimalist sort of record,” he said. “It seems goofy to say an ‘old-fashioned’ kind of record when you’re going to 2-inch and 24-track stuff. Between him and Terry Manning, our engineer, we were in extremely capable hands. It was a great experience for us to defer to these guys.”
It didn’t hurt that Sinclair and his band mates – singer-guitarist Gordon Downie, guitarist Robby Baker, drummer Johnny Fay and guitarist-vocalist Paul Langlois – could soak up the Caribbean sun, instead of the bitterly cold Canadian winter.
“If you’re Canadian and you’re going to go somewhere in November, January and February … well, it was a toss-up between Reykjavik (Iceland) and Nassau,” Sinclair said, laughing. “I think we jumped on the right bandwagon. Compass was a very welcoming environment, very comforting, and hopefully that translated onto the grooves of the record.
“It was important for us to get away from home to make this record and get into an environment where the seven of us, including Hugh and Terry, were living, breathing and eating this record.”
“That has come with the luxury of time, being together as long as we have,” Sinclair said. “We’ve been able to focus inwards on our own creativity, our own music, and given the time to develop. We’ve been able to explore different sides of our individual creativity and put the band’s stamp on that and develop our own sound.
“We also have a very solid, supportive fan base and good support from our record companies to allow us to indulge ourselves and see what we can make when we slap on the guitars and get going.”
Even after nearly two decades, it’s still fun – even life on the road, Sinclair says.
“At the end of the day, it’s still creatively very rewarding, very satisfying for us individually to be part of this collective,” he said. “We have a lot of laughs when we get together. It’s a different process every time we get together to write and record a record, and ultimately it’s very creatively, stimulating. We’re still mystified by the process, even though we’ve been together and doing it for so long. That keeps you coming back for more.
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘Killer’ by Alice Cooper – you know, the one with ‘Under My Wheels’ and ‘You Drive Me Nervous.’ It was vintage Cooper; an awesome record. Probably right around the same time, I picked up ‘Not Fragile’ by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I still have those records, and my kids are fortunately getting old enough now that I can bring out my turntable and spin them.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Like most young Canadian men, I went to see Rush at our local hockey rink. It’s like a real rite of passage to save up your paper-route money to go see those guys fire it up. They’re just an incredible band, and as a Canadian musician, that’s a group that we all always look forward to. Those guys built and paved the road that all Canadian bands have traveled on since.. They’re still totally inspiring to me; they’ve always done the right thing – the integrity of the group and the integrity of the music. They have so much character. No one was happier than me and the other guys in our band to see them bounce back after the tragedies of the last few years and to put out a new record, which I think really rocks. My hat’s off to those guys.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I worked at an ice cream parlor. I used to dread sunny, hot days, because when I would come into work, customers would already be lined up outside the door. At the end of the shift, I’d come back caked in ice cream. It really took the fun out of something I loved to eat.”
ON THE WEB: www.thehip.com.
BWF (before we forget): The Tragically Hip album discography – “The Tragically Hip” (MCA, 1987); “Up to Here” (1989); “Road Apples” (1991); “Fully Completely” (1993); “Day for Night” (Atlantic, 1995); “Trouble at the Henhouse” (1996); “The Live Between Us” (MCA, 1997); “Phantom Power” (Sire, 1998); “Music @ Work” (2000); “In Violet Light” (Zoë/Rounder, 2002).
More updates: Fall Out Boy, Depeche Mode, Echosmith, Yann Tiersen, The Searchers, etc
More updates: Avalon, Tami Neilson, Beach Slang, BRKN Love, Mary J. Blige, Bing Crosby, Change, etc