Stating the Tragically obvious 

Tragically Hip talk new album, their three-decade run and that pesky American market

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They say this about all the greats what can you write about the Beatles that hasn't already been written? Likewise for Led Zeppelin, or even U2, or Nirvana.

It would seem that once a band reaches a certain height, and has remained popular for long enough, there will have been a enough writers scrambling to say the same thing in a different way, over and over again.

And, alas, we face this problem with the Tragically Hip, Canada's most iconic rock band. What can be said, that has not been said already, about a band that has done more than most Canadians to define this nation's culture? Even that's been said many times over.

But to hear bassist Gord Sinclair tell it, all of this has been a happy accident. Few elements of their success, if any, have been calculated. Everything (or almost everything) that has happened has been the result of five good friends being honest with each other, and making honest decisions as musicians.

"It's the cool thing about being in a band where the most important aspect is how we're feeling about each other and the material that we're playing. Our prime responsibility is to each other as a group," Sinclair says, speaking by phone from his home in Kingston, Ont.

"Back in the mid-'90s it would have been really easy to go back and re-record 'New Orleans is Sinking,' again and again and again, but we didn't," he says.

If they had, he says they never would have lasted as long as they have. It's all been one "honest choice" after another that has ultimately driven their popularity. There was never any intention to create the soundtrack to a Canadian's life, or to provide the nation a poetic voice that music fans could get behind.

Sinclair says they simply have written about what they know and a lot of it has to do with Canada. Vocalist Gord Downie's lyrics — not to mention his delivery — have encapsulated for millions of people the diversified, even eccentric Canadian soul.

They had, in fact, been pressed by their former record label RCA early on in their career to generalize their perspective — "to write about chicks and cars," Sinclair says — to target the American audience. Sinclair says RCA insisted that they change the title of the Road Apples cut, "Cordelia," before it was released in 1989.

"He said 'Cordelia' was too egghead," Sinclair laughs. "If it was 'Carrie Lynn' it would be a different thing, but no one in States is going to buy 'Cordelia.' You hear of artists changing the lyrical content to suit the commercial aspect but that's just not our bag. We've never been good about being that thing, whatever that is."

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