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Hip guitarist finds solo creative spark

After being a steady, supporting cast member of arguably the biggest Canadian rock band of all time since 1983, Paul Langlois decided to step into the spotlight.

After being a steady, supporting cast member of arguably the biggest Canadian rock band of all time since 1983, Paul Langlois decided to step into the spotlight.

After releasing his first-ever solo record, titled Fix This Head (FTH) in 2010, Tragically Hip guitarist and vocalist Langlois has already dropped his second album less than three years later.

Not Guilty (NG), released on Nov. 5, has a foundation of simplified, straight-ahead rock with Langlois’ dialled-down, but intimately engaging vocals sprinkled on top.

The record is fairly playful, but the lyrics touch on a few challenging themes, as Langlois began experiencing sudden hearing loss in his right ear about two years ago.

The song “Table’s Been Set” displays his concerns about a continued career in music, with the line “I’ve got a ringing in my ear/ and a pounding in my brain/ I’ve got a bucket full of tears/ that I won’t be back again.”

Langlois will take the stage with friends Greg Ball and Pete Murray at Wild Bill’s Saloon in Banff on Monday (Dec. 9) as part of a cross-country tour.

After playing a background role in the Hip for nearly three decades, Langlois wasn’t sure how his first solo project would take shape.

“I really didn’t know what I would sing about or what my voice would sound like because I didn’t know what the songs would be, so I started partially figuring myself out,” Langlois said.

After FTH was released, the camera-shy songwriter had to put a live band together, even though he had played all of the instruments on the recordings by himself.

“There were a few times where I was offered a gig and I had to put a band together, and I did with Bobby Baker, from our band, and a couple other friends and the gigs, sort of like the first record, went better than I was expecting and I was more comfortable than I expected,” he added.

Recording FTH at the Hip’s own Bath House studios near Kingston, Ont., Langlois was encouraged by his band members and friends to go forward and he has enjoyed the side project friendly atmosphere that his band has fostered.

“We all get up to our own stuff,” Langlois said.

“Gord (Downie) put out a solo record and side project first, and we all thought that was cool. It was just fun to do something different and work with different people and get out of the normal headspace for a while,” he said.

“It works for all of us to have something else going on. It keeps us all happy on the off times and pretty energetic when we get back together. It’s like ‘Oh right – we’re in the Hip. Things aren’t so bad, there’.”

As the Hip have become more of a household name in Canada, Langlois has appreciated open pockets of time in his schedule that didn’t exist in the band’s early days.

“To do something like this in the ’90s would have never worked – I mean, we were either writing, recording or on the road. It didn’t stop,” he noted.

“But in the last 10 years or so, it hasn’t been as relentless. We’ve sort of controlled it a little more. We still try to write and record and tour and do it often, but there are little windows of time now to do other things.”

As time passed and Langlois toured with the Hip on its Plan A album, he threw around the idea of recording Not Guilty with a full band and not just himself.

“I’m glad I did this album and it was a lot more fun making it with other people,” Langlois added.

Friend and Hip member Baker helped Langlois a lot through both albums, adding guitars and vocals, and has offered some sound advice and support along the way.

“He was certainly giving me positive feedback with the recording, and he’s certainly been very encouraging. He took part fully in the recording of this new record. I’m glad to have him along and I’m very used to being around him, and musically, he’s obviously a great hire,” Langlois said.

Although his band’s support isn’t always vocal, Langlois has enjoyed his temporary departure from normal “Tragically-Hip-life.”

“They’re very happy for me, I’m assuming. It’s not like we sit around and talk about it, like ‘Hey – let’s all talk about Paul’s new record and how it is and how it’s going for you, Paul.’ But at the same time, everyone is positive.”

Singer-songwriter Greg Ball, who is also opening on the tour, plays a character in the creative video for the song “Not Guilty.”

In the video, which was directed by Max Montalvo, Ball is the main character at a car wash and becomes part of an unfolding murder mystery.

Langlois first met him at a local Kingston bar, as Ball was a bartender who wanted to release some of his own songs.

“We spent some time recording and I produced his next record and part of the concept of this tour is to get him in front of people, too. He’s a great guy and he’s hilarious and a really great songwriter,” Langlois noted.

Excited to hit the open road and share his songs, Langlois is looking forward to playing in Banff.

“I love Western Canada and I’m very glad it’s part of this tour. I felt like if I was going to tour, I needed to do the whole country.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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