Tim Hicks Releases Campfire Troubadour 2
If country music singer/songwriter Tim Hicks were a Canadian hockey player, he’d be Connor McDavid. That’s not a comparison made by Tim – it’s being made by me and validated by some rather impressive stats.
Like McDavid, Hicks earns his living primarily working in a Canadian market full of high achieving performers – the NHL for McDavid, Canadian Country Music industry for Hicks. And much like McDavid, Hicks’ rapid accent to the top of his profession has taken less than a decade and resulted in some unparalleled numbers: 18 Top 10 singles, nine Gold singles, two #1 hits, five Juno nominations, a CCMA Award Winner and recipient of the CMAO “Male Artist of the Year” award for the last two years. Add to that multiple sold-out headlining tours, back-to-back national tours, over 140 million catalogue streams, AND a killer new concept album, Campfire Troubadour II, and it’s clear that this good-ole Niagara boy should be recognized for what he is – a bonafide, elite level, Canadian, McDavid-level superstar!
After two-years of COVID-inspired productivity, Hicks finds himself in a whirlwind of promotional activity given the September release of last year’s Talk to Time album, the recent remix/re-release of his 10th anniversary debut, Throw Down, and the recent release his second Campfire Troubadour album. Add in his upcoming tour – which includes a date at Jackson Triggs July 8th and a headline performance at the Boots and Hearts festival – and you can understand why Hicks is a man loving life in a big way right now. Tim took the time to talk to GoBeWeekly.com.
GoBe: Looks like you’ve hit the ground running after emerging from the COVID career chaos you were in last time we spoke. Now, you’ve got your Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. How would you describe your state of mind at this stage of your career given the release of Campfire Troubadour 2, the success of 2022’s Talk to Time, chart success, awards, the upcoming tour, and the re-release of your debut, Throw Down.
TIM: I would say manic (laughing). I have this discussion with my manager all the time. When the tap is open you just have to let it flow. We knew going into the recording of Throw Down we had something special. This time they came to me, is there anything left on the cutting room floor and I said yes. That’s how you get the bonus tracks of “Taking It Easy.” We remixed “Stronger Beer,” because the original version on the album is actually the demo. We left it the way it was because we didn’t want to mess with it. We’d been playing it with the band now for 10 years, so we thought it would be great to recut it. At the same time, we were recording Troubadour. We’ve been trying to find a home for these sorts of acousticy songs that might not work on a full-out Tim Hicks record. It’s more for the campfire. We’re not done yet either. We’ve got bonus material coming out from Talk To Time as well. We’ve got lots of music coming out as a sort of conduit to get people out to some shows.
GoBe: Saying “you’re in the zone” right now doesn’t seem a sciencey-enough explanation for the volume of activity you’ve got on the go. Let’s talk about a few of those things starting with your recent award for “Male Artist of the Year” from the Country Music Association of Ontario (CMAO). Say what you will about industry awards, but getting back to that pysch degree, there has got to be some positives about having the work you do validated in such fashion.
TIM: Absolutely. You’re recognized by your peers. You’re voted for by your peers. When I was there that night, I said that I really do feel proud to fly the Ontario flag no matter where we are in the world, whether it’s England, Australia, or somewhere in Canada. I was just talking to a guy about this, because you don’t really think of Ontario as a mecca for country music, that’s what the CMAO is great for, shining a light on all the talent we have here. As the genre has exploded over the past 10 years, there really is a vast well of talent here in this province. Super pleased to be a part of the scene here and in Canada keeping the lights on with a guitar on my back. When you win an award like that you just go, wow, it’s very kind of them to recognize me in that way.
GoBe: Let’s touch on Campfire Troubadour II. Anyone who has ever learned to play an acoustic guitar has played it around a campfire. When did the inspiration for those two albums hit you? Was it just the isolation of COVID or something else?
