The Tragically Hip – Interview [2000]

The Tragically Hip

The record came out and debuted at number one across Canada, only to be knocked off by Eminem. I didnt know rap was that big in Canada.

Hes big everywhere. Even in my neighborhood, people are driving around in cars blasting rap.

Are rap and hip-hop getting bigger in Canada? The rap and hip-hop scene to me doesnt seem to exist or has not. I cant even name one Canadian rapper or known hip-hop group.

Yeah, I would say so. You never used to hear it in Canada being played. There is this guy called Micro Fresh West, but now hes just called Mistro. Hes been around since the 80s trying to do his thing and getting progressively bigger. Then there is Snow. Have you heard of him?

Oh, yeah.

Hes Canadian. He from Toronto. Its weird the way


Right on!

What is the bands thought on the new live material?

Were liking it a lot. Were able to do quite a cross-section of tunes. We have recorded a collection of eighty songs in our career. The real pressure is on Gord Sinclair (bassist).

I was going to ask you who prepares the set list, because its different every night.

Gord Sinclair is busy at work right now as we speak. This type of show for us tonight is new because we are playing two sets. We will play, then take a break, then play another set.

I like that the band is hosting an evening with The Tragically Hip because there are so many great live songs to pick from. Is this a whole tour with just The Hip or will you bring other bands aboard?

It will be just us the whole tour in the States and even in Canada. We did this because we want to make this tour interesting for us. We can sort of push into songs we have not played in a long time, which is good for us because we get a lot of old requests from fans.

During the beginning of the summer tour, the band invited Chris (Brown) and Kate Fenner to join you onstage and they are on again for this tour. Musically on stage it seems that there is chemistry.

It was a nice time on the last tour and seemed to work well for everyone.

Not too many people know the talents of Chris and Kate. (They used to be in a very popular band from Toronto called Bourbon Tabernacle Choir.) How far back does your friendship go?

When we growing in Kingston, they used to tour through our town in Kingston and came to the pubs and played. They have been around for a long time and have toured relentlessly over the years. Then I think we hooked up with them along the way by playing some shows in New York and just coming out and hanging out at gigs. They have been doing the solo thing for the last few years and have put out a couple records.

Whats interesting about the recent live shows is I thought Chris and Kate would join the band for couple of songs here and there but theyre up onstage the whole night. Especially the newer songs that have female vocals

It just sort of unfolded that way. I think in that type of relationship, I think its better just to see how it goes and go slow.

Picking up on playing live, one thing I have noticed about the band is that sometimes it seems the band feeds off Gord (Downie, lead singer) and other times Gord feeds off the bands jam.

I think that says a lot about our relationship as a band and on the road for touring as long as we have and knowing each other. Gord (Downie) definitely keeps you on your toes at all times. If he sees something going on with the audience, he will not hesitate to stop if someone is getting crushed, which we all agree with because something is going wrong. The jams themselves just seem to take on a life of their own.

Onstage it seems the band is pushing one another to achieve a moment or to develop a new song.

Absolutely. Its critical as a band because thats how you get your legs as a live band.

The band is pretty critical to the music. The band is constantly listening to past shows and sound checks. What are you looking for?

To be quite honest, we used to do that a lot more than we do now. We stopped listening to our sound checks when our crew would all leave and go to the back of the bus. (laughs) So for their sake and ours, we stopped. We were just listening to our sound and how we sounded live coming off a stage. I have heard bands being really critical to their live sound by saying, At this point we have to do this or that. At this point, we really do not want to be like that. Every night for us is different. For other bands who use that approach, I think they are trying to get to a certain level with their sound because they play the same songs every night. That would bore us to tears.

With Music @ Work it seems the band has finally found its niche, going from Trouble At The Henhouse to Phantom Power. What contributes to that?

I think its the sound of the house. All three of those records, funny enough, were all done in our studio in Bathouse. Its a place we all feel every comfortable with and bought it with the intent to specifically record in, experiment, and to experiment with recording sound in different rooms of the house.

I like the texture of the sound vibe and production of Trouble At The Henhouse. Its very live sounding and rich.

Henhouse for us was a lot of fun to make. We bought the house and just made the record. We did not have anyone looking over our shoulders; it was just the five of us in the studio, and Stephen Drake, who we brought in for this record as well. We have sort of checked in with friends like Stephen Drake, Don Smith, and Steve Berlin along the way to sort of put in their two cents.

What impact did those mentioned have on this record?

I think we just picked up where we left off with Steve Berlin, in a good way, friendship wise. Hes a great guy, wonderful ideas for sound, and he will go for something different. If he is not satisfied, hell stay up all night racking his brain for you. Some producers just check in and out, but Steve is very dedicated to music. Plus, hes a great musician and that has a lot to do with his skills as well. Steve Drake, another great musician, songwriter, and guitar player, he knows more about sound, actual technical sound, than most people. Mixing, you have to have patience. I was at the house and I was going to try to mix something because I figured, how hard could that be? Essentially, being a mixing engineer is like driving a titanic ship and also being the ships five star chef for five thousand people, and you are going between the two. He would mix a tune fifteen, sixteen hours straight, and he knew what he wanted to do with the song and when he wanted to put it to bed. Its always fun to hang around Stephen and catch his energy because he moves to a completely different pace, in a good way. He makes you sit back and listen. Later you are saying to yourself, Now I hear it.

