The Tragically Hip on reuniting for the band's 1st performance since Gord Downie's death
The beloved Canadian rock band spoke to Q’s Tom Power in an exclusive interview
The Tragically Hip are reuniting onstage for the first time since the band announced they would no longer perform under the name without the late Gord Downie.
Many Canadians remember exactly where they were the night The Hip embarked on their emotional final concert in their hometown of Kingston, Ont. — the last stop on their triumphant Man Machine Poem tour on Aug. 20, 2016.
Tuning in from around the country and beyond, a third of Canadians watched as Downie bid farewell with a simple but poignant "thank you for that." He died the following year from glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.
Now, nearly five years after their last performance, the band's surviving members — bassist Gord Sinclair, drummer Johnny Fay, and guitarists Paul Langlois and Rob Baker — will play at the 50th annual Juno Awards on Sunday, June 6. It will be the band's first televised performance since Downie's death.
WATCH | The Tragically Hip's full interview with Q's Tom Power:
In an exclusive interview with Q's Tom Power, The Hip opened up about the end of their journey as a five-piece band, their three decades of brotherhood and their much-anticipated performance at this year's Juno Awards.
Power started the conversation by asking what Sinclair, Fay, Langlois and Baker each remembered about their final concert at Kingston's Rogers K-Rock Centre (now Leon's Centre).
We all got so buoyed by the audience every night, you know? [Downie] would drop a line, and the crowd would sing along.- Gord Sinclair
They agreed the experience was surreal, heavy and forever memorable thanks to the enthusiasm of their many fans and well-wishers.
"By the time we got to Kingston … we all got so buoyed by the audience every night, you know?" recalled Sinclair. "[Downie] would drop a line, and the crowd would sing along. Like, I honestly believe he got better and better — and the band got better and better. And yeah, I just didn't want it to ever end, you know? I really didn't. I still wish it wasn't over."
"We all got so buoyed by the audience every night." Gord Sinclair on <a href="https://twitter.com/thehipofficial?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@thehipofficial</a>'s cross-country Man Machine Poem tour, and how the fans helped them power through. <a href="https://t.co/ElYFPXIB8Q">pic.twitter.com/ElYFPXIB8Q</a>—@CBCMusic
Baker said the band was treating their last performance like any other day at the office, but as the night ended, a sense of finality set in.
"The workday's over: clean out your desk. Go home. There's no gold watch. Away you go. You're done," he said with a slight laugh.
"It got pretty weird for me. I was messed up after the fact. I thought I was good going into it,… but it got hard. If you [repress] all your grief or anger or whatever — if you bottle it all up — it's gonna come out sometime."
Friendship is the band's 'biggest achievement'
Unlike many bands, The Tragically Hip has managed to remain friends since they performed their very first gig together at Queen's University in November 1984.
"I think it's our biggest achievement that we're still really good friends," Langlois told Power.
We lost our best friend. You lose your job — but I kind of felt like we lost the brotherhood as well.- Rob Baker
"Time being what it is, you start families and you slowly drift apart, but we always had the band to come back to," said Sinclair.
After Downie died, it was a difficult transition for the remaining band members, who went their separate ways, grieved their friend individually and pursued their own solo projects.
"There was a lot that was lost, you know?" said Baker. "We lost our best friend. You lose your job — but I kind of felt like we lost the brotherhood as well. And the best part of being in a band is you do everything together. You enjoy the good moments, the bad moments, you know? It's a great review, bad review. You go through it together."
Paul Langlois on why friendship was always first with <a href="https://twitter.com/thehipofficial?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@thehipofficial</a>. <a href="https://t.co/2DtB1FdkVE">pic.twitter.com/2DtB1FdkVE</a>—@CBCMusic
On May 21, The Hip surprised fans with a new album, Saskadelphia, which includes six unreleased songs, mostly recorded during the sessions of their landmark 1991 album, Road Apples.
The band's quest to track down these long-lost recordings gave them an opportunity to reconnect.
"It was really great and really helped bring us together because we were communicating," said Fay, who led the search. "We were talking about titles because [Downie] was a big one for changing the title of the song, sometimes five hours before it went to printing.… I think [making the album] helped in the process of what we're going through now."
"In a way, that was kind of the spark that started to pull us back together," said Baker.
Feist will step into Downie's shoes at the Junos
When Sinclair, Fay, Langlois and Baker were first presented with the possibility of performing at this year's Junos, they were hesitant.
"Frankly, none of us were super, super interested," explained Sinclair. "You know, we hadn't played together [in a long time] and weren't really interested in playing without [Downie]."
The band's longtime manager, Jake Gold, suggested Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist as someone who might be capable of stepping into Downie's shoes and singing his vocals.
"It was really the first time, collectively, we kind of all stopped for a minute," said Sinclair. "Like, wow, that's a pretty cool idea. You know, I think [Downie] would have really loved it. We've known Leslie for an awful long time…. It just seemed like the cool right thing to do at the right time for all of us."
Langlois described Feist's participation as a "curveball in the best way."
"[It was] kind of like, OK, so that's not going to be some guy trying to sing like Gord or some guy trying not to sing like Gord," he said. "It was a 'no' until Feist came up."
And there was another special circumstance that convinced the band to get back onstage. During the Junos broadcast on June 6, The Hip will be honoured with the 2021 Humanitarian Award for their long history of charitable efforts.
Johnny Fay on returning to the studio with <a href="https://twitter.com/thehipofficial?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@thehipofficial</a> in order to rehearse for their upcoming Junos performance, and the feeling of being back together again. <a href="https://twitter.com/TheJUNOAwards?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@theJUNOAwards</a> <a href="https://t.co/OgaOVgPFLn">pic.twitter.com/OgaOVgPFLn</a>—@CBCMusic
As for the possibility of a future tour, Baker joked that his bones are turning to powder, and he can't do another week on a tour bus.
"Never say never," he said. "Playing gigs, that's one thing. Going on a tour? I don't know, I kind of did that for 35 years of my life."
"There's sort of a chapter that's finished," added Fay. "I would never say never. It was really fun to get together and play. It'd be nice to get together and create again, I don't know."
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Mitch Pollock.