Great Big Sea Finds Success the Old-Fashioned Way

Monday Magazine | July 22, 2004
In a business often defined by fads, trends, gimmicks and glam, there’s something inherently satisfying about the consistency of Great Big Sea. Whereas other bands seem to spend as much time worrying about their marketing potential as they do their music, Newfoundlanders Great Big Sea remain as steady as the Rock from whence they still come. “We’ve spent our lives trying to figure out a way to genuinely connect with an audience, rather than just stand there,” explains founding member Bob Hallett. “A lot of people say that, but the reason for the longevity of Great Big Sea is that people come to our concerts and get something different.”

Indeed, it’s that “something different” which seems to be the secret to Great Big Sea’s success. Currently touring to support their seventh album, Something Beautiful—which not only is their fifth disc to debut in the top 10, but also just went gold—the boys from St. John’s are also riding high on the surprise triple-platinum status of both their Great Big DVD and last year’s sold-out North American tour. “These days, a band’s career tends to be about nine months,” muses Hallett. “This is 11 years for us and we’re still competing.” Competing? Sounds to me like they’re winning.

But success isn’t the only thing Great Big Sea has been dealing with lately. With the recent loss of original bassist Darrell Power, they were forced to re-examine not only the band’s structure but their distinctive sound as well. “One of the good things about bringing new people in is that it forces you to really look at your whole body of work,” Hallett explains. “You have to rehearse things you haven’t rehearsed in years and it forces you to think, ‘Why are we playing it this way? Geez, we’ve been doing it forever.’ ” As a result of adding new members Murray Foster (Moxy Fruvous) and drummer Kris MacFarlane, fans may notice a slightly different sound to Something Beautiful.

“It’s definitely our most pop record ever,” Hallett admits. “Murray and Kris both came from a much more rock-and-roll background than the three of us. That energy and enthusiasm came in very strong with them, and it kind of infected us—but in a positive way.”

Slight tweaks to their sound aside, it’s clear that Great Big Sea are firmly committed to setting their own musical course. “We’ve never been comfortable with what Toronto’s view of Newfoundland is, what Canada is and what the band is,” concludes Hallett. “We get criticized a lot for being honestly optimistic, but we want to make music that people are going to want to sing. We’ve always striven hard to make records that people want to hear and one thing I think Canadians want to hear—no matter what MuchMusic tells them—is songs about their own country. That’s a conscious effort on our part, not naïvety.”

—John Threlfall

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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