54-40 is arguably one of the best classic rock outfits to have come out of B.C. The band is responsible for iconic titles Ocean Pearl and I Go Blind. They originally hail from Tsawwassen, which is pretty close to home for classic rock fans of the B.C. Lower Mainland. Last Thursday, the 29th, frontman and vocalist Neil Osborne and guitarist Dave Genn made an appearance at the CIVL Radio office in the Student Union Building. Genn is the most recent addition to band, joining in 2005 and having previously played in the Matthew Good Band between 1995 and 2001.
We participated in the podcasted conversation hosted by CIVL’s Harry Doupe and gathered a few insights into the band’s road life, and other quirky tidbits.
Do you have any fun road stories?
Dave: It’s interesting, because that is a common question, and we never seem to have an answer, even though it gets asked quite often.
Neil: I mean, every story is kind of weird.
Dave: Being on the road is kind of like “Groundhog Gig.” I know it’s a bit of a cliché to talk about how you lose track of time [on tour]. You don’t know what day it is, you don’t know what city you’re in. But it is literally true. After about a week on the road, you don’t know what day of the week it is, you don’t know where you are, you can barely remember the name of the guy sitting beside you. But, for some reason, once you get up on stage and somebody puts a guitar in your hand, everything seems to come back for the most part. I think that the rock and roll stories of lore from Hammer of the Gods or Mötley Crüe or whatever, those are different bands than 54-40. Our idea of a good time is a nice hotel lounge, a cold lager, a good dinner, and a nap.
Neil: Naps are critical.
Dave: I’m gonna be having a nap in half an hour.
If you could tour with any artist, dead or alive, whom would you tour with?
Neil: Dead or alive? Oh, I’d pick Jimi Hendrix.
Dave: The Beatles.
Any specific Beatle?
Dave: I’d take any of them. Any or all of them. It’s funny, over Juno weekend I ran into Dan Mangan, and he told me this incredible story. He was down in L.A. recording, his car was broken into, and two laptops and his phone were stolen. He was lost, it was chaos. He made it to the studio, and was completely flabbergasted and depressed. He sits down, and they’re just about to start when the door opens, and Paul McCartney sticks his head in and he goes, “Oh sorry, wrong studio.” So, the guys that were playing with Dan in the studio said, “Oh, Paul, come on in!” So Paul came in and listened to Dan’s song that he was working on and made some suggestions.
Neil: Well that’s worth the price of a couple of laptops.
Dave: So he went from the lowest of lows to the pinnacle of the mountain in half an hour. Later, he goes to grab a coffee, and he’s walking back to the studio when Paul walks out and goes, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about your song, and I have a couple of other ideas.”
Neil: Can he give him credit?
Dave: I said you’ve got to use some of those ideas, and you’ve got to credit Paul McCartney, because then you’ll be the only person I know who’s ever written with Paul.
Dave: Anyway, that’s an aside.
I’ve noticed you guys seem to have a tradition of playing the Commodore Ballroom in October. Is this pattern coincidental? Or is there something special about that particular venue during that particular month?
Neil: Well it’s Thanksgiving, so that’s kind of why we do it. We’ve done that Thanksgiving weekend for years and years now. It was our dream to play the Commodore, so we achieved our dream fairly early, and we relive it. We’ve played there more than anybody on record. It’s fun, it’s a fun time, it’s a good show.
Dave: Incidentally, the first time I saw the band play was at the Commodore. That was in 1989 when I was 20 years old, and now I get to play the Commodore all the time with the band. So that’s more dreams come true.
In fact, you were the first show when it reopened after three years of being shut in November 1999.
Neil: Yeah, after they renovated it and all that. I miss the old smell of beer and barf that used to permeate throughout the place.
Dave: Let’s bring that back.
Neil: It is back. It is coming back.
What are you guys listening to right now?
Neil: I’m listening to a guy named Marlon Williams from New Zealand. He’s kind of an alternative crooner type guy. I like what he’s doing. What are you listening to Dave?
Dave: Well I have three young children so a lot of Paw Patrol. They’ve grown out of Barney. Barney’s not very cool anymore. But when we get in the van, I turn on the radio, and they will not let me put it on any station except for Hits1, so it’s just a non-stop barrage of top 20 computer-made robot voices. For some reason, I’m starting to warm up to it.
Neil: You’re starting to hum along, aren’t ya?
Dave: Yeah, exactly. Familiarity apparently does not breed contempt.
Exactly, and if you’re captive to it for long enough, you start falling in love with it.
Dave: Captive is a very good word for child rearing.
Neil: Oh! Do you know what the greatest song in the world is right now? “Parked out by the Lake,” it’s a country song by Dean Summerwind. Especially the lyrics. Check it out.
Do either of you have a guilty pleasure artist you shamefully listen to?
Neil: Not really, no.
Dave: I don’t really feel guilt. One thing I have found is that music that I hated in my teens, I now see some value in it.
Neil: Yeah, [the band] actually has a few games. One of them is discussing which music has sort of stood the test of time, and what hasn’t. Queen has, to a large degree, and then Ted Nugent hasn’t. Another game we play a lot is called “Sophie’s choice,” where if I was to say to you “Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” you have to pick one, and the other gets relegated as if it never existed. It’s harsh; The Cure or The Smiths, who are you gonna lose?
Dave: We can play this game for hours and hours and hours.
Neil: We do it all the time.
If you had to pick one thing about the band for fans to remember you by, what would it be?
Neil: Well, the songs.
Dave: The band has been able to survive as long as it has on its catalogue. It’s funny, we had a meeting in Toronto years back where we were looking for different ways to market and brand the band. So we met with a branding expert who worked outside of the music industry. He was talking about how important it is to have a short, concise statement about your brand. So he said we have to come up with a statement about 54-40 that sums up the essence of our brand.
Neil: I must have missed this meeting.
Dave: Well, we discussed it quite a bit in the van and we thought about what people say when they come to our shows, and the thing we hear the most is, “I had no idea you guys played so many songs that I know.” Which is kind of a blessing and a curse. It’s testament to the fact that we have this catalogue, and so many songs that people are familiar with, and that people love. But on the other hand, they haven’t necessarily put a band name or a face to those songs.
54-40 has remained pretty local to B.C. for the past few months, but are heading out to Ontario this June. The band will be playing the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver again this October 5 and 6. You can listen to the full CIVL Radio podcast with 54-40 on their website, www.civl.ca.