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Tuesday, November 5, 1996

The fans interview the Hip


Q. I had the opportunity to hear a song called "Get Back Again", which I think was recorded at some CBC session. From what I've been told it was written by Gord Sinclair. Is this true? Also, what ever happened to this great song? Everyone I know who has heard it has fallen in love with it.

A. Get Back Again is a great song, and Paul and Gord recorded it at CBC with Murray McLauchlan and his band. I have always loved that song and have wanted to put it on a record for a long time. However, you probably like it because the other three of us are not on it. - JF

Q. This question is for anyone, but Paul L. and Bobby B. may be best to handle it.

Let me just start off by saying I am huge fan (of course, why else would I be doing this).

OK, now to the question. I play guitar, and in figuring out myself and from other people the Hip's music, I noticed that many of the songs from Up To Here all the way to Trouble At The Henhouse use the chords of B and A a lot. Is this just an unconscious selection of these chords, personal preferences (I like to use G and C a lot myself), or does Gord prefer to sing in the key of B and A a lot?

A. A song's key is often a matter of accommodating the vocals and instrumental ranges. Till the 60's, B flat and E flat were the common keys (to accommodate the horn and wind instruments). Guitarists tend to favour keys which use open strings (for their particular timbre) as well as their potential as drones.

Your question made me look back at our oeuvre to see if B and A are very prominent. It didn 't strike me that way. I was more surprised by the number of C sharp and F sharp songs. - RB

Q. Many bands these days have changed their sound drastically. Two acts, both large influences on the "Alternative" scene - U2 and REM - have both put out albums (Achtung Baby and Zooropa respectively) in which the sound of the music is a definitive change from previous work.

The often heard complaint about the Tragically Hip is that they do not seem to progress from album to album, keeping the same sound and not progressing musically (note, I am referring simply to the music, NOT the lyrics). Has the band ever thought of drastically changing their sound?

A. Like I wrote earlier, we've always approached things one song at a time, trying to write and record music that reflects where we're at as people and musicians.

It has to move us and, hopefully, will reflect our natural growth as songwriters. We've never consciously written with any other motivation.

Now that we have more time to devote to recording and writing there are greater opportunities for experimentation, but it all comes back to what the individual song requires to move us. That's the basic approach.

For every person that says our sound has stayed the same over the years there will be another who finds the evolution of the band from album to album unsettling. It's all a matter of personal taste, the response that your music evokes. How do you attempt to anticipate such a personal thing? You just try to let the music reflect where you are at and hope that it means something to those outside the group as well. Thanks for listening, though. - GS

Q. The Hip once payed a tune that I think was called "Past." Has this song ever gone past the jam stages?

A. I think I know the tune you re referring to. It didn't really become a song - yet. - PL

Q. How would you (the Hip) explain the style of music that you all play. Some say that it's a touch of jazz blues with rock.

A. I'd say we re a peppy little five piece combo of eclectic/post - modern/experimental traditionalists, or maybe a jazz/blues/raga/roots/rock band with a heavy metal/folk/rap sensibility. - RB

Q. I read somewhere that Gord wrote the song "Put It Off" from the new album, but then I read somewhere else that Bobby wrote the song for his new baby.

Which one is right?

A. Gord wrote it. - Band


Q. Which is your (Hip's) favourite album, lyrically, musically, most fun?

A. The latest record is my favorite, more for the way it was recorded than for anything else. We re in a position now that we can produce ourselves in our own studio over a longer period of time, and all that allows for a more satisfying creative experience.

I like all our records the same, they bring back a lot of memories and in each case I think they go a long way to reflect where we were at the time. It's like looking at old pictures of yourself, sometimes it's great, sometimes it's funny and sometimes you wonder what the hell you were thinking about at the time. - GS

Trouble At The Henhouse is my favorite in all three of those categories. - PL

The next one. - RB & GD

Q. Hey guys. What are some great books that you've read?

A. We have all read a lot of books. Books are good, television is bad. Among my personal faves are Bruce Chatwin's Songlines and Daniel Quinn's Ishmael. - GS

Whale Music, Being There, Armies of the Night. I don 't know, lots. - PL

A River Sutra by Gita Mehta, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, Not Wanted on The Voyage by Timothy Findley, Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse - RB

Vladamir Nabakov - Laughter in the Dark - JF

Q. A lot of bands are doing covers. If you had to pick only three songs, which ones would you cover?

Oh, and if you were going to cover an Elvis Costello song, which one would it be?

