The Hip is Still Cool: Canadian rock band returns to the road after hiatus
You’d be hard pressed to find a more popular band north of the border than Canadian rockers The Tragically Hip, who started topping the charts shortly after forming in 1983. The band has just issued Now for Plan A, its first studio effort in three years, and we spoke to guitarist Paul Langlois for a feature we’re writing for a weekly paper. Now we’re sharing more of our conversation.
So what has the band been up to for the past three years?
We finished up touring our last record maybe two-and-a-half or three years ago, took a break and then just started writing the next record. That’s our style. We started and stopped recording a couple of times and we didn’t feel like we were there. We wanted to try something different. So we brought in a new producer, Gavin Brown, and we lost a year there.
How did he change the dynamic?
He’s very enthusiastic and he’s a big presence and a big character. I think he lightened the mood and it gave us what has worked before for us, which is basically an impartial judge with better ears who can break ties and that kind of thing. We liked the way he worked and he brought some good vibes.
How did that contribute to the sonic quality?
I think the process contributed a lot. We were writing and recording in our own studio where we’ve been off and on for a number of months. He suggested we go to a place in Toronto. By the time he suggested that and we were ready to go, we knew the songs really well. We could play them consistently and evenly. The process took 11 or 12 days and was all very quick. It’s very much us playing live and recording it. He has some modern-ish sensibilities like we do.
It seems like it’s a bit more aggressive, but maybe that’s the live quality.
I think that’s true. I think it’s us sort of with a bit of a forward lean because we know the songs well. That’s what happens with us. The more we know a song, the more we lean it forward.
What do you anticipate the new tour’s set list will be like?
Good question. We’re in the middle of that now. Certainly we’ll play some new songs. We like to change it up over the years. As we go there is more and more to choose from. We’ll get together early next week and see if there are any songs from our past that we’ve been ignoring or not playing enough and maybe rest a few others. It’s hard to say right now but we’ll keep it changing.
Do you change it for the States?
I don’t think so. It depends on the night and the particular tour and time frame. Certainly the sets we’ve been playing now would be different from three or four years ago. The venues are bigger here in general. We just did a bunch of festival-type gigs in the summer this past year and we would lean more toward our better-known songs if we’re playing to huge crowds, just to play what they know. As the venues get smaller, we might experiment a little bit more.
The further we go, the more we appreciate what we have.
What has kept the band going for this long?
I think we work at it and we work at being friends and trying to be nice to each other and that keeps a band together. We share everything equally and that’s another key. Were all from the same place and the same high school and that helps. Whenever we have a downswing in mood, we work at it and try to get us to work together. The further we go, the more we appreciate what we have.
What has the major label push in the States been like?
We certainly bounced around to quite a few different labels, certainly in the early years. We were one of those next big bands. We knew that wasn’t realistic. It didn’t feel like there was a connection with the masses or even a vehicle in which to try out a connection with the masses. We had some songs that were played on radio stations but we were not paid attention to by your national magazines like Rolling Stone. National exposure was something we never had. We weren’t going to not play in the States. There are so many cities to play in. We have a good word-of-mouth thing going in the states . . . Every city is a different story for us and we’ve built ourselves up from nobody to somebody.
Canadians must appreciate that they can see the band at smaller venues.
It’s a good night out and a lot of Canadians are homesick and they’re happy to see a Canadian band playing somewhere and it’s a good excuse to get together.
Cleveland, OH House of Blues
Chicago, IL Riviera Theatre
Rochester, NY Auditorium Theatre
Portland, ME The State Theatre
Boston, MA House of Blues
New York, NY Terminal 5
Washington, DC 9:30 Club
Philadelphia, PA Theatre of the Living Arts
Clifton Park, NY Upstate Concert Hall
Syracuse, NY Landmark Theatre
Salamanca, NY Seneca Allegany Casino
Detroit, MI The Fillmore
Minneapolis, MN Mill City Nights
Fargo, ND Fargo Theatre
Billings, MT Babcock Theater
Spokane, WA Knitting Factory Concert House
Seattle, WA The Showbox
Portland, OR Wonder Ballroom
San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
West Hollywood, CA House of Blues
Anaheim, CA House of Blues
Las Vegas, NV House of Blues