Any dedicated musician will tell you that a career in music is far from easy. Even if you're the biggest pop star on the planet, the full-time gig can be very difficult. Whether it's constantly touring, eating unpleasant food, or simply just missing home, the vague notion of "I wanna be a rock star!" always forgets to add the question, "At what cost?" Even for a band that has been in the business for a decade, it's impossible to nail down the formula for success. One band still trying to figure it all out is the Canadian seven-piece Hey Rosetta!
Last Friday, Hey Rosetta! rolled into town to play a show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The band has been touring heavily in support of their latest album, Second Sight, which was released last year. I sat down with front man Tim Baker to ask about life on the road, his songwriting process, and a myriad of random questions that he was totally not expecting me to ask. Check out the interview below and discover how Dunkin' Donut breakfast sandwiches are actually something that will bring fear into his eyes.
So how's the tour going so far?
Tim Baker: It's good; it's been pretty heavy. This is only night three and it's been kind of hectic already. We got a lot of gear with us. We're sort of set up to play these big Canadian rooms and not really these little rooms we're playing down here so it's a bit challenging to get loaded in and set up on time and find the room on stage to physically play, but it's been good. We only played DC and Philly, and DC was great. Last night was all right. It was a long night. It was four bands, and we were last. It's been a long, long night...beautiful bands though and playing with Kevin [Ed note: Garrett] is great. He's great. He's sort of a palette cleanser cause he's real quiet.
How did you guys prepare for the tour? Did you rehearse a lot or are you always just jamming whenever you can?
TB: This one, we did not rehearse at all for it *laughs*. But we were on tour for all of January and February and much of March. We had three weeks off. We all were sort of in separate cities and just got together the day of the DC show. It's a little stressful. We're hoping today will afford us some time to run a couple things because the only real issue with that...I mean I think we know the songs well enough that we're still fairly tight without rehearsing... but we were down here a few months ago, and I want to do a different set. I wanna do different tunes, and we haven't been able to do that so hopefully we'll get to run some once in sound check and just go on faith. I like doing it anyway. I think it's fresh as a performer.
What has been your favorite snack so far on the tour?
TB: It's been a dastardly tour so far in terms of food. We just did a big Canadian tour and American tour, and we pulled in lots of money and had nothing to show for it at the end of the tour. We had a big crew and a bus, and it was a big production. We stayed maybe two nights in hotels, and we kind of screwed up so now on this tour, we're tightening the belt and staying out of town every night. So it's a lot of highway food. It's pretty gross. I had Taco Bell last night before I went to bed and Dunkin' Donuts before I woke up this morning. It's not great.
I know you guys have a very varied sound with a lot of different instruments. Do you think there's any specific X factor instrument that makes you guys stand out or is the whole package kind of essential?
TB: I think the varied nature is a great strength. We have a fairly eclectic kind of sound and that's basically a result of us not really having a specific sound or style on purpose. We really let each song kind of dictate how it's gonna be treated. Obviously, we only play certain instruments, and that contributes to the overall arrangement in the end, but we sort of let the songs do the talking so I would hesitate to say since I'm the songwriter, but the variation is our greatest strength.
As the songwriter, do you usually have full control, or do you let other members do their thing when you bring them a demo?
TB: It's quite collaborative when we get to that point in the process. I usually have a song sketched out: melodies, words, chord progressions, and the form. I have like a vague sort of dreamy kind of vision of what it could be and then we bang our heads together for a while. We've been at it 10 years now and as much as it's hard for 5, 6, or 7 people to create something together, I think the creativity and the ideas you get from having all sorts of people working together is grittier than the things you have to give away I think. Yeah, it's very collaborative.
When do you find yourself writing songs? Do you sit down and think about it, or do they just come to you and you hope you can get them written down as fast as you can?