Gord (Donwie) has proven to be a great songwriter with style that can be humorous or poetic. Has the band ever had trouble adjusting to his lyrics? Every time The Hip puts an album out, it takes me a listen or two to adapt to the lyrics because Gord is a pretty complex dude.

No, it does not come about that way. Well play a song and Gord will scat where he has a memo pad and books laid out in front of him and well play a song to start developing the structure. Gord will say, I like when you guys go to the E, I can sing this over it. I would not say that theres a formula for us.

How is Gords solo project coming along?

I think its finished. He worked with Stephen Drake who engineered the project. It should be very interesting.

Did he hit a creative spur where he felt like it was time to release a solo project?

If you only played with one group of people your whole entire life, that could be pretty boring. Gord has a bunch of friends in Toronto, he lives in Toronto, and a lot of musicians, Gord hooks up with them and I think Gord wants to work with many different people. I think the timing was just there and he was able to do it. I think its going to be very cool. I know the drummer is unbelievable, Dave Clark from the Rheostatics and his friend Josh from Skydiggers, really cool guys.

For the band, is it a goal to release an album every two years? Or is it just a sign of the times?

We try to. I think we just get restless and get bored of being on the road, so we go write and record, then we get bored of being in the studio and want to get out and play in front of people. We have been doing this for so long that we are not one of these bands that can stand eighteen months out on the road. I think maybe when we were younger we were better, hungry, lazier, and smarter.

Speaking of releasing albums, I just want to get your comment on what happened with the whole Napster situation with the band. I know that someone downloaded Music @ Work in advance and was trying to auction it off.

When youre in a band you hear people ask you, Do you listen to your music? I personally do not after its released. When a record comes out for the every first time or we have just finished recording, there is a two-week period where you sit back and listen to and self-critique it. Its a gold time for an artist because just to listen to the record and reflect, That was a great song, or That was a great moment on the record, or I could have played that better. That was stolen from us. The record came out just when Napster was starting to get big it seems. I go back to Stewart Copeland, one of my favorite drummers and still is, from The Police. If The Police ever place anything out and I had a way of getting it, I would. I remember going into a record store and bugging this guy when the new record was coming out every day. (laughs) The guy would be like, No six more weeks, then eight days, I just kept bugging the guy. If I had access to Napster at the time, I would have certainly downloaded it or ripped off something to get access to it. I would have certainly broken into his store to steal it. (laughs) I would! Yet, I would have bought a copy of the record to see the artwork, concert tickets, and t-shirts. I know there are huge fans of our band and I have a friend who has said he has downloaded songs and still went out and bought the record. I think people who are downloading our stuff still come to the show. When Napster or whoever starts counterfeiting tickets, thats when we should start getting worried about the whole. The whole thing really does not upset me. There are two schools of thought on this: one, when I first heard of the incident, I was furious, but I placed myself as the other and I thought I would have probably done the same thing. My computer is so slow that I cannot download everything

Yes, but there are people out there in the computer world who have access to fast computers and know what they are doing. Now its a copyright issue.

I think the guy who is shitting his pants more than anyone is George Lucas, because now they have these huge digital cameras and they are crystal clear. If someone got a hold of that, it would hit Japan before he does the final edit. I mean, cassettes have always been around and people have made recording tapes and making cassettes for along time. I really do not have any solutions.

For this Canadian tour, the band is setting out to hit some new unreached venues. Whats on the schedule?

I have not seen the final draft of it, but when we get into Ontario, BC, and Calgary and Red Deer, well get into some nice five thousand seat arenas, many of which are brand new. Whats good is that the smaller arenas are good sounding acoustically which keeps our crew happy.

Were there any thoughts of doing another Roadside Attraction this past summer?

We wanted to take some time off and it just did not fit into our schedule. We were going to Europe, and its probably a good thing we did not set it up because of the bad weather we had this summer.

Where did the band play in Europe?

We played in some clubs that we did like four nights. We have not been there since Trouble At The Henhouse.

Whats your biggest audience in Europe?

We do well in Belgium and Holland. We pack two thousand seat theaters in London, England.

Many bands from Europe have said over the past few years that they really dig The Hip more than any North American band.

A band from Wales, The Stereophonics, are friends of ours and they are a great band.

Performance And Cocktails is a wonderful record. Why did you not hook up with them?

Well, we were supposed to, but together our schedules did not work out. We were ready to go out on the road and they were heading into the studio at the time.

The band just played The War Child benefit for eighty thousand people. Its good to see that the bands success can bring people together to raise awareness for a good cause.

There is a young lady, Samantha Nutt, who lives in Ottawa, came down to our show in New York City on July 1st and pitched us on the idea. Shes got more balls than anyone I have ever met. She goes into these war-torn countries and goes in a helicopter with snipers around her to check on kids in these tents to make sure they have food and medicine. Its really unbelievable the stories she had to pitch the idea onto us. I think we raised a million dollars in Canadian funds for the children. We get flooded all the time with demands to do benefit shows.

Wrapping things up, any word on another live record?

I do not know. We just signed a deal with Bootleg TV (, where you can download live shows, but Im unsure about that. Robert Fripp of King Crimson is in charge of the whole thing and hes just rounding up bands. I do not know how the whole Pearl Jam live record thing is going, but I think it takes the beauty way from bootlegging. I have bootlegs that I love to death.

+larry sarzyniak