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Tragically Hip digs new EP out of the vaults, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2021

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The Tragically Hip is back -- albeit not exactly back together.

The Ontario band broke up in the wake of frontman Gord Downie's death from cancer during October of 2017, wrapping 23-year career that included 16 Canadian JUNO Awards, an Order of Canada honor and induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. With a lineup that had been together for nearly its entire duration, continuing without any one member, and particularly Downie, was unfathomable to the surviving four.

Now there are new rumblings from the Hip (which recorded its 1997 concert album "Live Between Us" at Detroit's Cobo Arena). On Friday, May 21, the group releases "Saskadelphia," an EP featuring give songs recorded during sessions for its 1991 album "Road Apples" and a live version of "Montreal" recorded live in that city during 2000. And at this year's JUNO Awards on June 6, the Hip will receive a Humanitarian Award and perform for the first time since 2016, fronted by Feist.

No one, including the band itself, knows what the future holds. But bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay tell us via Zoom that there's likely more to come...

Sinclair and Fay acknowledge that they have ambivalent emotions putting out something new from the Hip again. "We went through some pretty terrible stuff five years ago," Sinclair says. "I think a lot of us, individually, were in grieving for an awful long time -- still are, really -- about Gord. Going back and hearing tracks that we hadn't listened to in 30-plus years...has been an interesting part of the process in a really life-affirming way. It's actually been really quite amazing, in a lot of ways brought us closer together."

The EP also includes some studio chatter from Downie, which Fay says, "catches you off guard...It was really nice to be able to hear things going on in the background, and then Gord saying to the engineer, 'Are we ready to go? Is the red light on? Can we go?'" Sinclair adds that when he listened to the tapes the second time, with Downie's older brother Mike, "We listened to a version of 'Fiddler's Green.' It was very spare and it was very emotional. It got us both."

The Tragically Hip camp, in fact, has spent the past couple of years investigating and documenting the location of its master recordings, finding them "spread out all over the place," according to Fay. Sinclair notes that a third of the "Road Apples" master tapes have yet to be found. "Everybody's excited about unearthing this stuff," Sinclair says, adding that Sinclair's younger brother Pat "has taken Gord's seat at the table when we have meetings and discussions...I think Gord would be happy with what we're doing. It would make him smile. Unearthing this stuff has been great, especially in the wake of what happened. I'm glad we didn't kind of drift away from each other." Fay says that a significant number of unreleased live recordings are also in the vaults and may be considered for release.

Sinclair says the JUNOS performance, which will be one song, was "not a decision we took lightly as a group. Different ideas were thrown around. We just kind of turned our noses up...Then when (Feist) was suggested, we thought, 'Oh, this could be really cool.' We've known Feist, Leslie, forever. We've been through a difficult time in our group, so this seems like the right thing to do at the right time."

As to whether the Hip would consider other performances in the future, Sinclair dubs himself "in the never say never camp" but adds that "we're approaching the live aspect of it one step at a time. We certainly do love to work together. I miss it an awful lot. This (JUNO) opportunity that came along seems like the right thing to do, especially in Canada. I don't think any of us are going out and actually seeking stuff. We've got a lot of work to do in terms of the archiving process first. We're just getting ourselves organized."

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