The Tragically Hip's Gord Sinclair on losing Gord Downie and becoming a 'reluctant solo artist'
Sinclair’s debut solo album, Taxi Dancers, will be released on Friday
The last time you saw Gord Sinclair was probably at the Tragically Hip's final concert in Kingston, Ont., in 2016.
At the time, Sinclair's bandmate and friend, Gord Downie, was fighting terminal brain cancer. When Downie died just over a year later, his fans, friends and old bandmates were left to work through their grief.
Eventually, Sinclair found his way back to music, and now, for the first time since the end of the Hip, he's about to release a brand new album of his own.
He joined q's Tom Power to talk about life after the Hip and what it was like making his debut solo album, Taxi Dancers, which is out Feb. 28.
Here's part of that conversation.
How are you feeling about your first solo album coming out this week?
I'm really chuffed, actually. I feel good. It's very exciting. I've been describing myself as a reluctant solo artist. I mean, I would love more than anything just to be back to my normal routine with the guys in the Hip and doing our thing. I spent my entire musical career with those guys and we got into a very great lifestyle where we would write a record, and record a record, and tour a record, and sit around for a bit, and then repeat since 1989. And sadly, that routine has been broken.
At the end of that last concert in Kingston, a lot of our thoughts in the country were with Gord Downie. What do you remember about that night?
It was the culmination of a very emotional tour for us. It started long before the first show in Victoria, but even when we got to the first show in Victoria, we were still very unsure of Gord's health and whether we were actually going to be able to do this. And over the course of that tour, I can honestly say that the power of the music — not from our perspective, but what it was doing to the audience and how emotionally engaged they were with us — Gord actually got stronger and better, and so did we as a group. We got to the last show and we didn't want the tour to end. Obviously, we didn't want it to ever end, period. So it really just spoke to how cathartic the collective music experience is as much for the guys in the band as it is for the audience. You know, we felt the emotion and it was a really powerful experience for us.
Gord was always creative. ... I think that's why I'm sitting here today, to honour that inspiration.- Gord Sinclair
When Gord Downie died we were all so worried about you, all of you.
Well, thanks. We continue to worry about ourselves and we worry about Gord's family. That pull, that draw is relentless. Almost a month after we finished the tour, he got right into Secret Path and mounting what I consider to be an amazing legacy project for him, and for his family, and for the country. And that's a great example to follow. An ending is an opportunity to reframe and begin anew. Gord was always creative. Throughout our career, he was always pushing for new tunes. "Let's write this. Let's perform this. Let's make a new record. Let's keep it going." I think that's why I'm sitting here today, to honour that inspiration.
So tell me about the moment where you decide to start writing and recording songs again.
After that last show in Kingston, I had a couple projects that I was working on. I produced a record for Emily Fennell that required a little bit of writing and a buddy of mine, long story anyway, he was up in the space station and he wanted me to write a song with him. Drew Feustel, an amazing guy.
He was the commander of the space station and before he left, he wanted his last statement to be an artistic statement about circling the planet. He's a brilliant scientist, but he will maintain that the memories that he took from living up there [were about] looking back at our home, which was profound and very easy for me to write.
I had been blocked up musically and creatively, kind of articulating what my feelings were with losing Gord. Then the song called In The Next Life just sort of came fairly quickly. It's about [Gord Downie and road manager Dave Powell] and about, in a larger sense, our youth leaving us and the necessity of moving on and recognizing that this is mortality, this is what we all have to deal with. You can't sit and wallow, you can grieve, but you have to replace that pain with the love that you remember, you know, and that's what I tried to articulate in my own way.
It can be therapeutic when you go through a loss.
Yeah, very much so. It's a great vehicle. I mean, I've done a number of records with other artists over the years and, you know, when a romantic relationship ends I always encourage the guys that I write with, "Oh, you gotta get started writing a couple songs. Now's the time."
How do you feel about getting back out on the road?
Again, I'm the reluctant solo artist. I mean, there's a reason that I'm the bass player and spent my career standing beside Johnny playing the drums and watching Gord's bum, you know, it's not necessarily my personality type. But again, to give it an aura of authenticity you have to sing your own words.
It's a lovely record. Before you go, can you tell me what Taxi Dancers means?
Yeah, it's a very old phrase. Back in the Dust Bowl days, these rural communities would have Saturday socials a couple times a year and invariably there were not enough dance partners for the guys that were working the farms. They would fill up taxi cabs from the nearest major centre and the young ladies would travel out. I always thought it was just this amazing metaphor for what we do in this country as performers. We wheel into town, dance around for a bit and then we move on to the next gig. We were throwing out album titles, sitting around my place — and I credit John-Angus [MacDonald] and his brother Colin — they just thought it was cool.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Gord Sinclair, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' link near the top of this page.
— Produced by Mitch Pollock.
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