Tom Power Interviews Tragically Hip, May 31st, 2021
CBC Music in the Studio at The Juno’s with Tom Power and The Tragically Hip from downtown Toronto, The Dish With One Spoon Territory, which is a Friendship Treaty between the Anishinaabe, the Mississauga’s and Haudenosaunee peoples, as it binds them to share the territory ad protects them. Treaties across the country invite all Canadians ad newcomers in meaningful relationships with the first peoples and in the spirit of peace friendship and respect. The guys sitting in front of me need no introduction at all. They are simply put, one of the finest bands this country has ever produced. They began as 5 buddies from Kingston, Ontario, and cut their teeth in bars and clubs and before you know it they became fixtures on the radio, Much Music, and headlined arenas around the country, and more importantly, soundtracked the most important moments in our lives. With well over 11 million people tuning in across Canada and this weekend they will be honored with the Humanitarian Award at the Junos presented by Rock Icons and fellow Juno Humanitarian Award recipients, the legendary Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of RUSH, for their continued dedication to charities and humanitarian causes. They surprised everyone a couple of weeks ago with a brand new album, ‘Saskadelphia.‘ This interview with Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair, and Rob Baker in the studio with q‘s Radio Personality, Tom Power, was simply emotionally historical.
TOM POWER: “I got thinking about how we are going to do this, and I figured the best way to do it was to talk a little about the last time we saw you, and talk a little about now that we are seeing you, and hearing you, and we can talk a little about the next time we are gonna see ya.” He goes on to say, “we can start off with the last time I saw you guys all on stage together, it was, of course, your last concert in Kingston. We’ll start with you Johnny, what do you remember about that night? “
JOHNNY: “Well for me, I was talking to somebody the other day about it and it was a little like being in a spaceship, we were all in that room together, everyone was observing what was going on. It was a pretty heavy moment. You still gotta play the gig and we still gotta go over the songs in your brain but, there were moments that were totally crazy and then moments where we were just playing our last notes as a band, and soak it in. I really love that a lot of people come up and I think for the rest of my life I’ll have those stories about where people were in the country on that night, so that’s really cool, I love that .”
TOM: – Paul how bout you, what do you remember from that night, as an interesting point that Johnny made, as at some point you just also have to play a gig in addition to dealing with all these emotions in addition to dealing with all this attention?
PAUL: “a Big upside was we had played 14 shows already, and it was the last one of that tour, because of Gord’s health. We did a show day then a day off, the whole way through. So we were well oiled, and feeling confident together. That particular day, you know it’s in Kingston, I don’t live too far away, I went early, to kinda hang out and I just found myself full of dread. Thinking awe this is heavy, I really wasn’t looking forward to it, remembering in soundcheck, Gord Downie arrived, and we were talking, and he said, “you know what, I’m not nervous, and I’m really looking forward to it, you know this is going to be really cool.” That kinda changed my perspective, and kinda took that weight off my midsection, and I started looking forward to it. We didn’t even notice all the extra cameras, and stuff going on but, we didn’t really notice because we were focused on the show. It was a long set, a little longer than normal. So we just really had to get inside it, and once we started playing, it felt like a great show. We were into it, and we kept hearing there were a lot of people at Market Square, just a couple of blocks away, so leaving after the show, I asked the guy driving the van if he could swing by the Market Square. I just feel lucky to have been a part of it, and it was a night that meant a lot to a lot of people. Kind of feeling of luckiness, and just happiness for Gord that he was able to achieve that.”
TOM: – I remember that last image of you guys on stage with your arms around each other with Gord in the middle, and it sorta is burned into my brain, the image of that night. Rob, what was it like after when you went backstage?
ROB: – “It was pretty surreal, the whole thing was surreal for me. I’m good at compartmentalizing my emotions, and I tried as much as possible to treat it like just another day at the office because we had a job to do. Then when it was over I sat down and had a really nice conversation with Gord where we chatted for about 20 minutes, it was very kind, quiet, and tender. Then, the workday is over, clean out your desk, and go home there’s, no gold watch, and away you go, you’re done. Now I am retired, and you go home thinking you can deal with all this but, it got pretty weird for me, I was messed up after the fact. I thought it was good going into it, and when it was all done I thought it was good but, it got hard. TOM: – How do you mean? ROB: – “Well, you know if you suppress all your grief or anger or whatever, you bottle it all up it’s going to come out sometime and it gets messy.”
TOM: – Gord, what were you feeling after the concert, the day after the concert, and sort of immediately after the concert?
