For over 25 years now, Paul Langlois and Robbie Baker have shared the stage as the two guitarists in The Tragically Hip. They’ve developed not only a crunchy, signature sound all their own but also a bond of friendship that has seen them maintain a formidable trust in each other.
So when Langlois decided to record his first solo album, he asked Baker to lend an ear to his original demos. And he got more than he bargained for.
“I just dropped ‘em off with Robbie because I wanted to know what he thought and if he thought I was close to turning it into a record,” says the 49-year-old, reached on the phone from his hometown of Kingston, Ontario. “And he really liked them and gave me very detailed feedback and he really wanted to play on it.”
Though Langlois appreciated Baker’s feedback, he wasn’t ready to bring him into the fold and turn Fix This Head into more than what it actually was.
“I had done it all myself and I was very uncomfortable with anyone else playing on it. I wasn’t going to tour it or promote it. I just wanted to keep it a secret,” says Langlois.
Eventually, Langlois surprised himself and had collected enough songs to head into the studio again to record what would eventually become Not Guilty, his second solo album. This time around, Langlois was a lot more comfortable with the songs, so much so, that he decided to employ a few friends to flush out the collection of gritty, country-infused rock numbers. And naturally, Langlois again turned to Baker.
“Robbie is like my big brother on guitar,” says Langlois, commenting on how bringing in musicians, as opposed to playing every instrument himself as he had on Fix This Head, changed the direction of Not Guilty.
“I had done some recording of some of these songs similar to how I recorded Fix This Head and I thought that I could always go back if I couldn’t beat the vibe from the first record. But, right away, I knew that with the guys, beating my vibe would be very easy. They made their own choices and I love those choices,” he says of drummer Mauro Sepe, bassist Jeff Montgomery and Baker. The result is a more flushed, authoritative sound. There is not only a conciseness on the title track, but an evident sense of maturity on “Everything We Were” and “Retirement.”
Langlois speaks in a comfortable, informal tone, just two days before he leaves on a thorough, cross-Canada tour. The tour will see Langlois get back to his roots and play pubs and clubs that harken back to his earliest days in The Tragically Hip. And though he’ll be closer to the audience than on the arena shows he’s used to with The Hip, he’s not nervous. Or, at least, he’s not as nervous as he used to be.
“I went from being very negatively nervous the first few solo gigs I did to being more confident in the songs and less like I have to make it a show,” he says. “I just want to have a good time. I’m learning how to become a bit more comfortable.”
As Langlois becomes more comfortable in his own skin as a front man, he assumes another position: as the caretaker of his band on tour. A big brother if you will, to one Bobby Baker.
“I’m going to be keeping a close eye on him to make sure he’s doing OK because it’s a pretty loveless tour,” he says with a chuckle.
Paul Langlois performs at the Avenue Theatre (Edmonton) on December 6 and the Palomino (Calgary) on December 7.
By Joshua Kloke