TIM HICKS REVEALS HIS "NEW TATTOO"
By David DeRocco
There’s a reason the people of St. Catharines – no, make that the citizens of Niagara – should be proud of Tim Hicks. In Canadian country music circles, you can’t get any bigger right now than this six-time Gold certified #1 hit-making superstar, who just happens to be a native son of Niagara living an unassuming life in a quiet north-end St. Catharines neighbourhood. His latest album, NEW TATTOO, shows why Hicks is helping to redefine contemporary Canadian country music, with 12 stellar tracks that seamlessly bounce between traditional country grooves, stadium-sized rock riffs and dance floor stompers. The first single “Loud” was the #1 most added song at Canadian radio its first week of release, and was quickly licensed by the NHL as a theme song during this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Successfully following up his last #1 release, 2016’s Shake These Walls, with New Tattoo, Hicks has once again proven he knows how to tailor his songs to his ever-expanding audience of young country music fans. With two platinum selling singles, six gold singles, one gold album, three Juno nominations, 12 CCMA Award nominations and the 2018 CMAO Compass Award as Male Artist of the Year, Tim Hicks is a true star on the Canadian music scene. He took time to talk with GoBeWeekly about chart success, writing songs and the ongoing anxieties of the music industry.
GOBE: It’s been less than two years since the release of Shake These Walls and you’ve got a new album. Don’t you know it takes Beyoncé two years and 18 producers just to release a single. Why do you have to set the bar so high Tim, you’re making lazy artists look bad.
TIM: That’s just how I roll (laughs). I was in Nashville to start writing this record the week that Shake These Walls came out. And I remember sitting in my A&R guy’s office shaking my head and saying ‘what am I doing, my record just came out.’ And he was like, ‘well you know you can never have too many songs.’ That’s how we roll in country. We just never stop.
GOBE: You’re notorious for cranking out volumes of songs. How many did you write for this album.
TIM: I wrote the same as usual, like 70 plus songs, and then picked the 12 that wound up on the album. You’re just writing to write until a shape starts to form. I’m looking for an active signpost to point me down the road. That’s how we got New Tattoo. That was the first song we wrote. I said this is kind of what I want to do, this has the energy I’m looking for, it has the fun factor I’m looking for. And it sent me in a direction.
GOBE: Writing 70 songs an album, you’re going to have a mountain of posthumous material. You’re going to be leaving your heirs fighting over your catalogue like the Hendrix estate.
TIM: (laughing). Let’s hope. That’s the thing. Now at this point I’m starting to get a few cuts from other artists. When you write that many songs, not that all of them are bad, some of them are great songs. But they don’t always fit what you want to do or who you are as an artist. So I’m starting to find homes for some songs that didn’t wind up finding a home on my record. It’s exciting for me, it sort of validates my skill set as a songwriter to me you know. I’m growing, I’m learning, and now I have some songs other artists are interested in so it’s fun.
GOBE: You’re honing your craft as a songwriter, and when you get in a groove like that cranking out 70 or more songs an album, it must be fun to be that productive doing something you love.
TIM: Absolutely. And that was kind of a big factor on this record. I reconnected professionally with Jeff Coplan who produced my first two records. We’ve been very close as friends the whole time but I wanted to get back working together. Whenever we work together it’s often just him and I in the studio and we have such a good time, because it’s just two grown men, one behind the board, one behind the mic. I’m trying to do silly things to make him laugh, he’s doing the same with me. I wanted to get that into the songs and the production to show people how much fun we’re having when we’re cutting these tracks. You can really tell when I’m smiling when I’m singing. If you’re not having fun what’s the point. There’s a lot of lightheartedness in these songs, some humour, some grinning.
GOBE: You can really feel it. I’ve listened to the whole album twice start to finish now, and even on emotional songs like “Throw A Ball,” there’s a positive energy. At no point does it drag down into the maudlin. It’s just full of energy.
TIM: Thank you. That’s what we were trying to do. For whatever reason Jeff and I captured a little of what Jack Black would call ‘rocket sauce.” (laughing). We just rode that as far as we could and people are just digging the record which is all you can ask for. I’m four records in and I question myself. I still question myself. Am I still relevant, are people still interested, are they still going to come to the shows. We’ve really lucked out over the last five years. Canadian country fans have embraced what I do and still seem to be interested. That makes it a whole lot more fun.