GORD: – “It was really surreal. I was glad in retrospect, that it was in Kingston because my whole day was occupied by so many friends, and family coming in from out of town, that I didn’t have a lot of time to start worrying, or thinking about it, or conceiving that it was the last time that we were going to play. I was fortunate that I had a lot of people staying with me, and it was a couple of days later that you always get that relief, a feeling of being home at the end of a tour, and it’s a really good feeling, yet it really began to sink in you know. We started off the whole tour out in Victoria, really not knowing we were going to get through the 1st show let alone the whole tour, and then by the time we got to Kingston, Gord would drop a line, and the crowd would sing along, you know HE got better, I honestly believe he got better and better, and the band got better and better. I just never wanted it to end, I really didn’t, and I still wish it wasn’t over. Then the emotions start kicking in, you realize.”
TOM: – Can someone tell me about the 1st gig the 1st Tragically Hip gig? Who remembers that?
ROB: – “The very 1st gig we ever played was in November in 1984, at the Kingston Artist Association, it was a Christmas party or end-of-term party for my Queens Fine Arts Class, and we did it at a local gallery artist space.”
TOM: – Johnny what do you remember?
JOHNNY: – “which is crazy if you open up the back door of that place, and throw a tennis ball, you could hit the K Rock Centre it’s that close.”
TOM: – Coming back to where you began. JOHNNY said, “exactly.”
ROB: – “it’s now the modern fuel gallery now. we played 3 sets, 12 songs in each set. 2 originals in each set 10 cover songs.“
TOM: – Did anything come from those first shows?
JOHNNY; -M ” Robby booked the gig, but he also tabled the name as we needed a name for the flyers, and 1 of the other names was The Bedspring Symphony Orchestra and The Tragically Hip, and we stand by our decision, it was a good last-minute change. “
TOM: – One thing that became really clear to all of us, while we watched the last show was what buddies you guys all are. A band is a band, and a band can be challenging and can drive you apart. I saw the closeness of ya’s when you were on stage together. Paul, can you talk a little about the importance of being friends in the Tragically Hip, and how that can sustain you as a band?
PAUL: – “I think it is the most important thing actually. I was best friends with Gord, I lived with Gord and Gord Sinclair, and we were already friends, and Robby and I were playing guitar here and there, so I was friends with him, and I saved Johnny from a dinosaur once. I was driving a cab, Johnny was running from something, and I saw him running on the street. So I pulled over and said, “get in”, “but i don’t have any money,” Johnny said. I said, “I don’t care.” So i think that helped secure his vote about getting Paul in the band or not. Johnny said, “oh ya, that guy saved me.” We operated like that the whole time. Our friendship was in the front of everything, it was important. Gord could not let things go if there was a weirdness, some kinda minor issue, or major he just had to clear the air, he had too, He taught us really probably more than we taught him about communication, and that kinda stuff. We looked after each other, it’s our biggest achievement, that we are still really good friends.“
TOMl –Let’s talk about the net time we are going to see you, on Sunday night at the Junos as The Tragically Hip are set to perform without Gord Downey for the 1st time, Feist will be taking the vocals. Gord, tell us how this came about to do this performance with Feist?
GORD: – “This possibility of playing the JUNOS was tabled a little while back, and frankly non of us were super-super interested we hadn’t played together and weren’t really interested in playing without Gord. Then Jake Gold our manager, suggested Feist might step into Gord’s shoes. It was really the first time collectively, we kinda all stopped for a minute, and said, “that s a pretty cool idea.” I think Gord would have really loved it, as we knew Leslie for an awfully long time. Her very first tour was with Divine and she was playing with Jose and the crew, and he got to know her well back then and really admired what she’s done. It just seemed like a really good idea, and yeah, I won’t give away what we played or anything but both Paul and John sort of independently of each other, suggested the same song and it just seemed like the cool right thing to do, at the right time for all of us you know. It was just a great 1st rehearsal like we kind of were pretty terrible the first run through and then by the second one, it all came back quickly, we kind of remembered how much we listened to each other. You know once we got the mouse nests out of our amps and stuff, literally in Paul’s case. ( laughter),
TOM – you had a mouse in your amp? Paul responded, “appartantely so.
TOM- Johnny I saw you not alone there, tell me how it felt when you started playing music again?
JOHNNY: “you mean with the guys, you mean rehearsing for this thing? Well, rehearsing, we went back to Bath and we were up in the rafters, at the back of the house where we had been 5 years earlier with Gord. I was sitting there with Robby and there was his exercise bike you know, right there. It’s that time of the year we would’ve been preparing for a Canadian Tour or going to the States, so just arriving, being the first there, and waiting for all the guys to show up, and Gord too, that was a very heavy moment. Gords brother Mike and Pat are very present in our lives now and that is a great comfort I find having them close by seeing that they are ok with things, and bouncing things off them, that is a big one for us. I think just being back in Bath, it was just very natural and it’s funny because the things, that one of the things that I miss the most is the creative process. Robbie and I were upstairs, he started playing a riff, that wasn’t in the song that we were playing, and I started to play with it, and it’s that creative thing that was just so much fun about The Hip you know. Even if we had a disagreement or something, we would always come together in the music as Paul said. You know, by the end of that day, we would be listening to it, and happy. So definitely made me very thankful for you know, very reflective, and thankful for what we have achieved.“
TOM: – Rob, it was pretty surprising, because I know when I, and I think you were the 1st member of the Hip that I talked to after Gord’s death, and you said to me, “I don’t know If I’m ever going to be able to do that again, you know to play these songs again, pick up the guitar again.” TOM – I understood it, you know a tremendous amount of grief, and we can talk a little about that. So I’m curious to hear you, Rob, man you went in there and you started playing this music again, how did you feel?
