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Don’t tell me what this poet’s been doing PDF Print E-mail
Written by MAYAN FREEBORN   
Wednesday, 15 September 2010 15:22

Gordon Downie makes his way across Canada for his solo tour

As a performer, Gordon Downie is known for acting wild on stage, but that reputation may change with the release of his third solo album.

The Tragically Hip’s frontman has enjoyed a lengthy and successful career as a Canadian rock star, but his work away from the band has been more reserved, both on record and in front of crowds.

Gordon Downie, frontman of the Tragically Hip, released his third solo album and has hit the road with the Country Of Miracles.
Photo courtesy of Gordon Downie

Before the release of Downie’s first solo album, Coke Machine Glow in 2001, the Tragically Hip had eight albums under their belts and 11 Juno Awards, including Group of the Year for 1995 and 1997, Canadian Entertainer of the Year in 1991 and 1993, and Best Rock Album for 1998’s Phantom Power.


Initially, when Coke Machine Glow first appeared, a book of Downie’s poetry under the same title was sold along with it. As a result, the book became one of the best-selling volumes of poetry by a Canadian writer. The album itself was a collection of spoken word pieces mixed in with minimalist rock and country influences.

After the Tragically Hip released In Violet Light, Downie came out with his second solo album Battle of the Nudes in 2003, which was more accessible than its predecessor and contained songs based in garage rock and folk-rock.

It wasn’t until after the Tragically Hip made three more albums – In Between Evolution (2004), World Container (2006) and We Are the Same (2009) – and compiled the career-spanning box set Hipeponymous, that Downie would put together his third studio album, The Grand Bounce, which was released this past June.

Chris Walla, the guitarist from Death Cab for Cutie, produced the record, which contains Downie’s usual mix of storytelling and abstract poetry over upbeat pop-rock with country undertones, courtesy of his regular backing band, the Country of Miracles.

Before he hits the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Oct. 4, The Calgary Journal caught up with Downie to discuss The Grand Bounce and his solo career.

Calgary Journal: How has tour gone so far?

Gordon Downie: It’s been sort of a country western tour this summer. It’s been festivals right done on the weekends, sort of here or there. Just done about 13 festivals and it’s been very disparate -- a folk fest here, a blues fest there, a rock fest. I finished one in Hamilton, at Gage Park, right downtown, there was like 30,000 people. It was really fantastic.

CJ: What do you get from playing festivals instead of a regular marquee show?

GD: Uncertainty…a thrill of the unknown. You go and go with these things…. It’s a “clustercuss,” to quote Fantastic Mr. Fox. But that’s what keeps you coming back…. I don’t water ski, but it’s kind of like starting out of the water as opposed to on the dock. A five-to-six-piece rock band [has to get] up onto its knees then onto its feet and then walking and then running. And at the festival you hope to get running by the first chorus or the first song. It’s a challenge…. The people are outside and music just tastes better outside.

We’re coming indoors in September. I think this will allow us to get in touch on more of our material. The other difference with festivals is that you kind of do songs that are more bombast or [have] bigger requirements. Going indoors, we’re going to be able to stretch things out and touch on songs that might not work on a festival stage. I look forward to something even more fluid, agile and nimble.

CJ: How are your solo shows different compared to the Tragically Hip shows?

GD: You’ll just have to come and see. It’s all about passion.... It’s all about playing music…. The simple answer is I play guitar most the night…that’s something I really enjoy is playing electric guitar. A five-year-old from Mars could say the same thing: playing electric guitar is thrilling; it’s like riding a jet…. The [Tragically Hip] is a different thing.

CJ: Why such a long time between The Grand Bounce and The Battle Of The Nudes?

GD: I did a couple of [Tragically Hip] records in that time…. It was kind of a concentrated, intense three or four years and I kind of knew it would be. [The Tragically Hip] made three records in that time. But it was a fast moving vection in time and when I came out of the first [Tragically Hip] record I met Chris Walla at the Pemberton Festival and started thinking about a solo record after that…just chatting with him about things and possibilities…. I didn’t go chasing it down.

CJ: Do you get a lot of your inspiration for your lyrics from books?

GD: Sure and from conversations…getting up too early in the morning and looking out over the lake. I mean, everything is just asking to be written about or being lyrics in a song…. In every way, shape and form, I love writing so much. Writing is like a dream.

CJ: Do you feel that you had to make this album and your other solo albums because you had to let something out that you couldn’t let out in the Tragically Hip?

GD: No. Not that simple. We’re here to create things; we’re not here to inspire pity. We’re here to create and make things. It’s what I do and what I love to do. Making the stuff is the thrill. Putting it out is a whole different story, and that’s a whole other machine required to release and distribute records, to market and promote them. But the impulse to make them is always true. It’s always a true one.

CJ: What’s keeping you with the Tragically Hip? Why not go on your own completely?

GD: Because I love them.