Bob Rock was in the producer’s chair for the last two Tragically Hip albums—2006’s World Container and ’09’s We Are the Same—but when the band releases its next long-player this fall, the erstwhile Vancouverite’s name won’t be on it. Don’t read too much into that, though: Paul Langlois tells the Straight that the group didn’t have a falling-out with the Maui-based Rock. Calling from his cottage north of Kingston, Ontario, the Hip’s rhythm guitarist says it was simply time to do something different.
“I think we just have a tendency to want to change it up—to keep challenging ourselves and keep it fresh for us. So we’re kind of generally on the lookout for who’s going to produce the next one. I think it had run its course with Bob. I think producers understand that themselves, as well; they move on themselves.”
To help them make And Now for Plan A, due out in October, the Hip called on Gavin Brown (Metric, Sarah Harmer). The album’s first single, “At Transformation”, which hit radio this past May, is a brooding midtempo rocker with all the hallmarks of the band’s best work: a solid and determinedly nonflashy foundation courtesy of drummer Johnny Fay and bassist Gord Sinclair, searing interplay between Langlois and lead guitarist Rob Baker, and a feverish vocal from frontman Gordon Downie. Perhaps most crucially, “At Transformation” pulsates with all the raw animal energy that Rock has a unique talent for sapping.
Pretty much the entire album, Langlois explains, was recorded with the group playing live in the studio. That, coupled with some well-rehearsed material, made for a hiccup-free recording process, and the guitarist and his bandmates were in and out in about two weeks.
“It was done quickly, we knew the songs well, we were all playing together at the same time—so I think that comes through, whenever you can do that as opposed to doing it building-block style,” Langlois says. “We’ve done records like that before. It’s not like a new concept or anything, but I would say this record, more so than the last few, we’ve just known the songs better—spent more time with them, were a little more committed to the arrangement and aware of the little subtleties.”
And Now for Plan A is the Tragically Hip’s 12th studio album, the latest milestone in a career that has seen “Canada’s house band” collect 14 Juno Awards and one Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, to say nothing of its induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame. How long the group has existed is a matter of some debate. Langlois disputes Wikipedia’s claim that the Hip formed in 1983; he says it was ’85. (Mind you, he wasn’t there at the time: he joined in ’86.) Regardless, it’s been a long haul, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
“I would say it’s gone by very quickly, and it’s surprising to think that it’s been over 25 years,” Langlois remarks. “But I think it’s surprising to wake up and find yourself in your late 40s, too. We’re just very lucky. Being lucky and committed is how we ended up here. We’ve managed to stay on the same page, more or less, and I think that’s why we’re still together. It’s certainly our biggest achievement, to still be together and still enjoy each other’s company. It really couldn’t have gone better. You know, we don’t look back much, but we’re probably all getting more and more appreciative of what we have.”
The Tragically Hip headlines LIVE at Squamish, at Hendrickson Fields & Logger Sports Ground, on Saturday (August 25).