Like many Canadians, Gord Sinclair spent much of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic isolated from society. Faced with the challenges and emotions of a global pandemic, as well as the social and economic fallout, the longtime bassist for The Tragically Hip turned to music as an outlet to share his thoughts and feelings during the experience.
“I don’t keep a diary or journal or anything like that. I express myself musically. So I started to write; I started to work on new material,” he said.
The new material eventually worked its way into Sinclair’s second solo record In Continental Drift, released earlier this year.
Described by Sinclair as a “pandemic record,” In Continental Drift taps into the complexities of the pandemic times and the “rollercoaster of emotions” that came with it.
“It was just my way of, in many cases, blowing off steam. [I was] trying to reflect on how I was feeling lyrically, but also musically. I think, like everybody else who went through it, I went through a real roller coaster of emotions. Some days, I just literally wasn’t feeling like myself. I was feeling a little depressed not being able to see friends, travel, and see live music,” he expressed.
“I think everyone was in the same boat; I was just fortunate enough to have a guitar and a little bit of space, [so] I could write these things down.”
While the content of the album reflects familiar pandemic themes, the process of recording In Continental Drift was also uniquely shaped by the circumstances of COVID-19. Because The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studio was fully booked throughout much of the pandemic, Sinclair and some friends found unconventional ways to record.
“I couldn’t get into a studio to record,” Sinclair said, “so I got on the phone with my buddy James McKenty, who, the summer before the pandemic struck, had converted an old Airstream trailer into a portable recording studio… Our drummer drove the Airstream down to my house, parked it in my driveway, and we made the record right here.”
Recording for In Continental Drift took place over two sessions. The first, in October of 2022, saw Sinclair and his bandmates focus on drums and scratch vocals. Then, they reconvened this past January and laid down guitar and vocal tracks. Remarked Sinclair, “The whole thing was very isolated. We had a really small staff, and it was a lot of fun. It was a really great way to spend the pandemic: getting ready for it and recording it.”
Along with the release of his new album, Sinclair has also planned a brief Ontario tour in support of the record. The tour officially kicks off this Saturday, Jun. 3, 2023, with a hometown show at The Broom Factory (305 Rideau Street) in Kingston as part of Spring Reverb 2023, a festival organized by KPP Concerts that showcases local and national acts.
“It’s really exciting,“ said Sinclair. “I’m happy to be part of this festival. Live music has undergone quite a bit over the last few years, and COVID certainly didn’t help matters much for the live music business.“
“It’s great that the folks at KPP are putting this on, [with] multiple acts at multiple venues across multiple nights. It speaks a lot to what Kingston is all about,” he added. As an artist who has played countless gigs in Kingston over the decades, Sinclair said the city “punch[es] above its weight” where live music is concerned.
“We’ve got a lot of venues, and people go out and support live music, and I think that’s a reason why Kingston’s always produced so many great entertainers. [The Tragically Hip], for example, Sarah Harmer, The Headstones, Moist, The Glorious Sons… It’s just a great incubator for live entertainment. To me, it’s the best form of entertainment there is,” he expressed.
With dozens of local bands and solo artists set to perform across a number of different venues as part of the four-day festival, Sinclair attributed the vibrant Kingston music scene to the city’s abundance of live performance spaces.
“I like to think Kingston’s always been great that way. There’s always been multiple venues, and, equally important, there’s always been people that are willing to put the shows on… For us in Kingston, as music fans, that’s a really good thing. That’s always a good thing for young musicians; there’s a place to learn, and there’s a place to take the music out of your bedroom or out of the basement… and put it on stage. That’s a big necessary first step to having a go at making music for a career,” he said.
While Sinclair has played numerous shows in Kingston over the years, the famed August 2016 concert by The Tragically Hip stands out in many fans’ memories. That day, thousands of concertgoers packed the city’s Leon’s Centre, while millions more tuned in live on CBC, to watch The Hip play what would become their final concert, after the band announced that lead singer Gord Downie was battling terminal brain cancer.
Sinclair reflected on that final tour and the support the band received from fans across the country: “[During] that last run, Gord was real, real sick. We didn’t know if we’d make it through the whole first night, let alone a whole tour. But as we played, the support [and] the love that we got from the audience… it was really quite something. It was an amazing experience, despite the circumstance, and something I’ll never forget.”
Following Downie’s death in 2017, Sinclair and his bandmates spent time grieving the passing of their longtime friend and frontman. According to the bassist, Downie’s encouragement motivated him to find new ways to make music: “When [Gord] spoke about it, he didn’t want any of us to stop making music. It’s like anything else in life: it’s habitual. It’s something that starts to well up inside your soul.”
Sinclair added, “I’m glad to be out doing it. I’m glad to be out honouring the memory of my friends and playing with these guys. It’s a real honour to walk up on stage with [my current band] and have them play my music, so it’s quite wonderful.”
Gord Sinclair plays Spring Reverb 2023 on Saturday, Jun. 3, 2023, at The Broom Factory. Doors open at 7 p.m., with opening act Julia Finnegan set to take the stage at 7:30 p.m., followed by Sinclair and his band at 8:30 p.m. Additional information can be found on the Spring Reverb website.
Kingstonist has partnered with KPP Concerts to give away a pair of Spring Reverb passes to one lucky Kingstonist subscriber. Contest information is available in our Spring Reverb 2023 preview article.