CANOE — JAM! Music – Artists – Tragically Hip, The: Gord Downie is Hip to saving Earth
Gord Downie is Hip to saving Earth
By YURI WUENSCH — Edmonton Sun
What Gord Downie wants is a nice, clean Bath.
The Tragically Hip’s lead singer was in Edmonton at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald last Wednesday on a press stop for the band’s 11th full-length album, World Container. It’s out this Tuesday. But, in talking about the new LP, his thoughts drifted back to Bath, a hamlet on the shores of Lake Ontario, roughly a 15-minute drive from the band’s native Kingston.
In Bath, the Hip has a recording studio, dubbed “the Bath House.” But from out the studio’s back window, the otherwise scenic horizon line is in doubt.
“There’s a cement kiln beside our studio that wants to start burning tires as an alternative fuel,” says Downie, “but it’s really to save a couple million dollars.”
Downie grew up around the lake, so he has a vested interest in seeing it protected. He’s also one of its three trustees via Waterkeeper Alliance, a grassroots organization committed to protecting the world’s waterways.
While he’s happy to answer questions about the new album, Downie seems happiest when asked questions about the environment – he brightens with one of those “I’m glad you asked” expressions when asked about his Waterkeeper Alliance hoodie.
Fortunately, when you’re talking up environmental-related issues and World Container, you tangentially end up talking about the same thing.
Never obviously, though, and never, as Downie says, in a “pedantic or overbearing way.” Recorded in Hawaii, Vancouver and Toronto with veteran producer Bob Rock, the album sees the band tackling new instrumentation (glockenspiel, Moog, harpschichord and epic keys courtesy of Jamie Edwards) and another topic Downie has, to a degree, avoided in the past: love.
“I decided I’d avoided the elephant in the room – love in general – long enough,” he explains. “It’s some dogged pursuit of the non-cliche or the unique thought. I’d just ignored it, because love’s been done to death. When you start poking around, though, it’s the taking a crack at it – that’s the thing. I had to find out what it meant to me.”
But the album does reflect the growing sense of urgency and frustration Downie feels towards environmental preservation. From the ozone-iconography pictured on the disc itself to the album’s very title, which Downie says could have a double meaning of “World: contain her.”
“Ron MacLean (of Hockey Night in Canada) mistakenly called the album Container World and I like that even more,” says Downie.
The album’s title track is also damning of our current environmental trajectory. With lines like “What we have here are all flaws in progress” or, pointing a finger at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, “When the country quits on you, it must be dinner.”
“The status quo is not even close to good enough anymore,” laments Downie. “Canadians are clamouring for more and Harper is going backwards.
“They keep talking about rolling out a Made-in-Canada plan to reduce emissions by consulting between industry and government for the next year and they take even longer to implement a plan to cut CO2 emissions. We already have something called the Environmental Protection Act sitting right there to be used – just enforce the rules.
“Pretty soon, people are going to start looking at Canada and going, ‘What the hell is the matter with you guys?’ ”
It’s a question, realizes Downie, that the Tragically Hip’s zealous Canadian fan base has also faced over the years. And it’s a topic that makes him uncomfortable, because he dislikes the idea of a Tragically Hip fan being so easily defined.
The diverse ways the band reaches people, either through his songwriting or in performance, are being reflected on the Hip’s website through the Hip Story Project, inviting people to share their sometimes life-changing TTH tales online.
“The allure of the band is a mystery to some people and as hard as they might try to crack that allure, they kind of end up with this one slightly discriminatory idea that they’re an underclass of people who don’t know any better.
“I think that’s always been the thing that’s sort of been raced over by people who take a view of the group and what it means to people. I’ve watched them painted with one brush and it never quite covers the whole canvas.”