The Tragically Hip

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The Tragically Hip

Rock band

MCA Gets Hip, Thanks to EP

Continued Developing Sound

Selected discography


According to the Los Angeles Timess Bill Locey, the Tragically Hip have long been the biggest band in Canada, where they have won lots of awards and sold even more albums. And although it is not necessarily every Canadian bands goal to be big in America, critics there wonder why the Hip is not more successful in the United States. Gannett News Services Daniel Aloi, for example, remarked that the band, long considered the most popular and beloved band in Canada, are still something of an anomaly to many Americans. His opinion?: It cant be their musichard-edged, emotional and carefully wrought songs with as much appeal as any current stateside alternative act. The five-man band produces loud but melodic rock music, with Gordon Downies emotional lyrics riding out a deep and roiling musical sea.

The members of the Tragically HipBobby Baker, Gordon Downie, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, and Gord Sinclairwent to high school together in Kingston, Ontario, which is about three hours east of Toronto. Although some of the members had known each other much longer, they mark their year of formation as 1986. Since all the clubs in town had nothing but cover bands, the Hip wanted to provide a suitable soundtrack to hang out with their friends and drink beer, according to Locey. They played their first gig at the Kingston Artists Association.

The name of the band was taken from music video pioneer and former Monkee, Michael Nesmiths video called Elephant Parts. The video contained a clip asking for contributions to The Foundation for the Tragically Hippoor, afflicted people in need of jacuzzis, Lambo-rghinis, and cocaine. The band thought that was very clever. According to guitarist Baker, We thought our musical taste was far too sophisticated to be successful, he told Musicians Jon Young. In Canada, people loved the name, but when we came to the U.S., everyone hated it. One of the worst names in the annals of rock history, said a critic.

MCA Gets Hip, Thanks to EP

The band self-released a six-song EP entitled The Tragically Hip in 1987. On hearing that record in 1988, MCA Records quickly signed on the Hip. Up to Here, the bands first full-length album, was released in 1989. Charles Foran of Saturday Night wrote that Up to Here, their 1989 breakthrough album, was happily mired in the pathology of an unnamed Kingston The album is full of tales of hard-luck Kingston lives. It remains perhaps the most popular recording with fans.

Both Up to Here and 1991s Road Apples contained some pretty hard rockor fist-pumping riff-rock, opined the Los Angeles View. The American Statesman music critic Michael Corcoram loved Road Apples, although he didnt care much for their experimental forays and the way [Downies] lyrics started getting real artsy. In his opinion, the band went alternative with 1993s Fully Completely and 1994s Day for Night.

Downie, who is generally credited with lyric writing, had wanted to be a poet in college, but eventually decided against it. In 1996 Foran wrote, [Downies] lyrics, once scrupulously crafted, are now more free form, more trusting of the moment of creation, and he isnt always sure where they come from.

Continued Developing Sound

The changes Corcoram heard in the band were obvious to listeners, although most were more positive than Corcoram. Foran said, Day for Night confirmed the change: gone were the hook-laden FM tunes and compressed, often funny lyrics. In their place were almost reluctant melodies that stuck in the memory and lyrics, set in a psychological landscape of detached emotions and suppressed violence, that crept into dreams.

Although Downie receives most lyrical credit, the rest of the band functions as a democracy, with everyone having input. As they have grown up together, the Hips music has also grown and developed. Discussing their

For the Record

Members include: Bobby Baker, guitar; Gordon Downie, vocals; Johnny Fay, drums; Paul Langlois, guitar, vocals; and Gord Sinclair, bass, vocals.

Band formed in 1986 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada; released independently produced, self-titled EP debut, with initial distribution in the Kingston area only, 1987; EP distributed in the rest of Canada and the band signed to MCA Records, 1988; released first full-length album, Up to Here, 1989; dropped by MCA Records in the U.S., picked up by Atlantic Records, 1994.

Address: Record company Atlantic Recording Corporation, 9229 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.

changes in a 1994 interview with Martin Renzhofer in the Salt Lake Tribune, bassist Sinclair said, Its more a question of evolution. Its been a conscious effort in every sense. In the last three or four years, our songwriting system changed. Renzhofer wrote, Band members were forced out of an individualist style. Song ideas are now brought into the studio, or are boiled down from 3-minute jam sessions. Sinclair continued, The songs now reflect the collective nature of the band. Its made for a healthier environment within the band with everyone contributing.

In the Los Angeles Times Sinclair offered, After the first album, everyone thought we were just like the Georgia Satellites; then after the second one, it was the Black Crowes; then after the third one, it was R.E.M. [but] I think we have our own original sound. According to Locey the band puts on a killer live show, and Foran called Downie one of rocks most charismatic front men.

In 1996 the Hip released Trouble at the Henhouse. Downie told Foran, This is the closest to where the Tragically Hip wants to be as a band. Corcoram agreed. In the American Statesman he had admitted, though a huge fan of the bands live shows, I didnt think that they ever made a truly great album. That was until they released Trouble at the Henhouse (three and a half stars), their best album ever.

The Houston Presss Greg Barr gave the album 4 stars and stated, The band once more carries out a musical niche with intriguing moods rather than winning hooks, waving a multilayered, seamless sound much thicker than youd expect from the standard two guitars, bass and drums line up. Among the new songs, wrote Foran in Saturday Night, are a few instant favourites, plus others that will need further listenings.

The Los Angeles View called the Tragically Hip the band without a haircut or a gimmick or even a peg that goes much deeper than the all-inclusive rock and roll. The magazine also advises people not to call the band boring, not unless you can stand in the middle of their sonic swirl, then walk away without feeling just a little weaker. With praise like that, the Hip just wants to keep playing and developing their music. Growing up in Canada, Downie told Musician, You see the road to Los Angeles littered with the corpses of bands seeking American acceptance, as if that would make you a legitimate success story back home. The lesson is that its pointless to do anything differently to attract an American audience.

Selected discography

The Tragically Hip (EP), 1987.

Up to Here, MCA Records, 1989.

Road Apples, MCA Records, 1991.

Fully Completely, MCA Records, 1992.

Day for Night, Atlantic Recording, 1994.

Trouble at the Henhouse, Atlantic Recording, 1996.


American Statesman (Austin), June 22, 1996.

Gannett News Service, April 27, 1995.

Houston Press, June 20, 1996.

Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1994.

Los Angeles View, August 1, 1996.

Musician, March 1993.

Salt Lake Tribune, July 19, 1996.

Saturday Night, June 1, 1996.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Atlantic Recording Corporation press materials, 1996, and from the Tragically Hip Web page at

Joanna Rubiner

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The Tragically Hip

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The Tragically Hip