Interview with Great Big Sea

Having released five studio albums that have now sold close to one million copies in Canada, the four members who make up Newfoundland's Great Big Sea say the past few years have been an incredible roller coaster ride. Earlier this year the group celebrated the release of their latest album titled Sea of No Cares. Prior to the second of two sold out shows in Peterborough, Ontario in early November of 2002. I spoke by phone to group member Sean McCann for this interview.

GB- How is the tour going so far?

SM - Tour is fabulous, sold out all over the place. Just great crowds. Great reaction from the people. It's very nice to be back. We haven't toured Canada in a couple of years. It's very much of what home is like here. People made us feel like we are back home which is great. It's like being on vacation and been a real roller coaster. We are concentrating on American audiences spending a lot of time down there and that's been growing. Touring a lot and really enjoying playing the songs. The reactions been huge. It's a dream come true.

GB- Ever imagine years ago when you were playing kitchen parties in Nfld that some day you would be selling a million albums and playing big arenas?

SM - We had hope to. It's always been our intention to sell millions of records and play to thousands of people at a time. That's always what we have been set up to do. Many times these dreams don't come true and we are lucky I guess, as it worked for us.

GB - I enjoyed the live concert that was on CBC earlier this year. Get good feedback on that?

SM - Yes. That is also now being broadcast of 62 PBS stations in America, which is the main reason we did that to get some more TV profile, as we don't get played on MTV. Even though they should but they don't. So PBS was a way in the back door television wise which is working fine.

GB - I guess your not a boy band so no airplay on MTV or Much Music here in Canada?

SM - Much Music is 16 and under now which is .. whatever. I don't watch Much Music anymore with the terrible pop music that they play. We're on MuchMusic and CMT now.

GB - Is song-writing for the group a collaborative effort?

SM - Myself and Allan often co-write most of the songs actually. Bob writes one song for every record which turns out to be a real diamond. Darrell has yet to do any of that stuff but ya Allan and I will sit down as we are very like minded musically. I'll come to him with some ideas and actually we finish each others songs more than anything else. We have a certain amount of trust for each other. You need that cause it's hard to take the credit, as not all of your ideas are going to be really good, so you go to be able to be very good friends so you can openly criticize each other without browsing egos. We have come to that stage in our relationship we can say anything bad to each other it wont matter, like true brothers.

GB - And you all get along good on tour I assume?

SM - Ya we were out last night visiting the local libraries and touring the churches, just to do some research for back home (laughs) That's a joke by the way.

GB - I kind of figured that (laughs). How did the exposure you got from being in The Shipping News movie help the band out?

SM - That was another great thing. We had some wicked times this year. Great things have happened. We have a lot of friends back home in Newfoundland where they filmed it and they kept putting the CD in the directors car and in his room and stuff. So no matter where he went there would be Great Big Sea music. We annoyed him so much he had to put in on the movie. It wasn't a really successful movie in the US. I didn't really take off but certainly didn't hurt us. The people who did see it noticed how beautiful Newfoundland was and they were like, what's that music in the background. So I guess to answer your question, somewhat and we certainly got payed a few Hollywood dollars for doing that, so it was all right.

GB - The web site quite impressive, you guys go on that often as I see Allan posts a daily diary on there?

SM - Ya he is in there everyday doing his thing. Not so much me but I might check it out every now and then and see what the chat room people are saying about me (laughs).

GB - Sea of no Cares was recorded in some unusual places. Was that to set a mood?

SM - We wanted to do it in St. Johns as we always do it home. We also like views. Most studios have no windows for sound purposes. We don't really care what it sounds like. We need a view so we ended up in an old paint factory that had a great view and an upholstery place which had a view and my house which has a view. Recording these days, the technology is such that you can pretty much do it anywhere if you have a good engineer and we do. We never started flying to Toronto to do stuff like that, they have better studios but we never cared about that. Our music is very much about where we are from and it helps to be there when we're doing it. There is really no fixed studio in St. Johns, so we're forced to set up guerilla studios all over the place and it's worked out well. It's nice to sing Widow in the Window while your looking out the window when it's dark and you see the ships coming in and out of St. John's harbour.

GB - How is the crowd reaction to the new songs?

SM - Great. On this particular album we never usually we'd try the songs on audiences and see how it goes so we'd know if they would be successful cause they would be road tested but this time we didn't road test any of these songs. We hadn't played them live at all so it was a bit of a gamble that way but it turned out to be a good once because we had no preconceived notion so its truly a studio album. We used the studio as a tool as opposed to let it use us and it turned out to be a good experiment. We didn't worry about what a lot of it would sound like live. We just said lets make it sound the way we want it and we will deal with a lot of stuff later. As a result we have a new drummer which is great. A guy named Chris MacFarlame from Westville, Nova Scotia.

GB - Is it difficult balancing traditional music with pop music?

SM - People often ask us it must be a drag to do one or the other but no its no drag we like both. For us its quite natural because where we are from this is a natural way to behave. I grew up listing to traditional folk music and kitchen parties and stuff where someone would play a traditional Newfoundland followed by an Elvis Presley song.

