Hey Rosetta’s Second Sight Wins the Second Annual Borealis Music Prize

The Overcast’s Borealis Music Prize, valued at $1000, is the province’s richest music award for a local Album of the Year. It honours the one album that shined the brightest in the previous year, in terms of musical originality, distinction, and craftsmanship.

And it’s not easy to win: it’s a triple juried award, meaning one jury creates a longlist, a second jury brings that longlist down to a 5-album shortlist, and a third jury chooses a winner from the shortlist. That’s a lot of judgment to endure.

ON THE BAND … 

Tim Baker accepting the award at The Borealis Gala
Tim Baker accepting the award at The Borealis Gala

Hey Rosetta is probably our province’s biggest musical export of the last decade – not only have they toured every nook of the world, they have a bottle of Australian wine named after one of their songs, “Red Heart,” available at the NLC.

They’re a 7-piece band touring the world, that’s 7 people x three meals a day x travel x accommodation. It almost sounds impossible. Their stops have included the finest North American summer festivals, like Osheaga, Bonaroo, Lollapalooza, and Sasquatch.

The band crafts uncommonly complex songs that defy their advanced song structures and sonic textures by being accessible and catchy singalong powerhouses, track after track after track. The musicians are all on their A-game here: it’s innovative, impressive work.

Single out any musician, like Phil Maloney’s ridiculously song-bettering drumming or Adam Hogan’s entirely original approach to lead guitar work, and it’s no wonder they’ve become one of the country’s most distinguished and dynamic rock bands.

[kad_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoMQ1kECjvY&index=4&list=PL2C0EF314238C9195″ ]

ON SECOND SIGHT: WINNER OF THE 2015 BOREALIS MUSIC PRIZE… 

For their 4th LP, Hey Rosetta had a deliberate desire to expand on their sound, and they successfully created original, lush soundscapes that resonate with and move listeners. In fact, it was their quest for fully realized potential that became the thematic concept of the album.

When they were ready to record their new album, they had a long list of songs to choose from, but found that there was “no real concept, no over-arching theme to the work. We had enough songs for an album – but what was the album about? What were we trying to say as artists? How did these songs relate to one another?”

“I’d been thinking about potential, about the great promise within all of us that we never seem to fully realize. And as an artist, I’d been fixating on how to get there. Which led to another of the album’s main themes: this idea of shifting your vision slightly – moving away from your everyday, rational, denotative, left-brain way of seeing the world and embracing a more suggestive, intuitive, animalistic, and ultimately more interesting ‘second sight.’”

Sonically, Second Sight is marked by a move into using creative sonic textures moreso than straightforward riff-driven music: even the drums have been given considerable effects in the mix, there are multiple synths going, and any guitar work is playing right into this unique and spacious sound.

Impressively, they can pull this calculated sound off live as well as they do on the album. The Hey Rosetta sound has become equal parts intimate and orchestral, big and bold and yet restrained, controlled. There’s just too much going on in any given song for a listener to grow tired of a track. And to help hone the sound, the band recruited producer Marcus Paquin (The National, Stars, Arcade Fire) of Montreal’s MixArt studio.

THE STORY OF THE LEADING SINGLE, “KINTSUKUROI”

[kad_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gu8HMFhITqw&list=PL2C0EF314238C9195&index=6″ ]

Upon recording Second Sight, the band’s record label brought up a familiar hurdle for Hey Rosetta. Second Sight lacked a clear single to launch the album with. “We didn’t have a single, which seems a perennial problem for us,” Baker says. “We’ve never really had a single, but boy do people want one. At first we kicked against it, but eventually saw it as a challenge.”

So they booked another recording session, from which “Kintsukuroi” emerged. “It’s a song about real, broken, messy love, the title drawn from the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold, thus producing a new object of beauty with flaws highlighted instead of hidden – the idea being, that the object is actually more beautiful for having been broken.”

TIM’S FAVOURITES ON THE ALBUM …

“I’m honestly quite proud of the record. It has its flaws of course, regrets, I have a few, but I think we developed so much as a band and took my lil songs so much further than we ever had before. The most satisfying song to play live for me would have to be ‘Alcatraz’ because it’s a song where the character of it just totally envelopes me and I can’t help but be inside it nearly every single time we play it.”

“The most satisfying to write was probably ‘Trish’s song’ because it just fell out in a matter of hours and was done – one of those gifts you rarely get as a writer.”

“The most satisfying to put together as a group was probably ‘What arrows’ – to the extent that it just blossomed so much and so easily in such a fitting and new direction, right up till the last minute in the studio.”

TIM’S HIGHS AND LOWS OF A BUSY 2015 TOURING … 

2015 saw the band’s two “best and biggest Canadian tours, and several criss-crosses all over America,” as well as a few weeks in Europe. “This last tour was definitely the best tour of my life,” Baker says.