TIM: It was kind of the perfect storm for that because I was driving my family crazy during COVID. My wife was like, ‘for God sakes you need to do something to focus your energy.” We had talked about doing an acoustic record for a long time, but rather than just recording songs and stripping things out we wanted to approach things thematically. During COVID we were spending a lot of time around the campfire, just me, Amanda (wife), and the kids, maybe the neighbours. Inevitably the guitars would come out. It just made sense to go down that road when it came to putting the record together. And it just made sense, because part of Amanda and my story is we camped as kids at the same campground and we didn’t even know it. We still do that. We still take the kids for a week in the tent with a lot of friends and family.
GoBe: Well it’s certainly a fun mix of songs and a perfect campfire vibe.
TIM: We had all these songs in the pool, and when the first one got a JUNO nomination, my team came to me and said, ‘we’d really like to do another one if you’re up for it.’ And I was like, ya, let’s do it! We sifted through the songs we had and the ones I wished we had on it. That’s how you get a song like “Puerto Backyarda.” I wrote that in December 2013, so it had lived since then. I played it at every campfire, I played it at meet-n-greets. Fans knew it and would often ask me when I was going to put out that song. So the Campfire Troubadour albums just given me a place to find homes for songs that wouldn’t normally cut.
GoBe: It’s a great addition to your catalogue.
TIM: I’m really fired up about this album and the reason is, we developed a set of rules for ourselves when we recorded it. Nothing was allowed to be on there that you couldn’t do at a campfire. So that’s why you get the hand drums and clapping. There’s no drum kit. I’m not allowed to overdub any vocals. On a record I would triple my voice in the choruses to make it sound big. I sing all my own harmonies. I’ll cut 16 to 30 tracks of vocals for songs on a record record. On Campfire Troubadour I’m not allowed. You can’t do that at a real campfire. You have to get other singers to sing the harmonies which killed me, but I understand the thinking there. And also, no Autotune allowed. You’ve got to sing it in tune. So I loved it!
GoBe: It’s pretty much as pure a recording as you can get when you strip the recording process down like that. For you as a musician and artist, when you sit across from another musician like that and collectively create a piece of music, what is your level of appreciation you have for that gift. Is there anything else like that feeling?
TIM: No! That’s the thing. Music really is like a team sport. The trouble some people have is it becomes a little bit isolationist, because you practice on your own. I liken it to hockey. I would come home as a kid and set the net up in the driveway and practice my slapshot and my wrist shot all day long. But it wasn’t as fun as when two or three of my buddies would come over and you could put someone in net and have a little game in the driveaway. That’s when it got exciting, and music is no exception to that. The more you can play with other people, especially with people that are at your level or above your level. That’s when it gets exciting. I live for those moments in the studio. It’s been fun trying to develop that side of my career.
GoBe: At the core of your career are some great songs and we all know that song writing is a craft. It’s a skill you have to practice. What are the conscious improvements you’ve made in your own song writing? Is it better word association, or the ability to better capture the essence of what you’re trying to say in a song?
TIM: I still feel like a tortured songwriter. It’s hard for me to identify with me being anything other than a working musician. My band would even tell you that. Song writing is still difficult for me. But I will say, the longer I hang around in Nashville and the more I do it, the more confident I get being able to say what i want to say or just be who I want to be. Little things, like having an instinct of how to structure a song out gets easier the more you do it. I’ve felt like there’s been a marked improvement in my song writing, just having a better understanding of how to put songs together. I still rely on my co-writers for ideas, for editing, for seeing if there’s a better way to say something or what language to use, or if it’s natural for me. Those are the kind of questions I ask, and the longer i do it the more i get answers to those thoughts.
Go/Be: You can’t write a song like “Talk to Time” without understanding how to mine the depths of your thoughts and emotions. That’s a powerful track.
TIM: I appreciate that, but I didn’t write that. I do have to say this about when I first heard it. It was a conscious thing written to try and get me out of the normal box. I’m going to be 44 this summer. As much as I love singing about hell-raising good times in my tight jeans, I want to say some different things. “Talk to Time” is a song that came along where I said, ‘man, this is something I would be inspired to write.’ Singing a song like that and really digging into it in the studio will make me a better songwriter for the next record.
