54-40 keeps on rocking

54-40 will be performing in Prince Albert on Thursday, November 1, 2018. Photo by Mark Maryanovich.

Canadian band set to play E.A. Rawlinson Centre Nov. 1

Brad Merritt has played thousands of shows in hundreds of venues over the past 38 years.

For the bassist, one of the founding members of Canadian pop/rock band 54-40, no two venues or audiences are exactly alike.

“There are always new mixes of sound,” he said.

‘We have in-ear monitors, but it still gets through, and the feeling of the bass amp and the physicality of it is different from night to night. Some stages are quieter, some have vibrations with certain notes.

“Each audience has a different personality. (Frontman Neil Osborne) likes to deal with individuals. He’ll read the room, he’ll say something for the benefit of the audience, but he’ll also say stuff for our benefit as well.

‘We just can’t help but be different.”

54-40 has been being different since 1980, when the band formed on New Year’s Eve at Vancouver’s Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, with original members Osborne and Merritt joined with drummer Ian Franey. The band has added and subtracted members over the years, settling in with its current lineup of Osborne, Merritt, drummer Matt Johnson and guitarist Dave Genn in 2005.

Thursday, the band will discover what the E.A. Rawlinson Centre acoustics and audience have to offer as they come to P.A. as a part of a tour to promote their latest album, Keep on Walking.

Merritt is looking forward to the show. He has friends and family in the area, and hasn’t visited the city for a long time.

“I’m looking to rock P.A.,” he said.

It’s a busy time for the foursome, as they’ll head to Winnipeg for a show on Nov.2, and follow that up with a gig in Regina on Nov. 3. The group will have performed 51 shows by year-end, 10-15 more than they normally would. Since 2016, 54-40 has been touring two versions of themselves, the acoustic show from their 2016 unplugged album and their electric set from their newest offering. Sometimes, Merritt explained, it’s a combination of both.

“Even though we’ve done more shows this year than in years past, they’re all so different,” he said.

‘Different songs, different ways of presenting ourselves, different instrumentation.”

They certainly have a lot to choose from. They’ve released 14 original albums, including three that went platinum and one that hit gold in Canada. They’ve found their way into the hall of fame at Canadian Music Week, and have received significant replay for some of their biggest hits, such as Ocean Pearl and She-La.

Merritt said Thursday’s show should be a bit of a mix of everything.

“We figure there are about 10 to 11 songs we have to play no matter what,” he said.

“Generally, we’re doing at least 50 per cent more than that, if not twice as many songs. The other songs we play come in and out, and right now we’re experimenting with bringing in some songs that could be called album tracks or deep tracks or stuff we like, and we’re getting more of that with fans.”

Merritt said fans reach out on social media or talk to them about their favourites. Sometimes’ that’s something likes “song nine on album six.

‘We certainly pull songs from various records and throughout our history that reflect the way we’re thinking, the way we represent ourselves and what we want to do.”

Those 10 to 11 songs everybody knows are still fun to play, Merritt said.

“We’re not jaded. We’re going to rock them and have fun doing so. And be grateful for the opportunity and happy to be there. We will come to Prince Albert and other places with an attitude that we’ve had since 1981.”

In addition to the classic hits and deeper cuts, the P.A. audience will get some new songs, at least three from the latest record.

That record was five years in the making, Merritt said, and includes a bit of everything.

“There’s continuity when you look at our records,” he said.

“We’ve quite often put something out, and then the next thing we do is turn 180 degrees and say, ‘this is a rock record, we’re going to do something a little more personal, singer/songwriter style. This one we’re going to use heavy jams and build it up that way and the next is going to be an eclectic thing just to see where the music takes us.’”

The same is certainly true of the new album. And while listeners might not pick up on it, Merritt said the lyrical themes of the songs reveal Osborne’s psyche. He said it goes from attitude and angst on the record’s opener, The Waiting, moves through ways of looking at things in the track Sublime Like Me, to reflections of how the band came about, what it means to the members and ways of looking at one’s life and how to live. The final two tracks are called Sometimes It’s Not OK and Life Goes On.

“The order of the songs is extremely important. It’s not like it’s a theme record, but it was important for us to put it together that way. It reflects on all of these things which happened …. Over the course of five years.”

Over the course of 38 years, 54-40 has remained relevant to its fans, new and old, despite the changing musical landscape surrounding the band’s music. The band got started in the early 80s, when rock music was at the top of the pop culture landscape. It was about selling records and getting radio play.

That’s not the reality of the music business today.

“It’s all about artistic integrity,” Merritt said.

“it’s all about creating this piece of work, or body of work which reflects your state, just like any artist would — doing a painting, choreography or creating a symphony That pleases us as creators. Then, it’s about making a connection with the thousands of people who still care about what it is that we do.”

At one time, Merritt said, those people were getting aging alongside the music. Recently, though, the band has found a way to attract a younger crowd.

“Rock … has become a sub-genre, a sub-culture. It’s not the music of the day,” he said.

“It’s not pop culture music anymore. Because of that, there are young people who appreciate rock or rock and roll or classic rock or punk or postpunk — whatever it is — and they like what 54-40 does. They don’t care we’ve been around for 30-odd years. They think that’s really cool.”

Tickets for 54-40 are still available at the E.A. Rawlinson box office. They can be purchased in person, online or by calling 306-765-1270.