“Make it better than it was before!” demands Hey Rosetta! frontman Tim Baker on the band’s new album’s jangling lead single that emerged earlier this week, simultaneously declaring another chapter for the dramatic Canadian folk-rock artists with their fourth record, Second Sight.
Second Sight comes from a lyric in the album’s opening track “Soft Offering (for the Oft Suffering).” “It is referring to the sun coming up and the sort of veil of nighttime being lifted, that second way of seeing things and that way of seeing without the left brain, but seeing things with your intuition, seeing things with your body, and seeing things with your creative self,” explains Baker from the grassy knolls of Guelph’s Hillside Festival. “That’s sort of what the record is about, as well. Shutting down that responsible side of you. Not so much ‘second sight’ like remote-viewing or seeing into the future, but seeing the mundane things as interesting or sad things as beautiful. It’s like all art aims to see things in a second way.”
Baker tossed around a few different titles for the record: Little Ramparts, alluding to the sheltered edges of a castle, and Golden Arrows, a continuous image throughout the new record. He credits violinist Kinley Dowling with coining the final title, although the process of being forced to reenter Montreal’s MixArt Studio to write a single after completing the initial eleven tracks was a struggle, and saw Baker explore the record’s thematic concept himself.
“We didn’t have a single, which is a fucking perennial problem for us. We’ve never had a single,” he says. “At first we kicked against it because we loved the record that we had made. We also saw their point and I saw it as a challenge. For a long time, I saw the idea of a single as bullshit and sort of selling out. I love singles. I love pop music, and all that a single means for me is a song that is catchy that is not seven minutes long.”
“We’d just taken 20 or 25 odd tunes and widdled it down to eleven, and here we were, on a blank page with nothing left to write two songs that have to be the best songs,” he says. “So it took a month. I really thought a lot about finding that second sight and inspiration. Find what was inside of you and find a way to let it out properly. It was tough.”
That result was the single, “Kintsukuroi,” referring to the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with adhesive and precious metals (also reflected in the record’s artwork). Baker found it to be an ideal metaphor to “highlight and celebrate the flaws, the crafts, and the breakage, with the idea that it is more beautiful having been broken.”
He was also lyrically exploring a relationship that had ended the year before. “It actually says her name in it too, I hope she is okay with it. I was talking to her the other day about it,” says Baker. “I really wanted to write a love song, a true love song about true love with problems, compromises, pain, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Other tracks on the record, Baker says, were written as if he were singing for his friends; one track in particular (“Trish’s Song”) was written in 30 minutes, four years ago. “Totally forgot about it. Listened to it and it was pretty stirring, I got goosebumps, which doesn’t usually happen with my own voice, and Marcus [Pacquin, producer] was totally in love with it and insisted that it had to be on the record. In fact, he didn’t even let me change anything, so it is the actual demo on the record.”
Produced and mixed in Montreal with Pacquin after being introduced through a mutual friend in the Arcade Fire camp, the Hey Rosetta! collective spent more studio time working on Second Sight than they had on their previous two records combined. The songs were written in St. John’s and in San Francisco, where Baker resided for a while, and the seven-piece were limited to 11-hour days at Pacquin’s request, instead of their traditionally gruelling sleepless schedule.
Sonically, Baker says that records by Local Natives and Vampire Weekend were an inspiration, as was the state of constant positive energy at the studio with Plants & Animals and Sam Roberts Band rotating through, a slight change of pace from their Atlantic origins.
Both the lead single and the song “What Arrows” (featured in the record’s teaser trailer) offer a glimpse into their musical shift towards an elevated pursuit of joyful celebration. Baker notes the core group is more united than ever before, especially multi-instrumentalist Romesh Thavanathan, who engineered all of the pre-production.
“It’s always been hugely collaborative, but it was harder, there was a lot more dissatisfaction with what we had always done,” Baker says. “It wasn’t as easy as the past few. It wasn’t like, ‘I have this song, let’s put it together and make it sound great.’ It was more like, ‘I have this song, and let’s put it together in a way that we’ve never done before.’”
Second Sight Track Listing:
1. Soft Offering (For The Oft Suffering)
2. Gold Teeth
4. What Arrows
6. Kid Gloves
7. Neon Beyond
8. Kintsukuroi (Purchase on iTunes)
9. Cathedral Bells
12. Trish’s Song
Second Sight will be released on October 21st via Warner & Sonic Records.