TB: I work at it. It's pretty rare to be struck by something. I mean you know you have ideas come to you all the time, and I saw a comic the other day about sort of the life of the idea. The first panel...I'm assuming it's the comic artist talking about his own ideas...but it's like a light bulb. He's utterly in love with this idea. It's amazing like, "I'm a genius," and then you just try to work it, and it gets worse and worse and you start doubting it and you hate it. *laughs*
And you know...you do occasionally get given a gift of a song in the late hours of the night or something. You can get something down in 10 or 20 minutes, but I get like one or two of those a year. I'm the one who sits and works at it, and whatever initial impulse you had, you edit to death until you feel happy about it.
Your songs have an ethereal vibe about them. I know that the environment is important to you. You've spoken about different groups like Seeds of Survival and I wanted to know if you think that younger audiences -- like post-grads -- moving to big cities like NYC, Seattle, Portland, and Boston makes them forget about environmental needs?
TB: You definitely become divorced from the natural world. We do as well on the road. We spend all our time driving past nature and then getting out of the van in either like some sort of gas station area or a city. Actually, one of the plus sides of this tour is staying at shitty motels on the highway...is often you can walk out of the parking lot into a field which I love. When we were outside of Washington the other day, there was this stream behind the Comfort Inn. I went down and just sat there for like an hour and a half. *laughs*
I had been in Toronto for my weeks off, and you really forget about how sublime a force nature is and how great it makes you feel. So, I think you do become disconnected in larger cities, but at the same time you also see some sort of indication on the impact of people on the environment. Just on our drive today, we had to drive through New Jersey and thirty minutes of that drive is just refinery after refinery and steel mills, and it's ugly, and the scale is mind blowing. So, at least you get to see how serious shit is and what a force the human demand for materials [is]. That kind of snaps you away. I don't know if you get that walking around Williamsburg, but you can get it in New Jersey on the way in.
Would you say you are generally a one-take artist or a perfectionist?
TB: I have definitely been a perfectionist in the past and we've moved away from that a bit on this record, and I think we will continue to do that. You know starting out, we didn't really have any idea about recording at all. We would try and push and push and often white wash things until they had no personality. They were too perfect. As you get older, you realize that things can be perfectly imperfect and that's generally the case with music you love. Still probably not a one-take artist but maybe less than like ten these days.
I noticed you guys switch producers on your albums. Is that something you do on purpose to keep a new fresh sound or you just haven't found someone you vibe with completely?
TB: Marcus [Paquin] was kind of amazing actually. He was the last guy we used. I would love to work with him again. He was just a great spirit and demeanor and [had a] way of working with great taste...great set of skills. He was a great communicator; really gets everyone talking and using their words. It's so easy to not be able to explain music, and I like to try and explain everything like why everything does everything. We had lots of good sessions of hashing things out and it was all very respectful. Can't say enough about that guy so we might work with him again depending on everyone's schedule. I would like to.
If you weren't making music and had to do the 9-5 what would you be doing
TB: Well, you know, you do think about this from time to time when you're waking up early and back on the highway and got a Dunkin' Donuts breakfast sandwich stuck in your throat. I would probably go back to school and do post graduate work. I have a degree in Sociology...so probably humanities or teach. I don't know. To be thrust back in that zone again. It's been awhile. It's been 10 years since I sat there and said, "What am I gonna do?" This has taken over our lives for a decade or so. It's crazy.
What's you're biggest hobby outside of music?
TB: I don't do much else to be honest with you. When we're off the road, that's when it's time to write and do all the work behind the scenes. I like riding my bicycle around town. I like even more riding it out of town. That's better. I don't know. Honestly, I don't do much else. It's kinda sad. Just try and stay healthy and keep your head above the water.
Any plans post tour? Get back in the studio or take a big break?
TB: We have a little break. We're off for a bunch of May. Romesh, our cellist, is getting married in May so we're gonna be all on the home familiar land for that. It's kind of a light summer. Doing a bunch of festivals and when we're not doing that, I'll be writing pretty much the whole summer trying get another batch of songs going.