Last year, the Tragically Hip commemorated their 1992 record Fully Completely not only with an artful box set, but a jigsaw puzzle too. In advance of the band's show at the Air Canada Centre on Feb. 19, we spoke with guitarist Rob Baker about a time of the group's career when it all came together, piece by piece.
The Tragically Hip broke through broke with Up to Here in 1989. And then, with 1991's Road Apples, you proved you were no flukes. But what was the challenge for that third album, Fully Completely?
You can ask what does a band do on its 13th or 14th album, which is the more pressing question at the moment. It's about not repeating yourselves, yet building on what you've done. The making of Fully Completely was about us wanting to learn.
And so you went with a different producer, Chris Tsangarides, rather than Don Smith, who you worked with on the first two albums.
For us, bringing in a producer is surrendering to the process and letting someone take charge. When you're in a five-way creative relationship, as the Hip is, it's very hard to give up any little part of your fiefdom.
Was is it harder to surrender to Tsangarides's process, given that he had a more meticulous, layered way of building and recording songs than what you were used to?
It was very different for us. The first two albums were much more a representation of what we were doing live onstage. It was us playing live in the studio, trying to capture that live energy. And it's very hard to capture that. Chris Tsangarides's approach was, "Let me create the live energy. I can do it for you. You guys just work with me."
The result, I think, was a more conceptual album than the first two records, which I see as collections of songs. Is that conception reflected in the album's artwork as well?
It was part of it. I had this idea of a Dutch life cycle, in a bacchanalian sort of scene – lots of decadence, decay and rebirth. I came across the work of Dutch artist Lieve Prins, and I left the idea with her. You find people who you like and admire, and you hand the ball off to them and let them run.
She had her own ideas on what the term "fully completely" meant, though, right? Involving I Ching symbols and numbers?
Right. And we loved her interpretation of the idea. It was not at odds with anything I had suggested to her. It's the same with Gord [Downie's] lyrics. They might mean one thing to him and something completely different to someone else. But isn't that kind of glorious?
To her, the phrase "fully completely" had to do with a state of perfection and equilibrium that is hard to maintain. Was the band at an ideal state back then?
Looking back, I think it was the point where the band was in a really grand stage. We were super-great friends, and our lives hadn't become overly complicated with domestic distractions [laughs]. Life happens to people. You move in different directions. We're much better musicians now than we were then. But with the first three records, maybe the first four, we were all reaching for the same thing. The aspirations were the same.
The Tragically Hip play Air Canada Centre, Feb. 19, 8 p.m., $33 to $144.25, 50 Bay St., 855-985-5000 or ticketmaster.ca.