It might well be the most anticipated Canadian album of the year.
On February 15, the day after Valentine’s Day, Hey Rosetta! will be releasing their new album. Elling Lien got a chance to sit down and chat with lead singer Tim Baker about each of the tracks.
The title of the album
Let’s talk about the title of the record, Seeds. Where did the name come from?
Technically, it comes from the title track, but it’s more than that. In the title track, the idea is that we are seeds, traveling from town to town, blowing around, settling down here and there, trying to make something for people. Really, I like the name Seeds for the record because the songs are seeds, and that’s the idea. They’re these little things –- four and five minute things — but they have the ability to grow in your brain and be far more meaningful than just what they are.
There are also recurring themes of springtime and rebirth and hope and that sort of stuff.
And it also goes with “supporting sustainable farms and buying organic seeds and produce,” like you wrote in the liner notes.
Yeah, there’s also that. I wanted to put that in there too. I think it’s important. I’ve read a bit and I’ve seen a few films that are horrifying. Food Inc. and The World According to Monsanto and Seeds of Change. It’s really fucking important.
I don’t want to be preachy or anything, but we put that in there. It’s an important thing right now — the future of seeds — and it kind of worked well with the whole idea and theme. The seed paper goes with that too. [There's a square of paper which contains seeds included in each CD.]
That was an interesting touch.
I like it. I think it’s cool.
It’s a little cheesy too, but whatever.
[laugh] It is. But it’s cool to plant something and it grows! As flaky as that sounds, it is actually amazing. I don’t know what these seeds will grow into. They’re supposed to grow into carrots or rape seed. But even if you just see things sprout in the window! It’s amazing.
The song “Seeds” is about touring. With the band, we find ourselves watching nature out the window, going from town to town. It can be really boring, really hard on your body and kind of a harsh lifestyle, but there are moments when it’s really beautiful. There are these moments when somebody grabs a guitar and starts singing, or you’re driving on the highway sitting in the back of the van and someone puts on an amazing record really loud and everyone is in an amazing mood. The times when you really feel the power of movement and the hope from moving from one good thing to something better. The song is sort of about that. It’s also about a road trip I took with a girlfriend I had in 2004. We drove from St. John’s to California and back. It took three months and so there’s a bit of that in it. The sexy stuff. [laugh]
That idea of the road trip, leaving shit behind and going to find something new and a little bit of Leonard Cohen’s The Favourite Game as well, which is an amazing fucking book. Really incredible. It includes a few pages of them driving through the Quebec winter at night that are really great.
2: “Yer Spring”
“Yer Spring” is a tough one. The idea was that being in a band we find ourselves in bars a lot of the time. On the road, and even nights we have off, we end up in bars a lot, and I often end up asking myself, “why am I here?” Bars are kind of gross. They’re expensive, and everyone is kind of poisoning themselves. I wondered, “why are all these people here?” “What are we all looking for?” “What are we looking to find or discover this evening?” So this song is kind of about drinking in the hopes of finding something and then realizing that you’re just hurting yourself.
In that same way it’s about religion as well. Trying to find that thing, that rebirth or regeneration or hope in religion and having that fail you as well. It’s about looking for that — that spring — and it failing on you.
It’s kind of depressing but it doesn’t feel that depressing. It ends with a sort of call or supplication. “Doctor unbandage my eyes. I feel the light and I’m ready to be out in it.”
I always feel a little bit bad when asked about what things are about, because they are generally about kind of heavy things. Important things, you know.
Well, why else write about them?
[laugh] Well this is it. I’m trying to be a little lighter. There’s nothing wrong with music with a couple lines and some beautiful music.
But words are always combined with music in your case, and I think you can always find hope in the music, whether or not it’s in the lyrics.
Yeah, I guess it’s all a part of the same package.
3: Young Glass
Young Glass is a letter to a character to from the novel Franny and Zooey. The character Franny. J.D. Salinger is one of my all time favourites. So amazing. So this is a song to her. I found that book really, really, affecting. Really good. I really liked her character. I’m sure the book –- that character — is in everybody quite a bit. So I thought there were a few Franny Glasses out there to write to.
This one was a bit magical, the way it came together. I couldn’t find the chorus for a long time and it came to me when I was out in the night. I was staying at my brother’s apartment in Halifax, and went for a run because I was working on this. It was one in the morning and I was super frustrated with it.
In the book there was this character, named Seymour, that everyone kind of worships a little. Their brother Seymour is dead. He committed suicide, but he was this genius who nursed everyone into these intelligent, amazing people. Anyway, I was running down Seymour Street when it came to me. I stopped and was like, “that’s it, man!”
Oh, you’re making this up.
I’m not making it up. I swear to God. It finally came to me. I was like, “fucking wicked!” And I looked over and I was on the corner of Seymour Street and South Street, I think, and I yelled out. It’s right in the Dalhousie housing area and I was shouting out. I sprinted up Seymour street, ran back to the apartment and wrote it down.
So, yeah… It was a bit of a gift.
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This is “a song about doubt,” you wrote in the liner notes…
Yeah. And that’s the song that really needs that kind of description, because it wouldn’t make any sense without it.
It’s about doubt, about speaking doubt. About doubts in a relationship, like people constantly have. There’s this inner flux within you, like, “this is great!” Or “this isn’t working.” “This is good.” “Oh, I’d love to get out of this.” “Oh, this is so awesome!”
So this song was about knowing when to speak that doubt and when not to speak it, because once you say it you can’t take it back. It can be so destructive, so undoable.
So yeah, that’s what the song’s about. Plus there are a bunch of mixed metaphors. Doubts are flies, doubts are armies… [laugh]
5: New Sum (Nous Sommes)
This one was so long in the making. I think there are nine versions with completely different verses.
The idea was that people and things are all interconnected. It’s a theme in lots of stuff that I’ve done and stuff that I’m interested in. I think that no matter what age you are that hits you once in a while. I’ve been really obsessed with the idea for a long time. The idea of seeing things — like seeing an object — and seeing its past. Seeing what happened to it before it came where it is now. Like this table or chair, or people. It gets a little more complex with people.
I think if you could actually look at the world like that, it would be really overwhelming. The web is too complex to really truly see, but I think it’s really healthy to try to see it. Because then you realize that because of that chair — which was made in Thailand or something like that — we’re connected to the people who made it.
It’s so easy to take the things around you for granted and not think about them, or to think about where things go when you throw them in the garbage or whatever.
I like the line “The bankers, the beggers, the bears are all brothers.” [laugh]
Here you’ve taken audio of someone speaking and put music over top of it. You guys have never done that before…
Yea, I love that stuff.
Who is the guy?
Well, my grandparents and my family, all my father’s side of the family, is from central Newfoundland, and they have a long history of gardening to eat. All my grandparents are dead, but I was looking for someone to speak about that. I wanted it to be a beautiful Newfoundland accent. I ended up calling Phil’s great uncle Bill. He has a great garden out in Holyrood and we drove out there one day and had a chat with him. The three of us sat down with him around the table. He said some beautiful things that I thought were really appropriate, you know? The music was a difficult thing… Now the song is a kind of intermission.
(The full version is also streaming on their website)
The big new single, man. [laugh]
Well, I think it’s a really great song. I have to admit, it gave me chills. I even teared up a little bit. [laugh]
That’s great. Our manager said the same thing. “That song, man, I cried like three times listening to that song!” he said. And he’s the one that really wanted it to be the single. To me it’s that song doesn’t sound like as ferocious, or big or epic as it was planned.
So what’s it about?
It’s about my really good friends Pat and Melissa. They’re from here and living in Victoria now, and they just had a baby. I wrote that song to the baby, in utero. We were sort of goofing around, telling the baby not to come out. Stay as long as you can in there, because it’s shitty out here. It’s way too much work, it’s cold… You should definitely stay in there. So it’s about that, but it’s about the bravery of bringing a kid into the world too.
It’s about life, man! [laugh]
It’s a simple little song I wrote.
“Seventeen” was written while on tour, driving up the highway 17, which goes through northern Ontario. It’s a brutal highway.
It’s never-ending! I know that highway.
It stretches from Ottawa to Manitoba.
So it’s about that highway, but it’s also about the age seventeen. The highway runs between east and west, and the age is between childhood and adulthood. It’s also about running away and being in the middle of something and not really knowing where to go next but still enjoying being adrift.