ROB: – “There was a lot that was lost you know, we lost our best friend, and you lose your job. I kinda felt like we lost the brotherhood as well. The best part of being in the band is you do everything together. You enjoy the good moments, the bad moments, great reviews, band reviews, you go through it together. We all went through Gord, grieving Gord separately as we went our separate ways and it was hard and I thought I’m retired, leaving it all behind and I couldn’t. I found the only way if i didn’t play my mind would fixate on stuff and I just have these things rolling around in my head and making me really miserable. So I just started going down in my studio and working and working and working just as a way of keeping all of that, all those thoughts at bay, keeping the voices quiet. So to actually get together and play with other people, and your best friends it’s pretty incredible as Johnny said, that you know we never r4eally rehearsed as a band it’s nothing we ever did. This get together with maybe the idea we were going to rehearse and then someone starts playing a riff or Johnny’s tuning up his drums and laying down a beat and someone starts to play and someone else joins in and it was almost that, it was just the jamming, the exploring, the creative avenue rather than just trying to get the songs tight. So when that you know, as Johnny was saying, when that happened that felt pretty good.”
TOM: – does this mean there are future touring? I mean anyone who wants to take this one, future touring, future gigs for The Hip?
ROB: – “\my bones are turning to powder, I don’t know, I don’t think I could do a week on a tour bus at this point in my life, I kind of feel like we’re done, you know. I would, I’ll plead Sean Connery on this one, and never say never, but playing gigs that’s one thing, but going on a tour I don‘t know. I kind of did that for 35 years of my life.“
JOHNNY: – “ya, it’s a pretty daunting thing. I mean the two hours of that day or as Gord Downey would say, are the gold and then the other 22, are just, you gotta put yourself out there. You’re missing a lot of stuff at home and you know some of them went on. There were a lot of things that were missed, there’s sort of a chapter that’s finished. um I would never say never, it was really fun to get together and play, it would be nice to get together and create again i don’t know.”
TOM: – you must have people Johnny like didn’t Dan Akroyd call you from my show? He said, ” The hip’s going to get back together, The Hip will go back on the road.” He said, “I’ll call them right now” and on the air, he called you to ask you that. So that must be happening a fair bit right ??? people asking you these questions?
PAUL: – “yeah, people asking about it, yeah. I mean we said we weren’t going to and now here we are playing with Leslie because that was such a curveball like in the best way, kind of like okay, so that’s not going to be some guy trying to sing like Gord of some guy trying not to sing like Gord, but this is a very specific scenario. We were getting the Humanitarian Award and the heat is on and as Gord was saying, it was like a no until Feist came up. Now, I mean, I think we’re all looking forward to Monday and this being behind us and getting back into our, yes as retired, but we are all doing our chipping away at our own little musical things. The consideration of us doing anything you know, besides backing that Italian singer that does Italian versions of Hip songs.” Johnny, “yeah, great versions.” Paul, ” it’s really interesting but is an amazing look at Toddy.” Rob- “I guess he was quite a popular singer and songwriter in Italy, and during the lockdown, he discovered the Hip and did a deep dive and went through the whole catalog. Then started posting these videos of him singing, the first one was Long Time Running then he did Good Life now he’s in-studio making an album of all Hip songs, saying Tragically Hip saved my life. So maybe a 3-week tour of Italy, (laughter) any reason to go to Italy.
JOHNNY: – “Manitoba was the very first place that we got on a plane as Jake got us tickets, and we went out to do Donnie Lalonde’s place, Corner Boys, where we were given a gig out there. We got on the plane and we went out with our gear in the back. That it was like, that’s one of the moments I was like, this is cool, were musicians, we are traveling and we’re a real band. We were out of province and we were treated like gold in Manitoba, the first little trip out there was amazing.”
TOM: – You all had that in common. You weren’t afraid of those cold bus tours.
JOHNNY: – “that was Jake setting that up and he’s really the architect for us, for our touring style because he would cut these deals with lighting and PA. Or when it was cheaper with bus guys, and there was not a lot of traffic out there. Tickets would go on sale in November so people could give these as Xmas presents and keeping the ticket price low, that was all Jake. ”
For the full 58 minutes interview with legendary Canadian iconic gems, The Tragically Hip, click the CBC Music’s Youtube link below, as this session was a beautiful up close and personal rare look into the minds that formed one of the most intriguingly successful bands of all time, you surely won’t want to miss a beat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTsm1fM59Lc