Nearly four years after the death of the Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie — and three years after the band announced their retirement — the beloved Canadian rockers have revealed their surprise new album Saskadelphia, due out Friday, May 21st.
Saskadelphia features six songs written for the Tragically Hip’s 1991 album Road Apples; five of the tracks were recorded during the same 1990 studio sessions in New Orleans, while the sixth (“Montreal”) was recorded live during the band’s Montreal concert in 2000. The studio version remains lost.
As the surviving members of the Tragically Hip explain, Road Apples was originally intended to be the Canadian band’s first double-album until they received pushback from the heads of their American record label at the time; the six songs that feature on Saskadelphia were left on the cutting room floor 30 years ago, boxed up and forgotten about, until now.
Ahead of Friday’s release of Saskadelphia — the original title for Road Apples before it was dismissed by label executives as “too Canadian” — Rolling Stone is sharing video from the Tragically Hip’s rediscovering the album’s tapes, as well as a snippet of the opening track “Ouch.”
“I went ‘Wow’ when I heard ‘Ouch’ after all this time,” guitarist Rob Baker said in a statement. “We were a pretty good little band.”
Finding the tapes was a happy accident: As the band explains in the accompanying “The Story of Saskadelphia,” they were listed by the New York Times as one of the thousands of artists whose master recordings were destroyed in a 2008 fire on the Universal Studios backlot. Only the tapes weren’t destroyed. Instead, they were quietly transferred back to Canada in 2001, with the band’s surviving members unearthing and digging through the tapes in the summer of 2020. Singer Gord Downie died in October 2017 at the age of 53 following a battle with brain cancer.
“We knew we had a lot to look for because we recorded a lot back then. We didn’t know what was there,” drummer Johnny Fay said, “so this meant baking them and listening to them as they were being transferred, hearing them for the first time in 30 years. It was crazy.”
However, one track from the sessions wasn’t found on the tapes: “Montreal,” a song about the École Polytechnique massacre of 1989. However, the band unearthed the song from a concert at Montreal’s Molson Centre on December 7th, 2000, the 11th anniversary of the killings.
“That night, it was suggested we could play ‘Montreal’ and I was in the dressing room. I ran through it to make sure I knew it, but there were questions about whether we would pull it off,” Baker said. “Gord Downie wasn’t sure about the lyrics, so a road manager pulled them up on the Internet. He did a quick once over and said, ‘OK, we got this.’ Then, we went out and played like we had been playing it forever.”
Over 30 years after the songs were recorded, their “new” album Saskadelphia marks a closing chapter for the Tragically Hip. “We are, sadly, never going to have the chance to put out new stuff,” bassist Gord Sinclair said. “For us, in our minds, this is new.”
The Tragically Hip are set to receive the 2021 Humanitarian Award at the 50th Annual JUNO Awards on Sunday, June 6, in Toronto; Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson will present the band with the honor.
2. Not Necessary
3. Montreal (Live from The Molson Centre, Montreal, Dec 7th, 2000)
4. Crack My Spine Like a Whip
5. Just as Well
6. Reformed Baptist Blue