The Tragically Hip Biography
Written against the backdrop of global conflict, and recorded in Seattle with producer Adam Kasper (Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age), In Between Evolution features some of the shortest, fastest songs and some of the most menacing guitar sounds ever to punctuate a Hip recording. From the piercing urgency of “Vaccination Scar” and the swampy spookiness of “Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park” to the boisterous riffage of “As Makeshift As We Are” and the breakneck pacing of “In the Heart of the Melt,” the album is, says Downie, “a helluva ride.” He adds: “We didn’t overwork it too much, or get involved in too many overdubs. It’s very much the sound of the five of us in a room. It’s like a train, complete with cattle catcher, pushing us down the track on our heels.”
Although never explicitly stated, the war in Iraq clearly provides a disturbing undercurrent to the album. Downie wrote several of the songs last year while touring the American south in support of his second solo album, Battle of the Nudes. “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night,” Downie reveals, was inspired by a surreal image of the jingoistic country singer Toby Keith, who he imagined “in a GI uniform running, Tom Hanks-style, across the screen with everything exploding around him.” And “Are We Family,” which subverts the Sister Sledge ’70s soul anthem “We Are Family,” questions the depressing direction of the human race, “taking care of each other, one bullet to another.”
Local tragedy informs other songs on the album. While The Hip was rehearsing some of its new material in the British Columbia ski resort town of Whistler last October, floodwaters washed out the bridge at nearby Rutherford Creek, taking several lives in the process (the band performed two secret concerts in Whistler, billing themselves as The Fighter Fighters, and raised $100,000 for the victims’ families). The resulting “Vaccination Scar” refers to how the bridge went down “like a bad card table.” That same month, hockey player Dan Snyder died at 25 in a car crash. In response, The Hip wrote “Heaven is a Better Place Today” and dedicated it to the young Atlanta Thrasher. “I was taken with the eloquence of what a lot of hockey players were saying about him at the time,” explains Downie, “but it’s also about guys that age going off to fight (in a war).”
Documenting the indigenous has helped to make The Hip—including guitarists Robby Baker and Paul Langlois, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay—the most important Canadian rock outfit since The Band or The Guess Who. Throughout the 1990s, the group released a string of top-selling albums in Canada, including Road Apples, Fully Completely, Trouble at the Henhouse and Phantom Power, and such memorable hit singles as “Courage,” “At the Hundredth Meridian,” “50 Mission Cap” and “Poets.” With 2000’s Music @ Work and 2002’s In Violet Light, the Hip maintained its haunting imagery and sonically charged sound. Meanwhile, the band’s legendary live shows have remained its strength: showcases of incendiary musical jams topped by Downie’s frenetic, stream-of-consciousness poetry.
With In Between Evolution, The Tragically Hip provides its fans with a studio album that comes closest to capturing the band’s live sound. Recalls Downie: “We got the songs down pretty much cold and then played them at Whistler, which was a great way to fine tune them before recording. I think that’s why the songs are so snappy—they really pack a punch.” A deadly punch, as it turns out. “Does your family know your wishes?” Downie asks in the anthemic rocker “Summer’s Killing Us,” “cause this chorus’ll do ya like the dishes.” In other words, it’ll slay ya. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.