Canadian indie-rock band Hey Rosetta! will be performing this Monday at Brick and Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco while on tour with their fourth studio album, Second Sight (2014).

While they may not be as big of a name in the US, singer/songwriter, Tim Baker, told us that he “loves touring the United States,” and we are very glad he does. They are definitely one to catch while they are here. We spoke with Baker about stones, seeds, and setups in anticipation of Monday’s show.

It’s rumored that your name, Hey Rosetta!, takes after the Rosetta Stone. Is it true?  Any particular reason?
Yeah, that is true. It was a long time ago, it was like 10 years ago, not that I’m not proud of it. I quite like the name, but I think it does harken back to a kind of juvenile dramatic way of thinking that was sort of pervasive for me at the time. I was recently graduated from a sociology and anthropology degree and somewhere along the line I learned about the Rosetta Stone and I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever really heard of. The fact that this stone was sort of just mistakenly dug up and revealed an entire worldview — an entire way of thinking about life and the universe and the afterlife and everything. All of Ancient Egyptian culture is brought to us through that stone. I thought that was just real rad and in the name of the band, which was sort of in a way trying to do the same sort of thing, trying to be some sort of gate to an alternate way of being and thinking and feeling and something bigger than just the quotidian kind of thing that we come into contact with daily. So it was sort of in a way, I thought that kind of represented what I was trying to do, albeit quite lofty aspirations at the time. It’s sort of a calling to that idea that we could use another one of those buried in the dirt and that would be cool.

Do you mind talking a little bit about your work with the Seeds of Survival program?
Sure, yeah. We started with that in a funny kind of way. We had a record called Seeds. it was called such because I felt there were a lot of recurring images of seeds on the record, on the seeds metaphorically, it was really about hope and rebirth and rejuvenation and springtime, probably because it came after a long season, a long hard several years of touring. And, yeah, I needed a little hope. That album came together and it was about metaphorically starting over. It was about the songs as seeds themselves, these little things that hopefully could germinate and become something bigger for you as you live with them and they can represent something bigger from you. For the first thousand CDs, we put actual seeds in the package. So people could take the record and as they listen to it they could plant real seeds and see them grow in real life and sort of experience that hopeful kind of metaphor in real time.

At the same time I was doing all that, I was thinking about what kind of seeds we were going to get and I was thinking about some scary things I learned about seeds recently: the genetic modification of seeds and these terminator seeds that won’t re-germinate and food packaging and large corporations. Most of my friends had no idea what was going on. These days people are a lot more conscious about food and food security and sustainable agriculture and I think that that’s amazing, but I felt like no one around me ever talked about it or ever knew anything about it, so we wanted to just link to that. Like here’s our new record and also here’s a bunch of stuff about actual seeds right now that we think is kind of important.

One of the organizations that we worked with was USC Canada who are a great organization, really sophisticated and enlightened and do beautiful work taking none of the local knowledge for granted at all. It’s sort of a cooperative, connecting farmers from all over the world to encourage farming in a smarter, more sustainable way. Mostly subsistence farmers and people who in the past. They go in and say, “Listen, you don’t need to go hungry. We can do this better.” It’s basically a spreading of knowledge, indigenous knowledge as well as some western practices. It’s all very sustainable, very, very cool. And they actually brought me down to Honduras a couple years ago to see what they were doing in action It was so sweet, so amazing.

Anyway, they recently had a Seeds for Survival, this campaign about seeds and their importance. It’s fairly cavalier and I think this attitude that you don’t need to worry about food for some reason is disappearing. We’re very happy to be involved with them and we’re doing some stuff on this next tour: for all the dates that we could figure it out logistically, there’s this program called Plus One where a dollar is added to ticket prices and that dollar goes to USC programs in the global South.

As this is your tenth year performing together, how have you seen the band grow or even change since you started?
In the very beginning, it was just sort of this crazy project that I had and that I brought people into; in our spare time, we went at it. We arranged these songs that I had written for the strings and sort of garage-y, early 2000s kind of acoustic rock band. The string players were always changing just by the nature of a string players — they’re usually a sort of overachieving, overcommitted people. With touring it can be very, very demanding asking someone to take a month off work every couple months, so we had a rotating cast for a while, but it’s been steady for the last five or six years really. Upon the release of our latest record, Second Sight, we did add Mara [Pellerin], to the mix. She’s a seventh member who plays horns and sings and plays keyboards and is just generally delighted to be touring and it’s really refreshing for us, everyday we wake up and she’s like “Oh my god! We’re in Cincinnati, it’s so exciting!” and we’re just like, “What? Yeah, yeah. You know what? It is actually. Right, I forgot,” so it’s nice to have a little “band baby” on the go and she calls herself that.

Things have changed just because we have all changed as people. When we first started we really had no idea about production or capturing sounds or creating sound really. It was just about the songs and playing them as best we could and our first couple records, I think really reflect that, without any thought of really creating any new sounds. But [innovation] sort of became a focus for us and it was maybe the record before last that we were thinking, “Hey, it’s actually important what everything sounds like in music. How are we going to make these sounds? How are we going to capture them?” Romesh [Thavanathan], our cellist and multi-instrumentalist, is an engineer now and he wasn’t when he started, but he sort of took that on and became an engineer and a producer of other people’s stuff too and we have definitely delved into trying to make signature sounds and soundscapes that can move people more than just the same old sound of a guitar and drums and strings. So that’s definitely one way we’ve changed. Success has changed things quite a bit, too, in Canada at least.

What are you looking forward to with this next tour?
Well, one of the things I’m looking forward to most and you guys are not going to get to see it unfortunately is the production we can only afford to do in Canada where we’re playing big rooms. But yeah we got a pretty sweet setup. There’s a whole lot of gold foil going on everywhere behind us and underneath us, as well as 50 beautiful giant lightbulbs, and a pretty great light show we put together with our LD, Joey. So that’s pretty exciting.

As for the US dates, we’ve only been to the West Coast once on this record, maybe twice and so it’s just nice to be back there. I love touring the United States; we don’t have the numbers that we have in Canada — it’s not the same beast — but it’s kind of amazing that it seems to me that it doesn’t matter where we play in the world, there’s always this core of people at the show that are extremely excited to be there. I don’t really understand it, I feel like we’re unusual in that way. Like we’ve never been much of just a buzzy band, never been much of just people checking us out. It’s always like people have driven for six hours from the middle of nowhere to come to the show and they want our autograph and everything afterwards, but it’s still strange ’cause there will be 40 people in the bar going, “Where are all the people? We love you guys, you’re amazing, we drove through the night to be here.”

So I don’t know what to make of it really; in some ways it would be nice to play giant rooms, but in other ways it’s really nice to connect with these people on a personal level, to talk to them about music and about their lives. Being from rural eastern Canada which is actually not close to America at all (it would take 24 hours to drive to America from where I’m from), but yet extremely close culturally, I’m sort of starstruck being in America. It’s like being in a movie set, like, “This is American, man. This is where all that shit happens.”

Article by Erica Munson



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