A. This is a really tough question to answer. We toy with the idea of pulling out cover songs every time we tour, but it's really tough to come up with a consensus within the band as to what we should play. Last summer we were doing Gordon Lightfoot's Summerside of Life because it felt so right. If the guys gave me the choice unilaterally, I'd love to play Iggy's Lust for Life (did you know that it came out prior to Trainspotting?) or something like Dead dog On The Highway or Circle Circle by the Sons Of Freedom. No reason, just really cool tunes that we could rip up live. I'd probably give you a different answer on any given day. Elvis Costello has written so many great songs it's tough for me to choose. I can 't really hear us doing justice to anything he's written. - GS

If I knew, I'm sure we'd do a couple of covers. Love Elvis Costello, but again, don't know which tune we d do. - PL

Black Day In July, Summerside Of Life & Endless Wire by Gordon Lightfoot and Almost Blue by Elvis Costello - RB

North Window - from It's Sydney or the Bush by the Inbreds, Tokyo - Bruce Cockburn, To Cry About from Miss America by Mary Margaret O Hara, It Wouldn't Make Any Difference from Something/Anything by Todd Rundgren - GD

One? No! - This Year's Girl from This Year's Model and Watch Your Step from Trust - GD

Q. Often, there is a comparison made between the Hip and R.E.M. in terms of similarities in music, lyrics, and attitude in the music world (both band's failure to "sell out"), and I wonder if the band has any comment on that - if they have been influenced at all by R.E.M., or see any similarities between what they do and what R.E.M., arguably the most influential American band around nowadays, do.

Specifically, I wonder if they realize the similarity between the name of the new album, Trouble At The Henhouse, and a song off R.E.M.'s 1987 album Document, "Disturbance at the Heron House".

As well, someone commented that "Electrolite", off of R.E.M.'s new album, sounds musically very much like the Hip, and that Michael Stipe sounds very much like Gord Downie is singing it - have they heard the song, and if so, do they agree with the comparison?

A. Comparisons are odious, but if you hear it or see it, fine. Influence is hard to measure, and inspiration comes in all shapes. I've always liked R.E.M. because, like so many things I like, they exude a warmth; I like to think that we do too. - GD

Q. How does The Tragically Hip feel about other bands playing their music? Some bands actually go as far as to dress up and act out similar on-stage personalities.

In some ways it must be quite flattering that people enjoy theie music that much as to go that far, but sometimes cover-bands just look like they are looking for an easy way to get well-known.

Also was the Tragically Hip ever a cover-band. Rumour has it they were a "Doors" cover-band in the early Kingston days.

A. I don't really have a problem with bands covering our material at all. If it's done in moderation it can be flattering.

However, I've never been a fan of the tribute band genre at all, let alone those who pin themselves down to doing exclusively Hip material.

When we first started playing in and around Kingston we did a broad spectrum of cover material, a lot of which was really obscure, so that we could re-interpret songs without the risk of getting compared unfavourably to the original. It worked well for us in that, over time, we were able to develop our own style. It also allowed us to slip in our original material under the guise of an obscure Stones B-side and not piss off the promoters. You have to remember that this was 1985/86, back when original material was anathema to the good tavern owners of South-Eastern Ontario.

These days, with the growth of the independent scene and the ever increasing number of great young bands, I can't imagine why anyone would want to stifle their own creativity by playing only one other band's material, our's or anyone else's. If it meant that an original band couldn't get a gig because the local Hip cover band drew more people and sold more beer, that would indeed be tragic. - GS

The fans interview the Hip continued




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