Interview by Alex Daniel.
Canada boasts an impressive number of top-notch songwriters, from the Weakerthans’ John K. Samson and the Acorn’s Rolf Klausener to Tony Dekker of the Great Lake Swimmers. If you’re a fan of the introspective rock-infused folk of any of these neighbors to the North, it might be time you added Hey Rosetta to your record collection.
The Newfoundland band’s songs started off as singer-songwriter compositions that frontman Tim Baker wrote in his room, but they’re now dynamic, orchestral power-pop ballads fit for events as international as the Olympics and as local as the band’s Friday night show with Hot Hot Heat. Baker took a few minutes to talk on the phone about the origins of the band and their plans for bringing their tunes to the U.S.
How did you come up with the band name?
Tim Baker: The band name is a reference to the Rosetta Stone. It’s just a calling to that. Do you know the Rosetta Stone?
A little bit. Isn’t that the artifact helped people understand Egyptian hieroglyphics?
Baker: That’s the one. So it really just opened up this whole world of Egyptian culture and Egyptian religion and the Egyptian worldview. Not that I’m obsessed with Egyptian things or anything, but it’s an incredible story and an incredible thing to find—a stone of knowledge, this whole new way of seeing everything. I think it’s really exciting that all of these pictures all of the sudden mean something very definable, and this whole new way of seeing life comes to view very quickly. So it’s just a calling to that idea. We could use another one of those.
Have you been interested in that finding for a long time, or is it just something that you happened upon as you were forming the band?
Baker: I know that we were certainly searching for a name for a while. I’m so glad we have one, because that’s the hardest part of the whole thing. I guess I just sort of happened upon it after many hours of just cruising around Wikipedia, looking for things and trying to find topics of interest, and I really liked that idea.
I noticed that your song “Red Heart” was played during a montage at the end of the Vancouver Olympics. How did it feel for you guys to be part of such an important cultural event for your country?
Baker: It was amazing. Oddly enough, I’m actually eating dinner this evening at the house of the guy who made it all happen, Steven Brunt. He’s a really well known, distinguished sports writer. He’s written all sorts of books about the great hockey players and everything. He put the montage together and wrote the words for it. It’s very moving. Most Canadians would certainly tear up. I certainly teared up watching it. I was pretty cynical about the Olympics going into it, just countries competing over athletic prowess. It seems like such a crock. But it was really great, especially for Canada.
You tweeted about hearing “Arc” at the end of the World Cup. Was that your song, “There’s an Arc,” or was it some other song?
Baker: That was the song “There’s an Arc,” yeah. That was sort of a World Cup final game montage, and we provided the soundtrack to it again.
Was that set up by the same writer, or did it take you by surprise?
Baker: No, that was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation decision. Our management knew, but it took us by surprise.
Your songs started as pieces that you played alone in your bedroom, but your record is really dynamic and textured. What was that process like, bringing those songs that you played alone and making them full-bodied?
Baker: The process of making it sort of electric guitar driven was a slow one. It started off as me, and then I played it with a friend of mine on acoustic guitar, and eventually I asked a couple good friends of mine and a guy I met a party who played drums. And I was just going to have it be the four of us. But an acquaintance of mine, now obviously a very good friend of mine, we were working at the same place teaching kids how to play guitar and piano and stuff. And he was like, “Oh man, I’d love to come on and check it out.” I said, “Absolutely.” And we just started getting louder. I always wanted to keep the dynamics of it. I really love that it’s a singer-songwriter thing, but it can go in so many directions. It has so much texture and sound.
So your most recent album, Into your Lungs, was released in Canada in 2008?
Baker: Yeah, it was released a while ago up there.
How did you come about doing the U.S. release? Why is it just now coming to the U.S.?
Baker: We’ve just been touring like crazy in Canada and doing our thing in Canada. We obviously want to go to the United States, and the times we’ve been there, it’s been really positive and really fun and the people are really great. Oddly enough, being from Newfoundland, the United States is not very prevalent, or not very noticeable. It’s prevalent in TV and culture, but it’s very far away from where we’re from. If you live in Ontario or something, you’re generally pretty close to the border. And it would always blow my mind when we’d be traveling and we’d see a sign, “Bridge to the US, 2 Kilometers,” or something. We’d just be like, “What?! USA! Right there! What the fuck!” We’ve kind of gotten over that a bit now. But I guess it was just kind of a management decision. We couldn’t decide if we were going to go throw all of our money at Europe or the US, because it’s kind of a money thing, touring in a country where nobody knows you. But why the record wasn’t released earlier? I’m not sure. We were looking for the right people to release it with. It never really came together. It’s a really strange time for labels and what they’re offering, and whether they want to sign anybody at the present time. So we decided eventually, about a year or so ago, to just release it ourselves. It took about six months to put that plan in action and put an American team together. And we’re getting ready for the next one soon.
Has that record already been released in Canada too?
Baker: No, we’re just finishing the mastering on it, trying to fix the space between the songs. So that should all be said and done in about a week, I’d say. I really hope it’s going to be released before 2011. I don’t know, but not too long to wait from when “Into Your Lungs” was released in the US.
What can concertgoers expect from your show with Hot Hot Heat?
Baker: We’re going try to cram as much as we can into our 45-minute slot—all the highs and lows. Some new songs, some old songs. Just as much as we can do to try to get people to give a shit about it. Hopefully everyone digs it. I know we’ll have fun.