GoBe: You’re playing the Jackson Triggs Amphitheatre July 8th. You’ve recorded a lot of songs about beer and whiskey. Is there a country ode to the joys and perils of Niagara Cab Sauv in your imagination somewhere?
TIM: I’ll have to work something out. I’ve heard that a few times. What are you going to do with all your beer songs? Listen, I think my fans will drink whatever they have, whether it’s wine or moonshine or whiskey. I think it’s going to be a great night. I’m just pleased to be able to do something so based in our community, surrounded by the backdrop, in that venue in our own backyard. I’m from Port Weller so it’s just down the road. And we’re performing Campfire Troubadour style, so it’s just me and Chris and Jeff and some three-part harmony.
GoBe: Your upcoming tour includes a headline performance at Boots and Hearts Festival. It’s obviously a gig and a paycheck, but what are the biggest joys beyond the personal financial ones of being part of an event like that.
TIM: Especially this one, because it will be 10 years to the day I was there as the direct support for the headliner kick off party. This year we’re going to go back and headline. So to me, it’s symbolic of the luck and success we’ve been able to have these past 10 years. And I’m really looking forward to meeting a Josh Roth, a young fellow who’s been opening up for us for years who’s been having some success. Can’t wait to shake his hand and say, ‘hey man, hang on tight, if this slot brings you the same luck it brough us, you’re going to have the greatest 10 years of your life.’
GoBe: You’ve had 18 top 10 hits climb Canada’s country charts. The catalogue is overflowing with songs Tim. You’re at the stage where you can’t possibly please everyone in concert because there’s no time to play them all. What’s your thought process in building a tour set list.
TIM: For us it’s about the bangers. The bangers stay. It’s difficult to leave out a song like “Loud” or “Hear Comes The Thunder.” Where I make the decision, and these are the hard ones, is on the mid-tempo stuff. Are we going to play “Slide Over” or “Forever Rebels” or “Young Alive and In Love.” It’s hard for me to do all of those in a 75-minute set and let everyone hear the ones they want to hear like “Stronger Beer.” To me, it’s about tempo and flow. What I do now with the guys, in a 75 minute plus encore set, that’s typically 18 to 20 songs. I’ll send them 25 and say, ‘these are the 25 in play this summer.’ I can toggle in different songs for different nights depending on where we are in the line up and who’s going to be there and what the vibe is for the day. Some days you wake up and say. ‘let’s throw that song in the set’ I love to have to the kind of band that allows me to do that. We can still be a little bit spontaneous even thought the set is structured like a headliner would and should be.
GoBe: Music begins as a passion, but success turns it into a business. What’s your vision plan for the next five years of “Tim Hicks Incorporated?” Keep in mind, Taylor Swift has set 52 Guinness Book of World Records as a recording artist, so there are some high bars to aim for. What do you see when you combine foresight with the dream?
TIM: With a 10 year old daughter we listen to a lot of Taylor Swift which is great. She really is world class when it comes to song writing and performing. For me, if I can continue to keep the lights on and keep my kids in clothes and just be comfortable in St. Catharines, Ontario, that would be a win for me. When i first started to do press for the Throw Down thing, they were asking me what did it mean to me and I would say half-jokingly that it means my 15 minutes are almost up (laughing). I’m just really relishing the opportunities I’ve had over the last 10 years. If I can keep this train going for just a little while longer, wouldn’t, that be a wonderful thing.
GoBe: As a Port Weller Dweller, are we ever going to get a video filmed at Sunset Beach?
TIM: In fact we did one! If you watch the “Floatin’” video, we filmed part at Sunset beach. It was during COVID. We filmed most of it in my backyard, but then we zipped over to Sunset Beach and filmed a portion of it in the sand with Lake Ontario in the background.
GoBe: Final question, to verify your authenticity as a country artist, do you own a truck and if so what are you driving?
TIM: Absolutely. It’s a 2021 Silverado. Rocking the GM family in St. Catharines is very important to us. You can’t be a country singer and not own a truck . It’s not allowed.
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