When Charlottetown power-pop outfit Two Hours Traffic recently announced their imminent breakup and farewell tour, the members pledged in a statement that the split had nothing to do with internal dysfunction or creative malaise.
Which left fans wondering why, exactly, they were breaking up then, with the two most obvious reasons ruled out? Well, frontman Liam Corcoran says that despite a decade-plus career that has yielded some success – a Polaris Prize nomination, a devoted following and a horde of East Coast Music Award nominations, including one win – the band's four members still couldn't support themselves financially through music.
"We had been struggling for a while to make a living doing this," Corcoran said recently in a telephone interview. "We'd had the conversation a lot in the last two years of how long can we keep this going without really making a living and coming home, working for $10 an hour?
"Despite the successes we had, it still isn't something we can rely on to pay the bills," he continued. "So we're still coming home and scrambling to get everything else done. There's a lot of honour in that but after 12 years we decided we'd done what we could and it was time to move on.
"It really comes down to, you're 30, you're not making a living at what you're doing and you have to re-evaluate."
Indeed, Corcoran and guitarist Andrew MacDonald worked at a local clothing store when they were off tour. Eventually, drummer Derek Ellis decided that he wanted to pursue a master's degree at Western University in London, Ont.
To continue would have likely meant replacing him, which – after the 2011 departure of founding guitarist Alec O'Hanley – would have left Two Hours Traffic with only two original members.
"We started to feel it wasn't the band it used to be and if we continued to play under the name Two Hours Traffic, it'd be kind of dishonest," Corcoran explained.
Looking back, Corcoran is intensely proud of the band's output.
After 2005's self-titled debut earned some attention – "Limelight" wound up featured in an episode of "The O.C." – 2007's "Little Jabs" brought Two Hours Traffic perhaps their greatest success. The Polaris-nominated disc further established the band's gift for hook-laden power pop, merging the legacy of such acclaimed tunesmiths as Marshall Crenshaw and Nick Lowe with modern, lean production redolent of the first Strokes album.
That gift for melody never left, not on the slightly moodier 2009 disc "Territory" or what will likely stand as the group's swan song, 2012's "Foolish Blood," a record that found the group exploring more spacious production and a slightly wider palette of sounds.
In Corcoran's opinion, it's the band's best work.
"I hate to say it because I don't know how to be objective but I truly feel that 'Foolish Blood' was kind of the culmination of what we wanted to do," he said. "I know from a fan's perspective that 'Little Jabs' is definitely the one that I think got us the most supporters and there's a lot of really great songs on that that we're really proud of, but we were 18 and 19 when we wrote a lot of that, and it's hard for me to relate to that material as much.
"I think with 'Foolish Blood,' we did our best to paint a little more adult picture of what a love relationship is like. It was just a real struggle to make the record in a number of ways, and it just felt like one of those moments where we really accomplished what we set out to do."
In fact, as much as the band didn't feel creatively drained, Corcoran's not sure how they would have topped that album.
"I feel like 'Foolish Blood' represented the best we could do with the sound we created," he said. "Because we never deviated too, too far from a certain kind of pop formula. I felt the stuff I'm writing personally now wouldn't fit into that in any way. You never know what could happen but I felt it could be tough to even make another record and faithfully call it Two Hours Traffic."
Yes, Corcoran is still writing. He and MacDonald plan to work on new tunes through the winter, though he cautions "we don't have any secret peas ready to sling on the Internet."
His next priority is the band's farewell tour, which will begin Dec. 12 at Toronto's Lee's Palace before winding through other Ontario cities, New Brunswick and Halifax and ultimately finishing with a pair of shows in Charlottetown Dec. 21 and 22.
Reflecting on Two Hours Traffic's decade-plus run, he's proud of how the band remained faithful to its creative vision.
"I like how we stuck to our guns. We started off just kind of writing really earnest pop love songs. ... In the beginning, (we looked up to) Ron Sexsmith and people who could write a song that's a really gushing love song and not apologize for it. I took a big cue from that.
"Even on our last record, which is 12 years later, we're still exploring that kind of song," he added. "We tried to master the writing of the pop song about love."
Oh, and although the members may be going their separate ways, Corcoran re-iterated definitively that his bond with founding members MacDonald and Ellis remains as strong as ever.
"Me and Andy and Derek are pretty much best friends," said Corcoran, noting that they also became "really good friends" with bassist Nathan Gill, who joined the band last year.
"Everyone's on great terms."