54-40 Keep On Walking And Rocking

Longtime Vancouver-based rock group 54-40 have been a Can-rock staple for well over three decades and show no signs of slowing down. According to bassist Brad Merritt, who has been alongside singer/guitarist Neil Osborne since their inception, the last 12 months has been a resurgence of sorts for the group thanks to their album Keep On Walking.

“It’s been fantastic,” he says. “We released a new record, I think it was in January 26th and it was kind of well received and we’re really happy with it. We’ve played probably 20 acoustic shows between New Years and the middle of April and we’re playing another 30 shows since then. So we’ve played about 50 or 51 shows this year which is way up from the usual.”

The band, who have a three-night stand at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern Dec. 6-8 as part of the bar’s 71st birthday celebrations recently released a music video for the track “How’s Your Day Going.” The video features cameos by Dragons’ Den panellist Michael Wekerle and Hockey Night In Canada host Ron MacLean.

“It was all shot in one day in Toronto and we were really happy with it,” Merritt says. “It’s self-explanatory. I think it’s attracted a little bit of attention and I think there will be at least one more single off it after that one. It’s always the plan with albums these days, it’s been that way for a long time especially now. It’s a slow burn.”

Despite the highs, the band suffered a downer in October when some of their gear was stolen in British Columbia. Five of the seven instruments were recovered but two acoustic Gibson guitars remain missing. Meanwhile, as of late November, the suspect remains at large. It’s not the first time it happened. Back in the early ’90s in downtown Toronto the band’s truck was broken into with “a lot of gear” stolen.

“We’re now at the stage where everybody’s got the instrument that they want to play,” Merritt says. “And it’s all great and then a very similar thing. Somebody cut the lock off the back of the truck and took seven pieces of ours and an amp that belonged to Long & McQuade. Three days later it was tracked down. It was a fantastic thing.

“We didn’t get every piece back. We got all the vintage, irreplaceable stuff back. But there were two acoustic guitars bought new about 15 years ago that haven’t shown up yet so. That’s where we’re at right now.”

Meanwhile, the group’s touring schedule has given the group an even deeper fondness for the fans and their longevity. Merritt says 54-40 endured the growing pains touring and recording to now relish every stop and every show along the way 38 years into the band’s formation.

“You get to a point where at the start you’re very excited for every little thing that happens. Then you get to the point where it becomes fairly routine and a job and somewhat of a grind. You’re doing 130 shows and you’re traveling all the time. And trying to write songs and make albums and you’re not making any money. It’s like, ‘Okay…’ but that’s what you do.

“But you come out of the other side of that which is obviously where we’re at now and make a living at this. And we don’t play nearly as much even though we’ve had a very busy year this year. We look forward to it. It’s something we get very excited about and it’s very similar to the way it used to be. The other thing is you’re a little bit more in touch with your mortality as you get a little older and you lose friends and family, that kind of thing. So the existential questions and you realize what you do isn’t going to last forever. So you approach it with a sense of gratitude, appreciate it.”

Another part the band appreciates is being signed to El Mocambo Records, a new label created by Wekerle and Andy Curran, the latter a music industry veteran who worked with Rush over the years at Anthem Records. It takes away a lot of the onus and pressure indie bands face when having to do everything themselves.

“He’s created something out of nothing and he’s having fun with it,” Merritt says of Wekerle. “It suits our needs to perfection. What we always wanted from a record company was to go out and go make the record you want to make, then we’ll market it. And that’s what they do.”

As for playing at The Horseshoe Tavern over the years, Merritt says that the iconic venue was rarely a place they’d play.

“It’s funny we played everywhere else. We played Lees Palace and we played the Phoenix which used to be the Diamond Club, we played the Kool Haus and the Guvernment. We were bigger than the Horseshoe and now for us to do the Horseshoe we have to do multiple nights. But we love it. We’ve always gone there, that’s the funny thing. That’s where we hang out, we just never played there.

“As far as the developing years we didn’t play there. We played the Forum in Ontario Place in the round. The Danforth Music Hall. That hall (Masonic Temple) where the Mike Bullard Show was. We played there a lot and some other places. So now it seems to be a good place not just for us but for the people who come to the shows. We’ve always enjoyed the shows there. We’re looking forward to it.”

Finally, the band came to a crossroad on social media earlier in 2018 when they landed on 5,440 tweets. Merritt says the band had no thoughts to stopping their social media account when reaching that special number.

“I think there will always be a place for us there,” he says. “It’s great if you want to get news out there quickly. So I think we’re going to keep on going. I think maybe we’ll stop at 10,880.”

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