Q&A: Vancouver's 54-40 keeps on rocking with hall of fame inductions, new album

Founding members Neil Osborne and Brad Merritt reflect on year of successes as they play their favourite venue in Vancouver, the Commodore Ballroom.

'We like to keep on improving, we like to get better at what we do,' says lead singer Neil Osborne

Matt Johnson on drums, Neil Osborne on guitar and Brad Merritt on bass rehearse on Oct. 6, 2017 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. (Dillion Hodgin/CBC)

Vancouver rock band 54-40 is back playing live at the Commodore Ballroom, a venue central to the group's ethos since it formed in 1981.

After bassist Brad Merritt and guitarist/singer Neil Osborne founded the quintet, their number one goal was to play there.

Now, after 36 years of making music, including hits One Day in Your Life, Nice to Luv You and Ocean Pearl, the band has had a memorable 2017. It was inducted into two national hall of fames, and received a B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame star on Granville Street.

CBC News had a chance to talk to both Merritt and Osborne over the Thanksgiving weekend at the Commodore Ballroom on Granville Street.

Q-You've had a big year this year, you have a star out on the sidewalk, and a new album coming out in November. How are you reflecting on that?

Osborne: It's a nice thing. It means we're going to keep on walking. Keep on rocking. Keep on playing. We've been so busy, but it's been great to be busy.

When we started this thing in '81 we never thought, 'hey, by 2018 we want a bunch of awards in our belt.' That was never the reason, but it's nice to have.

Q-What were the goals in 1981?

Merritt: So in 1981, as far as I could see this whole thing going, just getting to [the Commodore Ballroom] to open up for a local band, hopefully the Subhumans, at the Commodore Ballroom.

That's as far as I could see the whole thing going. And we did that, not with the Subhumans, but with other bands and then we had to set new goals. So we kind of just take it a little bit at a time and we're still in that process.

Brad Merritt, left, and Neil Osborne founded 54-40 in 1981 in Vancouver. Their biggest goal at the time was to play a gig at the Commodore Ballroom. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Q-How has being from Vancouver influenced the music?

Merritt: Vancouver was very provincial, it was very unto itself, had a very strong local music scene that we became a part of, which was very exciting. And then we got to the point where our sound was defined I think, we had ideas and were able to present them outside the province and beyond the West Coast and it's been a fantastic journey.

Osborne: I think it was a lot to do with the weather and the coast, in that, you know, it can rain any day and that kind of changes your mood or changes the vibe.

The bands in the scene when we were starting out, it wasn't so rah, rah, rah, gung-ho, gung-ho, right?

It was kind of like, 'Yeah we'll just see how this goes because it could be sunny tomorrow or it could rain tomorrow,' so we're reserved that way but we'll go with the flow and see where it's going to take us.

Neil Osborne says Vancouver's rainy weather and its location as a coastal city have helped shape 54-40's sound and music. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Q-What would your advice be for other musicians maybe just starting out?

Merritt: My advice is give up and don't do it and I'm completely serious, don't do it, give up.

And if I haven't talked you out of it then good for you, because you're doing it for the right reasons and understand that there's no guarantee of success or monetary reward or anything. But making music in and of itself is great. If you're willing to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune then you'll be just fine.

This interview was been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

with files from Chad Pawson