In the United States, The Tragically Hip are tragically un-hip.
Once again, the band has released a magnificent album, “Trouble at the Henhouse,” without anyone noticing.
Last week, the Toronto band, which plays The Met Friday, shot a video for “Gift Shop.” It marks the 14th video the band has done over the course of their five albums. But “Gift Shop” probably won’t be shown on MTV or VH-1, predicts singer Gord Downie.
In Canada, The Tragically Hip’s commercial success and continued artistic growth parallels that of R.E.M. South of the border, The Tragically Hip command a smaller but tightknit following.
Although they’ve released a string of excellent albums, including “Road Apples,” “Fully, Completely” and “Day for Night,” the Hip have yet to crack the U.S. mainstream.
Ask Downie to explain why their commercial success has been elusive in the country and you get a variety of theories.
One of which is CanCon, a Canadian protectionist measure that limits the time American bands can occupy on Canadian airwaves so as to better support homegrown talent. Downie believes the measure instills a perception among Americans that Canadian music isn’t up to snuff.
“You’ve got this American person thinking your music is really not quite real because it has this government (act), which it isn’t. It’s as real as any other,” explained the singer in a phone interview last week.
“Then you get Canadian people asking the question, ‘How come you’re not big in the States?’ It’s like this need for American approval. In Canada, no matter who you are, they still say, ‘What about America?’
“At the same time I say to these Canadians, ‘Well, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have this protectionist measure that keeps the Americans from coming in here and swamping our airwaves and expect the Americans to turn around and welcome our music with open arms.’ “
Lack of notoriety in the United States hasn’t bogged down The Tragically Hip. It isn’t even a concern, really.
Uncommon in a sales-driven industry, Downie and the rest of the Hip - Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay and Paul Langlois - see success in a whole different light. It’s not about a platinum record, it’s about cultivating their music.
“Success is something that comes from within,” says Downie. “We managed to build our own studio and record ‘Trouble at the Henhouse.’ That’s a success. That’s something we wanted to do when we were 20.
“We’re cashing in the award of commercial success (in Canada) and turning that into artistic freedom, converting that into creative control. That’s what it’s all about for us.”
The Tragically Hip debuted in 1989 with an album called “Up to Here.” For its first three albums, the band was signed to MCA. After that relationship failed, they switched to Atlantic, which released “Day for Night” last year.
Without the luxury of radio play in this country, the Canadian band has relied on live performances to win fans over the years.
The group’s 1994 concert at The Met was one of the best of the year in Spokane. Downie, a madman on stage, charged through an emotionally fueled performance with his band, lending his wiry and biting vocals to one raucous song after another.
“With our band, and Atlantic understands this … if people see us live, that’s probably the best shot we have,” says Downie. “If a radio station guy goes out and see the band live, then, maybe, he’ll add the record (to the station’s rotation). That’s really all we have to go on. For a band, we know how to do that.”
, DataTimes MEMO: The Tragically Hip play The Met Friday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $16.50, available at all G&B Select-a-Seat outlets or by calling 325-SEAT.
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