Rob Baker admits that being known as part of a Canadian band that hasn’t quite hit it big in America used to irk him.
But that was early on, when The Tragically Hip had been recording and touring for five, maybe 10 years. But now that it’s been together for almost 30 years, making it in America isn’t such a priority.
“I think earlier in our careers, that used to drive us. But you can never control if you’re hot, only if you’re good,” said Baker, 50, from his home in Kingston, Ontario. “Some people get really hot, and they aren’t very good. Others are very good and never get hot.”
Still, he added, “It would be nice if those things could converge and my family and I could reap the economic benefits of being hot.”
The Tragically Hip brings its guitar-based rock to Portland’s State Theatre on Wednesday. It’s had a slew of No. 1 albums in Canada, scored 14 Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys), and is in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
But Baker says that doesn’t limit the band to playing beyond Canada’s borders. The members have always enjoyed touring and building up a fan base, and they especially like playing places where they maybe aren’t well known.
“For us, part of this is spreading the message of music, so we like to tour places where maybe people haven’t seen us before,” said Baker.
The Tragically Hip also helps promote music education in Canadian schools by donating money and making visits to schools. Baker said music education programs in Canada have taken hard hits from budget cuts over the years, so helping keep music in schools alive is part of the band’s mission.
The band’s members all knew each other growing up in Kingston, a midsized city between Montreal and Toronto that Baker says has an artsy vibe similar to Burlington, Vt.
Baker took piano lessons growing up, but didn’t get into playing the guitar until he “discovered” The Rolling Stones during his teen years. He and his bandmates were all “very much” into the punk bands of the 1970s, including The Sex Pistols and The Clash.
But Baker realized early on he didn’t personally have enough anger to really play that kind of music long-term.
“It didn’t take us long to realize that we didn’t have much to rebel against,” he said. “What were we going to get angry about, that Dad didn’t let us have the car on Friday night?”
The Tragically Hip’s music is certainly not angry. But it does have a fairly stripped-down, guitar-based sound with very articulate vocals. Sort of like a lot of early ’80s music.
The band’s name comes from a Mike Nesmith (of The Monkees) film called “Elephant Parts.” In it, there’s a funny scene where funds are being raised for suffering hipsters, or “the tragically hip.”
The name stuck, and remains relevant today, because making fun of hipsters never goes out of style.
And although Baker isn’t worried about being actually hip, he and his bandmates are glad their music has not yet gone out of style.
“We work hard, but we have a very nice living right now, and we still get to play music,” he said.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: