Embracing One’s Second Sight: An Interview With Tim Baker Of Hey Rosetta!
Bless the broken bowl
Make it whole; make it better than it was before
Make it better than it was before!
– Hey Rosetta!, “Kintsukuroi,” from the album Second Sight
For over 400 years, the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi (golden joint) has been honouring the unique history of a broken artifact or object by repairing it with gold, silver or platinum. The broken pieces are reassembled, transforming the artifact into something more beautiful and with a richer history than it originally held, thus giving it a second life or “second sight.”Second Sight is also the latest album by Canadian celebrated alt-rock band, Hey Rosetta!. The album was produced in Montreal by Marcus Brown (Stars, The National, and Arcade Fire), released in Canada on Oct. 21 on the Sonic Records/Warner Label, and will be released in the US on January 27th.
Hey Rosetta!’s debut album, Plan Your Escape, earned the band the titles of Group of the Year and “Pop/Rock Group of the Year at the MusicNL Awards, and CBC Galaxie’s Rising Star of the Year and Album of the Year in 2006. Their next two albums, Into Your Lungs (and around in your heart and on through your blood), and Seeds were shortlisted to the Polaris Music Prize, and the band performed at the televised Juno Awards in 2012, when they were nominated for Best New Group of the Year.
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Hey Rosetta!’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, Tim Baker, for a chat aboutSecond Sight, the band’s writing process, and their upcoming Canadian tour, co-headlining with Stars.
Second Sight is “a collection of favourite tunes from the last couple of years, the ones that we really wanted to see the light of day, and the ones that just had the most interesting arrangement,” Baker said. “A lot of songs that we loved and that didn’t feel fresh to us, or didn’t fit together,” were revisited and made their way into the collection as well. The concept of Second Sight is also “something I was thinking about a lot while writing, trying to nurture another way of seeing the world, another way of seeing things and getting inspired by them.”
The concept of second sight also relates to Baker’s thoughts about being a songwriter. “It’s a lot busier of a job than a lot of people think. You end up having a lot of lists, and a lot of tasks, and a lot of emails, and a lot of things just like everybody else has. Sometimes it’s hard to step away from that and to see things the way you’re supposed to be seeing things as a writer. So a part of it was just my obsession with my own process.” Lastly, adds Baker, “It’s a nice time of light.”
The theme of second sight is woven throughout the album, he continues. “I think it lends itself to a lot of different interpretations and it sort of works within a lot of the songs. ‘Soft Offering (for the Oft Suffering)’ refers outright to second sight. In that instance it’s referring to the daytime coming and tearing down the magic way of seeing the world that happens at night, that free kind of irresponsible, different sense of time in the nighttime. If you’re by yourself just writing, or reading, or just finally breathing when the day is done, or whether you’re out partying all night, the nighttime is just a whole new way of seeing things. That song is referring to that as a second sight.”
If there is one thing that comes through in Hey Rosetta!’s music it is emotion. Baker is a master of words, and Hey Rosetta! has gained a reputation for the intimacy and poetry of their music and lyrics. The words penetrate you to your core. It’s as if Baker rips a chunk of his heart out and hands it to you with each song. It’s hard to imagine where he continuously finds his inspiration and ideas from. “Sometimes they come from things I’ve just been thinking about. There are a few tunes on this record that are really about potential, like the song ‘Promise,’ for example. Possibly because I just try to write, and I try to reach my own potential, but I often fail and I just keep thinking about that. I have a lot of friends in the Arts that do similarly. We are bred in the culture that we are in that is so protagonist-heavy. You end up living vicariously through so many different characters, whether it’s through Netflix at night, or reading your books, or watching movies, or whatever. You see yourself as having this huge potential to be any kind of character, and most of them heroic – which is also what the song ‘Harriet’ is about. You are living in these fantasies and then meeting the world as you actually are. You find yourself wanting. That idea, I played with that quite a bit on the record,” Baker said.
“Some of the songs are stories not really about me at all, had nothing to do with me — like “Alcatraz” Other than the fact that I wrote it while I was in San Francisco — it’s about someone in jail. It sort of came from The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer about Gary Gilmore, that really brought that out.”
“I think a really emotional song on the record would be “Trish’s Song.” That’s definitely emotional, I think, for most people. It’s one of these songs that you just kind of dream of writing. Late at night it just sort of fell out of me within twenty minutes. I mean then I dug in and spent a couple of days doing backups on it, just layering backups in my room. It’s about . . . a dear friend of mine so that one still gets me.”
“And honestly the single, “Kintsukuroi,” I find I’m very closely connected with. That is a story that came directly out of my life. I feel that tune is quite powerful every time we perform it.”
Hey Rosetta! is known for its layering of various instruments within their songs. Along with the traditional rock band setup of guitar, bass, drums, and piano, Hey Rosetta! includes a violin, a cello and a French horn. Writing songs and creating music is a daunting task to be certain, particularly when so many players and personalities are involved. Surely the process must be interesting. “I work on a tune until I feel like it’s ready to be heard. If I don’t know if it’s ready to be heard, I send it along to the boys and get their thoughts. There’s not usually much discussion. It’s really more beneficial to just play together. We bang it around and work on parts. For this record especially, it was nice because we had so much time to really get experimental with it, and to try all sorts of different new sounds, different new grooves, different textures, and different kind of styles of singing and playing, so we could be pretty exhaustive. So it generally starts with a tune that I bring in which is more or less done lyrically, structurally, melodically and harmonically. Then the boys just make it good, make it cool, make it interesting, and make it way better than it was. It’s simultaneously the most fun and the most painful part of the whole thing,” Baker said of their song-writing method.
Hey Rosetta! embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Eastern United States in November. They are back on the road in late January to complete their US tour, and return to Canada in February. The tour includes two back-to-back shows at The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, and finishes with back-to-back shows at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver.
“We’ve toured with (Stars) before and we’ve played with them on a number of different occasions. We’re pretty close friends with them, and our managers are pretty good friends. It’s going to be really fun. We’re all looking forward to it.”
Hey Rosetta! returns to Canada for their cross-Canada tour, co-headlining with Stars:
February 3 – Kingston Ontario at The Grand Theatre
February 5 – Montreal, PQ at Metropolis
February 6 – Quebec City at the Imperial
February 7 – Ottawa at the National Arts Centre
February 8 – Guelph, On at Hillside Inside at RRC
February 11 – London, ON at London Music Hall
February 12 – Toronto at The Danforth Music Hall
February 13 – Toronto at The Danforth Music Hall
February 21 – Winnipeg at Burton Cummings Theatre
February23 – Saskatoon at O’Brian’s Event Centre
February 24 – Calgary at MacEwan Hall
February 25 – Edmonton at The Winspear
February 27 – Vancouver at The Vogue Theatre
February 28 – Vancouver at The Vogue Theatre
When asked what audiences can expect from Hey Rosetta! on this tour, Baker added, “we’re going to be playing mostly new songs so that’s exciting; at least that’s exciting for us. We’ll be playing all the old stuff that everyone else expects as well. It’s sort of a different record so the show is by extension different as well. (There will be) a lot more sounds and sort of textures happening. This is a co-headline show so we’re not going to go crazy with production but hopefully we’re going to pull off a fairly good show, a fairly exciting show to look at as well as to hear.”
A fairly good show? Of that, I’m quite certain. I am more than stoked as I will be attending one of their Toronto shows with Stars at the Danforth.
Don’t worry, I will keep you posted.
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)