A meeting of the Tragically Hip and producer Bob Rock was probably inevitable. Despite a modest following in the United States, the Toronto-based group has been an arena-filling titan in the Great White North, certainly one of the biggest rock bands Canada has ever produced. And the Winnipeg-born Rock has developed his own titanic reputation, working with bands such as Mötley Crüe, Metallica and Bon Jovi. So the idea that they’d work together — as they did for the Hip’s latest album, “World Container” — makes perfect sense. But it’s something bassist Gord Sinclair says the band resisted for a long time.
“It’s not something we’d ever really considered before because of the nature of the artists that he’d worked with and the dollars and cents of it,” explains Sinclair, 43. “It felt a little like we came from different worlds. We didn’t think he’d really be into working with us, either.”
When the Hip and Rock finally did meet for “a feelout sessions,” however, Sinclair says the group was pleasantly surprised by the encounter.
“We’re fairly protective of our creativity and our songs and stuff, and we didn’t really know what to expect of him,” Sinclair recalls. “But we got along great, and he got right in there and all the suggestions he made were really positive and really good. He really brought a fresh injection of energy into these songs we thought were good raw material.
“By then end of the first day, we were making the record.”
“World Container” started in Vancouver and finished at Rock’s home studio in Hawaii.
“We established a rapport with him, and affection, pretty quickly,” Sinclair notes, “and what comes with that is trust.”
And Rock, he adds, took a more hands-on approach to the Hip’s songs than any of the other producers the group had worked with.
“Bob was really the first time we worked with a guy that was the consummate producer,” Sinclair explains, “where he was like, ‘I can make this better, and here’s how we can do it.’ He’d stand right there in the room with us and say, ‘OK, that part’s great, let’s try that twice, and that other part, I don’t like that so don’t do it ...’
“We’ve played together long enough that he was able to make a suggestion and we were able to incorporate it immediately with the six of us standing together in the room. It was all very easy.”
Rock has even termed “World Container” “the great Canadian rock album,” which Sinclair says came as something of a surprise to the band.
“That’s very flattering coming from a guy like that,” the bassist says, “that a) he would feel as capable of doing it and b) he wanted to participate in that project with us.”
The question now is whether “the great Canadian rock album” will help the Hip’s fortunes south of the border, where the group has yet to earn a gold album or even crack the top half of the Billboard 200 album chart.
Nevertheless, Sinclair says the Hip is “quite satisfied with the way things are for us in the States.”
“Maybe on the commercial level we haven’t done what record companies had hoped we would do,” he says, “but we’ve sold enough records to make it a profitable venture and we’re always in the black, and every time we went out gigging, we’d see exponentially more people ever time we played.
“And quite frankly, we’ve seen a lot of our contemporaries and groups we toured with in America, good friends like the Gin Blossoms and Blues Traveler — who had the benefit of a big hit single and national exposure, kind of come and go. So getting super-popular in the States can be more of an anchor to you than flying under the radar and approaching people one at a time.
“That’s what we’ve continued to do, and we’re still here and healthy — and having a blast.”
The Tragically Hip perform 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday (April 12th and 13th) at the State Theatre, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $35. Thursday’s show is sold out. Call (313) 961-5451 or visit www.livenation.com.
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