Volume 92, Issue 29

Tuesday, October 27, 1998

purple haze


Since when did 54-40 start singin' your number?

Gazette file photo

THE SERVICE IN HERE REALLY SUCKS! The members of 54-40, seen here trying to get a bite eat before their gig, play The Drink tonight for a two-set performance spanning the music of the band's career.

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

Even if 54-40 has reached a successful plateau in the Canadian music scene, they're not about to let themselves get trapped in a comfortable mode, allowing all they've worked for to fall by the wayside. With resilience, they continue moving forward and pushing their sound in different directions – all the while gaining wisdom and a touch of cynicism.

Over a decade ago, 54-40 embarked on a musical career which has carried them to the present as one of the forerunners in the Canadian music mainstream. They established their own niche, after producing such successful albums as Trusted by Millions and Smiling Buddha Cabaret. However, these accomplishments have, according to bassist Brad Merritt, only given them the stepping stones and the confidence to move even further.

"Once you get to a certain stage, you have this license to experiment. I feel that we can do anything and our latest record [Since When] is proof. It's such a leap for us – it's a different approach altogether," Merritt says.

After spending the better part of the '90s shifting through pop/rock to more aggressive sounding chords, the Vancouver-based foursome gradually attained the freedom to come into their own voice. Merritt counts himself fortunate to have launched his musical career when he did.

"We were lucky to start in the mid '80s in Vancouver when there were no commercial pressures and an allowance to grow the way you wanted to grow," Merritt says.

"Today, a band can be in the situation where commercial pressures can be brought to bear too soon. They aren't able to grow creatively to the point where they could otherwise go to."

Fortunately, for 54-40, their birth was before creative control resided in marketing statistics. "Our evolution was a very organic process for us. That situation doesn't exist anymore because the world has become a smaller place with the internet and growth in the industry," Merritt explains.

"We started off as a post punk band, which basically means you take what you want from punk and move forward and this is reflected through those initial feelings when we started out as a band." The band's established dialogue spoke through the resonance of punk into '80s pop and early '90s grunge. It continues to speak volumes during the electronicized, swingin' ska, pop/rock melange prevalent in the '90s.

Acting as a witness to the musical styles stirred around them gave the band the gliding materials needed to move through the poppy Dear Dear album to the harder-edged attitudes of Trusted by Millions. Still, these sounds were not consciously derived.

"We just go where we go, our styles are not intuitive," Merritt says. But with Since When, the exception to the band's plan was aborted and an awareness of their direction was conceived.

"The album is more honest with a stronger emotional quality to the lyrics. It's less evocative and more direct. Stepping into the studio this time, we decided to try and make music instead of making a certain kind of record. Once you realize that, these things have a way of taking on a life of their own," Merritt explains.

And the kind of life Merritt has taken on is one which exists in a rising Canadian individuality, an identity 54-40 has helped to foster and compose. "What I get out of [the band] is being a part of an entity which creates something out of nothing and makes that available to the masses."

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998