“The rooms we played, the schedule, the crew we had, the band we toured with (Yukon Blonde) – the whole thing really fell together in a beautiful way. And I think my favourite night of that tour was in Winnipeg at the Garrick centre – it was, for me at least, the first great show of the tour, where I finally found the right setlist and flow and energy that we’d been searching for all over the west coast and prairies.”

hey-Rosetta-(6-of-6)

There’s of course some lows of a life on the road as well. “We did a lot of old-school touring in America, involving long drives, short sleeps and a lot of thin, weekday crowds in the south and mid-west. That can wear you down so fast. I flat-out lost my voice a few times – my body’s way of just saying ‘f*ck this, dude.’

“There was a show in Buffalo that nearly did me in. I couldn’t really speak, couldn’t really stand upright actually – had a gnarly feverish flu and bronchitis combo that I actually thought was going to kill me, no joke. The suits upstairs wouldn’t let us cancel the gig cause I’d cancelled two on the previous US tour a month earlier, due to an eerily similar situation.

“So I quite literally chugged a bottle of Buckley’s, took much too large a handful of Advil and hit the stage. I sort of reeled around the stage for several carefully chosen, easy-to-sing tunes – intermittently taking hits from my puffer and drinking whiskey – but eventually it was obvious that there was no sound coming out of my body, and no energy within to have fun faking it.

“So I actually invited up some audience members to sort of karaoke some of our fan favourites. And you know what – it was actually not that bad. I took heart in the fact that, while we may have disappointed a bunch of people in the room, for a small few, we made a crazy, unforgettable night.”

ADAM’S MOST SATISFYING SONGS ON THE ALBUM …

[kad_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uh0JC0Qt1Js&index=5&list=PL2C0EF314238C9195″ ]

“I’m tempted to say ‘what arrows,’ because of the way that song sort of found itself in the studio – specifically the outro section. I believe we were toying with the idea of throwing that whole section away, as we hadn’t come up with a satisfying arrangement of it. If memory serves me, we were rehearsing it in the studio, when Phil, almost sheepishly, started playing that 16th note hi-hat groove.

Tim thought it was kind of cool, so we decided to chase the idea. A couple of hours later, the section was more or less arranged and recorded. It was a great reminder of how important it is to remain open and uncritical when creating with others. Not to say that that groove idea was at all radical, but in the context of the tune, it was definitely a left turn. Cheers, Phil!”

ADAM’S HIGHS AND LOWS OF A BUSY 2015 TOURING …

“The highlight of the year has to be our trip to Spain, where we played the Evento Sarmiento festival. The show took place in the wineries of El Torreon just outside of Villafranca Del Bierzo in the north of Spain. The stage was perched at the top of a hill, which provided a 360 degree horizon of incredible beauty. There was so much positivity in the air. A real celebration of music, food, and wine! A show that I’ll never forget.

“As for the worst of 2015: as someone who deals with anxiety, touring in a band and performing every night can, at times, prove to be quite trying. A couple of weeks into our tour with Stars, in early 2015, I was having a particularly difficult stretch. During one of our shows at the Danforth in Toronto, I had what I can only assume was a mild anxiety attack. My stomach was in knots, and my mind was totally scattered. The idea that there was room full of people watching us perform was completely terrifying, so I did my best to just keep my head down and dedicate what little concentration I had left to hitting the right notes on my guitar. Upon finishing the set, I rushed to pack up my equipment and headed for the exit, and although I wanted more than anything to go back to the hotel and sleep it off, I was convinced by some good friends of mine to get a drink at the bar next to the venue. We sat and talked, and I told them about my experience. During our conversation, the knots in my stomach relaxed, and I started to calm down. I was reminded that externalizing this stuff is the only way to move past it.”

PHIL’S MOST SATISFYING SONG ON THE ALBUM …

“I would have to say ‘what arrows.’ That tune really took a life of its own in the studio and I think it became more than any of us had expected.

ROMESH’S MOST SATISFYING SONG ON THE ALBUM …

“Kid Gloves”

“There are a few that stick out to me for a variety of reasons. Being able to mix ‘Kid Gloves’ was totally nerve racking, but an incredibly enriching experience. For it not to stick out like a sore thumb next to Marcus Paquin’s and Joe Zook’s fantastic mixes is still sort of surreal.

“The tune ‘Promise’ always tickled my fancy as this swathe of swirly noises with a few eruptions. The hours Hogan and I spent in the dank basement of Rabbittown Theatre sketching and mapping the first draft of atmospheres was a great deal of fun.

“And lastly, we managed to sneak an audio sample on to the track “Neon Beyond” of a bite of our favourite studio snack of snap peas and whenever I hear it I can’t help but crack a smile.”

Photos by Joel Upshall for The Overcast
Photos by Joel Upshall for The Overcast

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.