Hey Rosetta’s first album in nearly four years represents the longest musical gestation in the band’s history. And for good reason.
SECOND SIGHT began life as a clutch of new tunes, all penned by songwriter Tim Baker, many of them solidly road tested over three years of touring in support of SEEDS, the group’s 2011 Juno nominated, Polaris Music Prize short-listed album.
Audiences across North America, Europe and Australia had responded well to the new offerings by the seven-member indie rock band from St. John’s NL and the new album seemed ready to go. But by May 2013, as the group headed into a Montreal recording studio to begin work with producer Marcus Paquin, problems quickly emerged.
“There was no concept, no over-arching theme to the work,” says Baker. “We had enough songs for an album – but what was the album about? What were we trying to say as artists? How did these songs relate to one another?”
Over the next 18 months, SECOND SIGHT would experience a rebirth – the search for the project’s vital lyrical connective tissue would lead to months of rethinking, re-recording and reassembling to tease out the common threads in Baker’s lyrics. In the end, the “problems” that pushed Hey Rosetta! temporarily out of the studio and back to the drawing board were, in fact, the very message Baker had been subliminally playing with all along.
“I’d been thinking about potential, about the great promise within all of us that we never seem to fully realize. About shifting your vision slightly – moving away from our everyday, rational, denotative, left-brain thinking for a while and embracing a more suggestive, intuitive, animalist and ultimately more interesting ‘second sight’.
These are the ideas that tie SECOND SIGHT together. Baker had instinctually been exploring the album’s theme and unknowingly feeding it into the lyrics for a couple of years - the need to take a second look at life itself, to abandon assumption and pre-fabricated thinking, to work with dormant senses and fresh eyes.
You hear it in the lyrics to Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering). The song, Baker explains, “is all about morning coming to tear down the vision that the sweet, irresponsible, unscheduled hours of the night provides.”
You hear it in the album’s first single Kintsukuroi, its title drawn from the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold, producing a new object of beauty where flaws are highlighted, where brokenness presents an opportunity for rebirth and reimagining.
You hear it in Kid Gloves:
see the arches of paint
see the ocean of dust
see the colours arranged
and hover over us
like when we were little kids
lifted into our beds
didn’t’ we see it then?
Before we turned our heads?
And then there’s the music…..
From the band’s birth a decade ago, Hey Rosetta!’s sound has been unmistakable – the strong pop sensibilities, the compelling hooks, the use of string instrumentation, the superb musicianship and Baker’s hauntingly distinctive voice – all compellingly delivered in both recordings and dynamic live shows that have become a trademark.
“As a band, as musicians, they can do anything,” says Paquin. “They’re incredibly talented players and they’ve been playing together long enough that, if they decide to go in a direction, they can move in that direction. There really aren’t any limitations.”
SECOND SIGHT is also an experiment with fresh contemporary sounds and the choice of Paquin as producer was key to that musical shift. Known for his work with Arcade Fire, Stars and The National, he immediately connected with the band, musically and personally, and ultimately became a true collaborator.
“Marcus is great,” says Baker. “He has many different skills. He’s a talented engineer. He’s very committed, as we are, to capturing sounds and having them fit, having them match the song and match the band. He helped us use our traditional sound palette but also what we are excited about now. In the studio, he fostered an atmosphere of experimentation and trust – trust in ourselves – and it felt great. The guy had so much faith in us that we just had to go for it.”
The result of that process, SECOND SIGHT, is a work of shifting musical textures, instantly resonant choruses and poetic depth, with a sound that Hey Rosetta cellist and all-round instrumentalist Romesh Thavanathan calls “warm, yet mysterious.”
Baker likens the process to “swimming in a river of modern music”, and eventually moving with the flow of that river into uncharted musical waters. SECOND SIGHT is indeed the result of the group’s second look at its own musical style – an offering that bleeds new influences into the trademark Hey Rosetta! sound.
Says Paquin: “I feel like it encompasses a wider range of musical influences than what I’ve heard from them before. Tim’s lyrics have expanded. Musically and dynamically, this record has a very wide range. And Tim’s unmistakable voice is the glue that holds everything together. They’ve tackled a wider range of styles and dynamics on this record – but in listening, there is still that distinctive Hey Rosetta! sound.“
SECOND SIGHT takes Hey Rosetta! fans on a journey of reinvention, a reimagining. of the music fans have come to love from the group, without completely abandoning the band’s signature sound. Baker is confident they will enjoy the trip, and at journey’s end, "If you just trust in your own taste, what you want to do, what excites you, then your fans will come with you," he says. "They can trust you. If you like it, and they like what you like, it's probably going to work out okay."