By David DeRocco
At the time of our conversation, Tim Hicks and his band are rolling toward Vancouver, three weeks into a rollicking road trip dubbed the “Get A Little Crazy Tour 2015.” Does the “crazy” in the tour name reflect the fact this Canadian country music star is on the road in November in a land where tire chains and engine block heaters are the accepted norm?
“No, but it might as well be,” laughs Hicks, headliner on a tour with country colleagues Cold Creek County and Jason Benoit that stops into Scotiabank Convention Centre November 27th. “It’s a lyric out of one of my songs called ‘So Do I’ and I just thought it’s a fitting name for three kind’a party groups hitting the road. We started in Sault Ste Marie and we’ve been on the road ever since. Tonight we’re doing a sold out show at the Commodore, which is pretty exciting for a guy like me.”
Sold out shows are just one of the many exciting things occurring in the life of Tim Hicks, a guy who just happens to be one of Canadian country music’s elite stars thanks to the incredible success of his first two albums, 2013’s Throw Down and last year’s 5:01. With a string of seven top 10 singles (including ‘Get By,’ “Hell Raisin’ Good Time’ and ‘Here Comes The Thunder’), over 5 million YouTube hits and a #1, debut on the SoundScan country Album sales charts, Hicks has certainly struck a chord with Canadian country music fans.
It’s easy to see why. With references to Stompin’ Tom, The Guess Who, The Tragically Hip, Dan Ackroyd, John Candy, Martin Short, hockey and the Blue Jays woven into the fabric of his lyrical flag, Hicks is proud to be flying the red and white in a genre where the biggest stars usually bleed red, white and blue. Add to that his anthemic YouTube smash ‘Stronger Beer’ – a cheeky ‘dis of American suds – and you get the feeling that Tim Hicks could supplant the beloved Connors as our musical chronicler of Canadiana.
In the meantime, he’s happy to back playing live. And while Hicks admits “there are some aching livers on this tour,” he’s made all the preliminary preparations he needed to make to get through life on the road.
“A lot of it (the preparation) is just mental really, making sure all the loose ends are tied up at home,” said Hicks, a St. Catharines resident born in Niagara Falls who logged thousands of miles playing clubs long before his country career took off. “I’ve got two small kids at home and a wife, so it’s getting that whole thing prepared for daddy to be away for 17 days. The rest is just rehearsal.”
Making it easier for Hicks is the fact he’s got a great band backing him on the tour.
“I’ve had the same band for a long time now, they’re consummate professionals. I give them the set list ahead of time and we get together for a week of full production rehearsals and that’s really it. It’s just kind of switching up the order and coming up with transitions and new fun stuff to make it fun for people that haven’t seen us play before.”
Those who haven’t seen Hicks live should know that his particular brand of country music is more “wailin’ guitar” than Waylon Jennings. With party anthems like ‘A Little Drinkalong’ and riff-rockers like ‘Here Comes the Thunder,’ Hicks is the latest big name country star trying to challenge the definition of what classifies as country music. Is that a good thing for the genre?
“Well, its’ a good thing for me,” says Hicks, who was Canada’s #1 selling digital country artist in 2013. “We’re fortunate enough to live in a day and age where the genre of country music can span from pop country all the way to rock country and everything in between. You can suss out traditional country if that’s your sort of thing; or if you want to go more to the new age country sound you can find that too. It’s kind of an exciting time to be a country artist because the lines are blurred. There are traditionalists who would say guaranteed this is the worst time for country. But 30 years ago they were saying the traditional country was no good. We also live in a time where people have 3000 songs on their iPod. You can’t help but bleed all those different types of music when you’re writing. I grew up listening to everything from Simon and Garfunkle to Blue Rodeo to Led Zeppelin. That’s all going to come out.”
Despite the kind of genre-bending rock-influenced music being made by the like of Eric Church, Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band, it’s the country music label that seems to keep rock fans from crossing over. It’s that common misconception about country music that Hicks says usually has no real basis.
“In this day and age people will say this: I hate country. They don’t know why they hate it. It’s just something someone said to them one time and now they’re saying it back to you. So I say to people, check it out. It’s gone way beyond ‘Tear in My Beer.’ You can suss that out if that’s what you’re into. Steven Tyler said ‘country music is today’s rock and roll.’ There is something in it for everyone. And I love it.”
Hick’s love of country is never more evident than when he’s on a stage playing it, which he’ll be doing in front of a very partisan crowd when he’s back in the Falls November 27th. Regardless of who’s in front of the stage, Hicks believes the key to being a true performer is honing your craft playing live.
“Everybody’s journey is different, but I really do preach the “get out and do it” school of thought. I get asked all the time, “my son is a an aspiring musicians, he wants to make it as a singer, what advice would you give them?”. And I always say the same thing: put away your webcam, and get out in front of people. If you want to play hockey in the NHL, you don’t video tape yourself playing in the driveway. You get out and play. Music to me is no different.”