9: Yer Fall
This is a coming of age song. The fall, the autumn of childhood. A fall from that innocence. It’s a little dark.
One of the lines in the chorus is, “my love, my love is dead, I buried it.” Yeah, that’s pretty heavy.
Yeah. Sometimes you have a melody and words come out and you just have to go with it, you know? And sometimes you have to base the song or a whole section of the song on that. Which is what happened.
“And now we close these petals to the oncoming ice. I’m not coming out, I’m not coming out, I’m not coming out.”
The description below the lyrics in the liner notes says “grow up boy, hardly grown. Grow hard. Leave the 1990s and come on.” What does that mean?
A note to my previous self, I guess. You can’t help but think about your childhood receding.
The opening is… I guessed I shouldn’t say pinched… It’s an homage to James Agee.
He wrote only a couple of books, kind of a precursor to Jack Kerouac. Very heavily poetic writing.
Anyway, that part is from the prologue to his autobiographical novel called Death in the Family. It was written from the kid’s point of view, and it’s about him lying on the blanket in the back yard with all these bigger bodies around him, these adults that care about him and will care for him and then carry him into bed when he falls asleep. It’s one of the most beautiful passages I have ever read. It’s sort of naïve, but at the same time, he is talking about the joy of having these people around him. And at the same time he is asking God to look after them and he will do what he can to look after him. It has that kind of naïve and serious thing you get with kids.
10: Parson Brown (Upirngaangutuq Iqalunni)
The way this song ends is surprising, and for people are not familiar with throat singing it would be even more surprising.
I know! I hummed and hahed — pardon the pun — about taking it out or leaving it in. And I was finally convinced to leave it in. I have been wanting to put throat singing in a song for a while. We did a tour up in the arctic and played with some throat singers and drummers and heard a bunch. It’s really arresting and crazy compelling. It’s kind of mysterious and kind of sexual.
There are two girls holding each other and they’re inches from each other’s face, staring at each other’s eyes, and it’s a bit of a staring contest as I understand it. The first one to laugh loses. So it always ends in laughter, and that happens right at the end of the track.
I’m hoping the laughter will relieve some of the tension people feel when they hear it, because I know the first few times we took the files around and played them for people, there would always be this really uneasy tension when they heard it at the end of that song… It’s not sexy music, but here out of the blue there’s this weird, pseudo-sexy groaning at the end!
So how does the throat singing relate to the song?
Well, when we were in Iqaluit it was September and it was already snowing. The weather was kind of like it is here now, and I was just blown away by that. I thought the idea of spring up there must be something really intense. It’s amazing enough here when spring comes… in June. And the flowers come out and the birds are singing…
And you can feel the sun is coming out and it smells everywhere and it’s this beautiful fucking thing. So I can’t even imagine what it must mean up there after nine months of winter up there.
So, the song is not really about that. It’s about a sort of cold and lonely guy and as the name would suggest, almost sort of a re-telling a Frosty the Snowman. [laugh]
[Singing:] “In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Parson Brown…”
I didn’t plan to do it that way! I was writing about just being alone and lonely. The opening line, “I couldn’t’ shake the cold away, a year alone, stuck still and stuck in snow…” It’s about being alone in the winter, but eventually I ended up wanting to write this song about a kind of metaphorical Frosty. Someone who is melted and brought alive by a young lover. But then it gets sort of illicit and then they get like chased around by cops and security guards and stuff. Anyway, it’s was a very difficult thing to do without being like super fucking cheesy.
I think I did all right though… “Two black eyes, this phony smile. My senses is dead, my body bent in ice, then you took off your winter clothes and you leaned against in my eager innocence. My brittle knotted wrists twitched reaching out for it.”
I actually shouldn’t tell anyone that because it ends of making it like super fucking cheesy, especially with the big horns and everything. “Go Frosty go!”
[laughing] Dammit! Why do I fucking reveal these things in interviews? What is my problem? It was supposed to be subtle or parenthetical.
This is a pretty simple song to someone loveless. “It will come around.” You know?
I don’t have a lot to say about that one. I drop the f-bomb early on. Some people don’t like that. “Nothing weighs a fucking ton.” It works for the rhythm. You can’t take it out when it’s that good, when it fits like that.
Seeds will be available on February 15. Find out more at www.heyrosetta.com