The Hip go through an Evolution

The Hip are back and better than ever.
The Hip are back and better than ever.
Photo: 
Johnny Fay with the tools of his trade.
Johnny Fay with the tools of his trade.
Photo: 

The Tragically Hip have completed their 11th studio album and are anticipating its release and their upcoming tour this summer.

Johnny Fay, the Hip’s modest yet enthusiastic drummer, sat down with the Journal to chat about the new album.

Journal: You just finished recording your new album—do you have a title yet?

Johnny Fay: We still name things up to the very last minute and names change. I think the name is In Between Evolution. That came from a painting by a local kid. I guess [guitarist] Robby Baker was in the Sleepless Goat and this guy came up to him, a guy by the name of Cameron—I just met him the other day, very cool kid. And he said, “I got an art show next door,” and so Robby was checking the art out and said, “Hey, this is great stuff.” So he titled his painting “In Between Evolution” and that’s the cover of the record. Day for Night was also titled that way by another local artist.

So I heard that you recorded in Seattle. Why?

The reason for Seattle was that it was a studio [producer Adam Casper] knew really well. [Casper] lives in Seattle and knows the sound really well and you want to go somewhere where the guy is most comfortable. Sometimes it can really work to your advantage, sometimes it can’t, but this time it really did. Last time we were in the Bahamas and [we] felt really guilty about being inside, but [in Seattle] it rained for three months. It felt really good to be inside and working.

Does the location change have any effect on the music?

I think it does. You are much closer in the studio and you are not getting out and you are in the same control room doing your thing.

You guys own a recording studio in Bath. Why have you chosen not to record your last two albums there?

We recorded three records there and I think it just got harder and harder. The sessions would start and you could accuse, maybe me the most, of showing up later and later.

When you are at home the focus is not on the record. You have your other life, be that paying your PUC bill, going to the dentist, whatever. You try and get those things in and you take your focus off what it is. They were good records and we are glad we made them there. We were there the other day and it’s a great vibe, we were rehearsing there and getting some photos done. It’s very old but we built our equipment there and there are people doing records there and they love the vibe there.

Now its very important for us to get away because we spend less time doing it. Phantom Power took nine months to record because we never knew what we had. Someone would say, “I like that take” and “I like that take.” Then we hired a producer and came back in and nixed it after that and that was a real learning experience and I think it was kind of confusing too. When you work with a guy in his environment, it takes a lot of that out, he says put the roll of tape up and just do the song. How do you think the new album will be received by the public and the critics?

I know the tempos are popped right up there, they are a lot faster. It’s more like a record we made called Road Apples, we made that in New Orleans and it was on the heel of a tour. The instrumentation is pretty much the same as that, there are no overdubs. Casper would not really let us do too much. As far as people reacting, like the critics, we really haven’t been a band this long to worry about that. If we look at it like we are fortunate working musicians and get on the road and play, we are happy about that.

Because we are so close to it it’s really hard. There is this really golden time and that time is right now for us—we are done the record, it’s mastered, it’s mixed and we can listen to it. We can hear the things we like about it, there are things you always wish you could change about it but it’s a moment in time. We have always looked at our music as, “Well, we will record this now, we will get on the road and we will learn it.” Things change and the songs are always changing with a live band like ours. We feel good about it. We’ll play a lot more of it than our last couple of records live. I think we will play everything from it.

What role do you think you play in the group dynamic that is the Hip?

That’s a really tough question. Some might refer to me as the fifth wheel, one of five guys that started playing locally that is still fortunate and happy to be making music. There are so many people who want to be musicians and there are so many great musicians in Kingston. I’m happy to have a job. I left KCVI and just landed on my feet. I was very lucky to know when I was 17 to be doing what I’m doing.

You said you played some secret bar shows in Whistler. Would you guys consider doing something like that in Kingston?

We have done that. We would play the Toucan, we played the Ironhorse once. I don’t know, those things just kind of seem to happen, spur of the moment. Someone will come up with an idea and next you know, we are doing a gig. It’s very hard to keep that quiet, we have to tell our families. One thing you know is you never know. We’ve had some great times in Kingston. When there is a good venue here I think it will be a great place for bands to play. I think the city is so supportive of local music that I think it will be perfect.

You have done some co-producing in your past, would you do more of it?

You really have to have the energy to do it. I played on and helped produce one of the Mahones’ records. Everyone in the band has their hand in something, helping someone in town or somewhere else, or doing their own material. I think it’s a great outlet. We have made 10 records in the studio and we know our way around it. I think the one thing we have learned over the year is that you can really waste a lot of time in the studio. We were always shown the way to go in, execute, get the song done and not waste a lot of time. When I finished one of our records and I was burnt out by it, I had all the energy to [co-produce] that because the focus was shifting. It wasn’t on me, it was on another group of players, their songs. That was really cool, I enjoyed it a lot and I would love to do more of it.

Are you looking forward to touring again?

I think touring can really burn a person out, but for others it’s where their lives makes sense. I think I am one of those people. I like the process of being on the road, moving to the next place, thinking about the next town you are going to. It’s cool, it’s therapeutic. It’s taken a long time for me to figure that out. I have read that you collect antiques. What’s your favourite?

I got a painting in Ireland. We were touring with the Rolling Stones and I went to go visit a friend in Ireland. I went into this shop and there was this religious relief in Dublin ... It was of St. Ignatius, it was a real painting, 100 years old. I brought it back to Kingston and a woman at Queen’s, Amanda Gray is her name, she restored the painting. I now have it and with everything that went into it, it cost me more—way more—than I spent on it to get it over here and have it restored. But I would have to say my oil painting of St. Ignatius is my favourite antique.

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In Between Evolution will be released June 29 and their first single, “Vaccination Scar,” will be released next week.

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