GB - You have played Fredericton a few times now and even put a few songs from here on you live album. Any memories of the city?

SM - There was a couple of little pubs I remember going to visit. I remember there being pretty girls there too. That's two things that come to mind. I'll be down there again doing my normal being bad and playing with the local people. Fredericton is a beautiful town, especially this time of year. I remember when we did our Road Rage album we had a particular good sounding audience in Fredericton, so there is a lot of tracks that come from there on that album. So I'm looking forward to their being a particular strong vocal audience in Fredericton.

GB- I'm sure their will be. I understand a lot of the venues your playing on this tour are sold out, that must make you guys feel good?

SM - The response as been amazing. We've sold over 200,000 tickets on this tour. It's a huge tour. We're playing places that no one goes and we're selling them out and its fabulous.

GB - So what happens after this tour ends?

SM - Well we're stopping. We're going take a break and stay off the road till probably the end of January and probably write some songs and suff. Get back to the basics and do it all over again, hooray, hooray.

This interview I did with Bob and Darrell on December 1, 1999 in Fredericton,NB, Canada

GB-This is your first major cross Canada tour how are things going?

DP-It's been a total of thirty eight shows and we're winding down the last five or six and it's been a world wind. It's the first time we've really done a full Canadian tour west to east and each day is more exciting.

GB-Is playing large hockey arenas make it difficult for you to maintain your intimacy with the audience?

BH-It's not a problem if you do it right, when we play in theatres. We try to make it as comfortable for people as we can and if the audience walks away comfortable, then they walk away enjoying themselves.

GB- Tell me how the band initially formed?

DP-We really formed six years ago in 1993 when we were just ambling through school on the edge of a whole other career and we decided to come together as a band and play traditional music, that's really how it happened. It just went on from there, all that and about 6,278 gigs later and I think you will find where we're at today.

GB-Did you even imagine the band would get this far?

BH-We surely wanted to but we didn't think to much about tomorrow. We were too busy playing the shows. We always wanted to get this big but every band does, but very few actually make it.

GB- You describe yourselves as a folk band but would you say you also have rock angle to your music?

DP-Well first and foremost we are a folk band. We play folk music but we always approach it from of a rock angle and rock attitude. I think our shows have always been aggressive and intense and that really rubbed off on the crowd as well, and that's what is great about these crazy show we've done in the last couple of weeks.

BH-Ya if we say we're a folk band it's because we still use the same instruments like we did in the beginning and all the guitars are acoustic. We don't have any amplifiers, drums, keyboards or synthesizers. It's all basic simple instruments and that's where it comes from. How we treat it and how we approach it, that where rock n roll comes from. We don't consider ourselves a folk rock band because we're not and we don't approach this music from a rock n roll point of view.

GB-On your latest album Turn some of the songs appear to steer more into a pop direction, was that a conscious effort on your part?

DP - Well I think as each new project with the band, we are probably getting better at song writing and editing tunes, and better at standing tunes side by side with the traditional ones that have worked for hundreds of years. What we have on this album in particular is a great balance with the original music. Our writing is still heavily influenced by the folk instruments and standing next to some songs like Captain Wedderburn which is a child balled that is six or eight hundred years old.

GB- I have notice Much Music seldom play your videos anymore while MuchMoreMusic seems to playing they quite regularly. Why is that?

BH-They hate us. Much has in the last few years has made a conscious effort to turn more towards urban music and they started MuchMoreMusic which was part of that.

DP-Once you cross the line, which we did, it seemed we became formatted from one video station to another. It's like never the twain shall meet and I think that's the way it's gonna be in that industry from now on.

BH-Ya Much is not going to support the non top Canadian bands the way they did five years ago. They're not gonna do it. Not only that but Much, whether we like it or not, is a large part of the business now in America and because of that, the music station's focus is on bands that either A: profile in America or B: likely to have a large scale profile there. That's why you see Our Lady Peace on a thousand times a week.

GB-That's odd considering your shows are regularly sold out with large percentage's of young people in attendance.

DP-That's a testament to the fans who are coming out to see the show. We're having fun playing these shows but the fact is a lot of other people are having a lot of fun too, and that's why there is so many coming out to see the show. You have to experience it live to get it and that why people are coming.

GB- The band has been in Europe a few times! What is the reaction to the shows over there?

BH-Going back to our indie days in 94 was actually the first time we toured Europe. Long before we were touring America, we were working overseas. It's a lot of fun! That's the reason we do it if anything else, we haven't made huge amounts of money at it but we do have a high profile in Germany and Denmark and certainly in January, as soon as this tour ends, that's when we will return to those shows.

GB- I understand you are closing off the New Years with a big concert in Saint John's, Newfoundland?

DP-Yes we're closing of the Millennium with a free show at the waterfront . If we were not working or doing anything to end the Millennium, there is a good chance the four of us would be there anyway. There's going to be upwards of 70,000 people there and we just can't wait and that's the end of the tour.

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