GOBE: You’re a veteran now, but what are the underlying emotions you feel just before the release of a new album.
TIM: Anxiety. Full on. Especially because, with “Loud” being the first single, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t sold. I’ve got a really great team, they guide all that. My job is to just write great songs and to be ready to perform them at any given moment. The team came to me and said this is the song they wanted to put out. I was a little bit leery. Here I am, out singing how loud my band is again, maybe I’ve done that with “Thunder.” People seem to dig it. I went across the country and played some songs from the record to a lot of friends in radio and they echoed what my team said, that they need a song like this right now, please release it. So under the guidance of my team and our friends at radio I was like, okay let’s do it. Then the NHL thing happened. It was perfect timing, it couldn’t have happened any better. Nothing like that has ever aligned for me. This time around the stars aligned, the playoffs started just as the single came out.
GOBE: There’s a lot aligning for you right now, including the 2018 CMAO Award. That must give you a great sense of validation.
TIM: Absolutely. A lot of artists feel the same way when a new album comes out, asking how’s it going to go. You really can’t control it at that point. It’s up to the fans, right. When it comes out of the gate and you get the validation from the industry when they add the song, that helps get the ball rolling.
GOBE: Let’s go through a few of the songs. You were born in August 1979, but the lead track is all about the joys of 1975. Why not 1985?
TIM: That came out of watching movies like Dazed and Confused and watching That 70s Show. My tendencies are to reach back to classic rock and classic country, my preferences always wind up in the 60s and 70s for whatever reason. So it was one of those days, writing in December in Toronto with That 70s Show on in the background. At the time we were just thinking about what it would be like being part of that crew in that show. We were Googling things like how much a tank of gas cost, trying to get all those pop culture references, just to write a fun song. We talked about calling it 1979 because that was year I was born, but five is an easy rhyme.
GOBE: Listing to “If The Beat’s Alright,” all I could think of was that it is custom made for a movie soundtrack, like an updated "Footloose" kind of song.
TIM: That song was pure ridiculousness, me and (producer) Coplan getting as silly as we could. I had gone and done a pitch meeting in Nashville, where you sit with publishers and go over songs. We have a motto on our team that the best song wins, but I’d come from this meeting with all these songs that were wonderfully crafted but there were a thousand words in every chorus. To me there was just too much. I’m always looking for (singing) ‘highway to hell, highway to hell.’ A repetitive, singable chorus an audience can enjoy, that fun factor. We were a couple margaritas in when Jeff said ‘the beat’s alright, she’s gonna dance all night.” We both busted out laughing.
GOBE: That song and several others on the album all come in under three minutes. That speaks to a very concise level of songwriting. Is it hard to edit down songs to get to the meat.
TIM: For me I find it less difficult. When I write a tune I’m the editor. It’s one line, it’s good. Let’s get a bridge going. As a songwriter if you want to get your songs out there they have to live on radio so I’m thinking about those things when writing. That said, when we go to do it live, I’m thinking completely different. I want the song to live on radio but it has to have a place in my live show.
GOBE: Listing to “What A Song Should Do,” I thought it served as the kind of blueprint you’d follow before setting out to write an album. And the line “four chords and the truth” really speaks to what’s at the heart of a great song regardless of genre.
TIM: That came out of a session with (songwriter) Emma Lee. Emma told a story how she was recently asked to leave a studio in Nashville by a record producer who said her songs weren’t any good, and that she should come back when she had an idea that make him go ‘hell yeah’ or ‘me too.’ And so I thought, let’s turn that into a song. Some of my musician buddies were like, it should be three chords and the truth. And I was like, this song has four chords! (laughing). We had a feeling right away that we had something special. We were really proud when it was done. Response to that song has been overwhelming. We’ve yet to play it live yet.
GOBE: The album ends with a beer-soaked honky-tonk style cut that reminded me of the Stones' “Far Away Eyes." What’s the inspiration for “Drunk Me.”
TIM: Aw, yes. I thought I might offend someone in our current climate with that one, but it’s really just about having fun. Playing the bars the way I did I was always the sober guy. And I watched that scene go down nightly, some dude who had too much to drink going table to table trying to pick up women. I joked that that was a true account of how I met my wife, but it’s really just a fictional story.
GOBE: And finally, when can we expect to hear NEW TATTOO live?
TIM: A new record means we’ll be out on the road soon. We’re looking at dates in the fall. Expect a big tour announcement