Hey Rosetta! shatters to create something new

A Hey Rosetta! spotted in its natural habitat // Scott Blackburn
A Hey Rosetta! spotted in its natural habitat // Scott Blackburn

Tim Baker is sitting in a Toronto hotel room with a big bowl of vegetables. The singer/songwriter for Newfoundland seven-piece Hey Rosetta! hasn’t seen healthy food in a long time, and he’s revelling in the luxury of it all.

Hey Rosetta! has been in high demand since the release of the band’s fourth full-length album, Second Sight—named after the artistic quest to write or create art from a new perspective—last October, which means months of touring confined to planes and busses across North America and Europe.

“I need to call management about all this winter Canada bullshit,” Baker says, laughing. “I don’t think we’re going to have more than two weeks off in all of 2015. It is 2015, right?”

Second Sight is the band’s first LP in four years. The record is unmistakably Hey Rosetta!, with lush, swelling sonic expressions of emotion that feel like organic living things. But this is a next-level effort by the band, the sound of it chasing musical ideas down long paths of experimentation and splendour.

Baker, the principal songwriter, says Hey Rosetta! had two months of recording time in Montréal—an unprecedented amount of freedom to create.

“It was more exploratory, more sophisticated, I think, mature and, umm, expensive,” Baker laughs. “In the past, it’s always been so much going in your mind that’s not about a musician making music: you’re worried about the clock, you’ve only got so much time in there and you end up making compromises that aren’t musical based. But this time was great. It felt more like what people think it means to go record in a studio. “

With all the freedom the band had, its label still asked Hey Rosetta! to produce something that’s always been a bit of a challenge: a radio single. The band has never been drawn to typical verse-chorus-verse song structure, Baker says, favouring musical ideas that build and grow and soar.

“The problem with writing for radio format is it puts these strict rules and structures in place,” he adds. “And I don’t really like to preach and see what a song is before it happens. The song should be free to go where it wants to go—and if you’re excited about it you should fucking do it.”

Baker references Paul Simon’s 1986 classic Graceland and how the singer was asked to make a single which ended up being “You Can Call Me Al.”

“That’s not the best song on the album,” he says. “And it’s incomprehensible to me that that record wouldn’t have been as big without it.”

But he acknowledges that a radio single is important as a jumping-off point for people to access the band’s more experimental style. Although the process was difficult and challenging—”it sucked,” Baker says—the band came out of the exercise with the song “Kintsukuroi,” a certified hit of a single with shimmering guitars and swelling background vocals.

Appropriately, Kintsukoroi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with silver and gold to make something even more beautiful—like shattering the band’s favoured writing style and mending it with something precious.

The single, and the followup “Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering),” have catapulted Hey Rosetta! into the limelight—so much so that Baker says the band can’t think of any future plans past touring.

“We just try to eat something and get on stage,” he says. “That’s about all we can muster right now until May when we get off.”

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