After tireless touring behind her debut album Until here, The Tragically Hip traveled to Kingsway Studios in New Orleans to record their second album, which was armed with about a dozen solid songs. But when they arrived, The Hip couldn’t stop writing new material. It wasn’t long before they made more songs to use on a second album.
Producer Don Smith’s style was to keep the recorders rolling all the time, just in case a creative lightning bolt struck. He insisted that the band record everything they had and put everything on rolls and rolls of two inches of analog tape.
After the sessions were over, some tough decisions had to be made to limit the number of songs to 12 for an album that would eventually be featured Street apples. The album was a huge hit, peaking at number one on the Canadian charts and eventually selling more than a million copies. All of the decisions about which songs to include on the album were obviously the right ones.
But what about the songs that didn’t make the cut? And what happened to the tapes from those sessions? There is a fascinating story in it. I had the opportunity to speak to the four remaining members of the band and this is the oral story of the new one Saskadelphia Album. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Rob Baker: We wanted to make sure the follow up too Until here was as good or better. We were armed with many songs. As Don’s style, it’s all about the placement of the microphone and getting everyone in the right place and then just recording it all without a break. During that time we were just walking through material. And there were a lot of songs. And there were a lot of songs that we haven’t found yet.
Gord Sinclair: Johnny made many trips to our camp site on various occasions. There was a batch where he could find 20 of what I believe was 65 rolls of two-inch tape, e.g. Street apples. They were labeled so that was really easy. But we knew there was more. They were all in different places. The next batch was to compare the handwriting and look for the handwriting of engineer Bruce Barris on the back of the boxes. They weren’t labeled “tragically hip”. We haven’t found 25 yet. It was a really crazy process.
You would think they are easy to find with the help of library science. But they were scattered everywhere. One was in an “other” box with various artists.
Johnny Fay: Some were at Richard Branson’s Mastering House in California. We also found some tapes in Pennsylvania in an abandoned mine shaft which is a great place to store two inch tapes as they take up a lot of space.
Paul Langlois: (After the street Apples Sessions) we were just on our way. We were on tour the whole time. Touring, recording, writing. We didn’t think of that Street apples has exceeded for 30 years.
Gord Sinclair: That was the time. It was amazing to go through this process and stumble upon songs we couldn’t even remember.
Johnny Fay: One of the people who do Rick Rubins stuff said if you lift the lid of a tape box and it smells like acid or vinegar, you have a chance to rehabilitate the tape. You have to bake it. Otherwise, the tape can actually leave the adhesive. So if you don’t get it to the right temperature and broadcast it right away, it may not even be heard.
The oven you are using looks like an easy-bake oven. It sucks all the moisture out of the belt. And then have your passport with you within 12 hours (transferring the content).
Rob Baker: It was difficult on some levels. You know, it’s fun to hear songs that were so dear to our hearts 30 years and 30 years ago, and you haven’t heard them yet. But it’s like Gord is in the room. It’s hard to hear Gord in the room and be transported back like that.
Gord Sinclair: It was like stepping into a time machine.
Paul Langlois: We were up in the hut and I had the recordings. I really didn’t mean to push for “play”. It was in the evening and I just said, “I don’t know.” Those songs didn’t record and I hadn’t heard them in 30 years. How will it be I expected to be disappointed, but it was just the opposite. Whoa. Impressive. I was back in Kingsway immediately. “Law. This song rocked!“It was a lot rockier than I expected and a lot better than I expected. There was an emotional response to it. It was pretty inspiring.
Gord Sinclair: At this point we had the tiger by the tail. Until here had done really well and we played in Europe and all of North America. It was also the start of a really creative time for us when we gave up on the idea of individual writing and really started putting our chops together and writing together. I think that’s one of the reasons we had so many songs and why we kept writing in New Orleans.
Rob Baker: We had toured a lot in the past two, three and four years. And you don’t know what city you are in. Someone joked, “I think we’re in Saskadelphia.” We thought it would be a fun title for an album. But the US record company said, “Yeah, too Canadian. We can’t do that. ” That lead to Street apples – what they didn’t get at all. In the generation of my parents. They went out and played street hockey with a piece of frozen horse ** t. These are “street apples”. “We’re going to call our own album” Horsesh ** t “and hit the critics.
Gord Sinclair: There are more songs. There’s a lot of stuff on tape – once we find it. We made some of them multi-lane and worked again and again.
Johnny Fay: There are definitely other bands. We know that there are multiple versions of all of the songs by Street apples. And then there are these outtakes that we didn’t use. There are a couple of tapes that are definitely missing. Some may come back at a later date, but who knows?
Paul Langlois: With Completely completeI think we published everything. But we recorded a lot. As a quantity. I can’t even imagine … like in our studio (The Bathhouse outside of Kingston) there is a lot of extra stuff depending on the recording. We really have to focus on one record. It takes physical things to find and everyone has to think, “OK, what did we record?” The later it got in our careers, the less likely we are to remember. But that’s why we’re doing this. It honors Gord (Downie) because he was a big part of it. He was there. There were five of us. This was our first run and everyone is happy with it. The search continues.
Johnny Fay: The legacy will live beyond us. We created this thing and it will just go on living. If we can fix everything, it can just come out. And we’ll be able to tell our story better than anyone because we were there. This is important to us.
Paul Langlois: A book has been spoken of for years. It’s an idea floating around. It will probably happen at some point.
Saskadelphia Song directory:
- Ouch (Not included on Street apples because of its similarity in style and feel Turn my arm and Cordelia.)
- Not necessary (A little too close Small bones.)
- Montreal (Live) (The song is from the Street apples Era, but this is a live recording from a performance at the Bell Center in December 2000.)
- Crack my spine like a whip (A former set opener and encore favorite.)
- As good as (Circulated as a pirated copy for decades.)
- Reformed Baptist Blues (One of the oldest songs in all of The Tragically Hip canon. This is the only recording of the song in existence.)
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for News Gob.
Subscribe to Alan’s “A Running History of New Music” podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play