by Roman Mitz for Open Spaces
Tim Hicks is chuffed. After his solid debut album ‘Throw Down’ in 2013, he beat the sophomore jinx into submission with his outstanding follow-up, ‘5:01’. Now the stakes have been raised and his fan base has big expectations for his brand new record Shake These Walls. While he was certainly nervous about meeting this challenge going into the recording sessions, he’s over the moon with the end result.
“It’s the most pressure I’ve felt in my entire life, working on this record,” he admits, calling in from his St. Catharines home, a quarter hour drive from his hometown of Niagara Falls. “You have to let go of the pressure in order to be creative but it does make for an edge that you want to walk on. I looked at as this is my third record, do or die time, and I really had to impress people. I knew in the first half of the recording session in Nashville that my co-writers and I had really hit a creative stride, and that we had a really good core of songs to build a record around.”
The album’s namesake song serves as the leadoff track and sets the tone for the entire album. It has a loud title, big drums and big guitars and serves as a clear wake-up call to anyone who thought that Tim might tone it down a bit this time around. The tune also has a seriously catchy chorus and he says that’s usually an element that falls into place early during the song writing process.
“We usually start with a title and typically you write the chorus and then write the verses for the chorus,“ he says. “Shake These Walls was one of the first songs that we wrote where I thought this is kind of what I want to do for the record. We do go down some different roads, but for whatever reason I just loved the idea of calling the record Shake These Walls. It corresponds to my live show and shaking the foundations of the Canadian Country Music industry a little bit. Pushing limits, man, pushing limits.”
The album’s first single, ‘Stompin’ Ground’ features another hooky chorus and a wicked lead guitar, while there are at least four solid contenders as follow-ups. Whether it’s the anthemic ‘The Night Gets Us’ or the slow burn of ‘Slow Burn’, there’s no shortage of numbers that sound radio friendly. Perhaps the friendliest of the bunch is ‘Slide Over’, which features a soaring guitar that brings Coldplay to mind.
“Yeah, not only the sound of the guitar but the delay in the guitar as well,” Tim says. “That was a conscious thing; I’m a big fan of that kind of vibe, the U2, Coldplay thing, and it does make it into country from time to time. What’s special about Slide Over is I kind of wrote it for my wife. Anyone that has kids and a career knows that there are a million things between you and your partner at the end of the day. It was one of those songs I felt I had to write in order to say we need to take a little time to reconnect and make sure we’re still on the same page.”
Perhaps the best way to reconnect with your partner is to take them on a working holiday, which Tim recently did when he took his wife to Lyon, France where he performed in what he terms ‘the largest rodeo in Europe’. Tim will be embarking on a national tour next year to promote his new album, and this festival gave him the opportunity to introduce some of the new songs to a ‘tough’ audience.
“Well, it was tough from the standpoint that we had a couple of challenges, the first being the language barrier. I spoke as much French as I could from the stage, you know, chante avec moi, that kind of thing. Beyond that, playing to an audience that doesn’t know the songs was challenging. We had predominantly young people in front of us and they seemed to really like it. The old people tended to go running, which is fine, as I decided about three songs in that I was just going to do my show the way I normally do it. I was taking pictures and tweeting, jumping up and down, and doing the high five routine. The best part of those kind of gigs is that it keeps you and your band honest. We had to work for it. I think in the end we walked away with a few more fans”
[styled_box title=”Tim Hicks – Stompin’ Ground” color=”black”][/styled_box]
It’s unfortunate that most of the French fans couldn’t understand the lyrical gist of the new songs, as Tim is most proud of the fact that this is the first album in which he’s co-written all of the tracks. To him this was the key to taking the record to the next level, and he was hell bent on using only his own compositions on the album.
“I took it as a challenge because as I’m writing the songs my team is out looking for songs by outside writers,” he says. “It was almost like I was trying to beat everything they came up with. For whatever reason I came obsessed with writing the songs for the record. I really wanted to have my fingerprints on every track. When you spend so much time writing, doing demos, recording and working on the stuff, I just wanted to make sure I was saying something in each of these songs that was true to me and that there was a piece of me in all of them.”
Another extremely important element in recording the album is the fact that it was done in Nashville where Tim says ‘you can throw a rock and hit a great guitar player’. He worked with hot-shot producer Corey Crowder, who has his own group of hired guns he likes to use in the studio. The recording process was also different from that of Tim’s first two albums.
“Corey got the band together and he said ‘You’re going to watch the energy happen off of the floor’. It really does make it easy to capture the performance when you have such great players. It was different from the other two records in the sense that we had a band in the studio that cut these songs live. That was really interesting for me, a guy who comes from a live music background. I love the studio and working in the studio with headphones on, but this was really an interesting process and an exciting one because it’s the way I’ve always wanted to do an album but I never had the time or the budget.”
One of the songs that the band really gels on is ‘Let’s Just Drink’. It’s a tongue-in-cheek number that suggests the best way to forget about ‘crazies in the middle east’ and ‘the tax man blowing up your IPhone’, is by tying one on.
“Hey, my whole career is tongue-in-cheek,” Tim laughs. “Even when I’m singing a song like ‘Hell Raisin’ Good Time’, know in your heart of hearts that I’m not taking myself too seriously. Let’s Just Drink was one of those songs we didn’t have to think too hard about. It just sort of fell out of talking about issues like California being on fire, right down to my bass boat having a hole in the bottom of it. We were just trying to be a little bit funny. I love guys like John Prine who can be comedic in his songs but still say something. That’s what we were going after and we laughed a lot while we were writing that one.”
There aren’t a lot of quiet moments on Shakin’ These Walls but Tim does ensure that acoustic instruments pop up throughout in order to temper the sonic foray. He likes to hear mandolins, banjos and steel guitars on his records and he cites Blue Rodeo and The Band as influences that ‘walk that rock kind of line.’ This record’s also not that big on ballads, and perhaps this can be attributed to catering to the masses.
“I love to sing ballads but it seems that most of my fans don’t want to me to go that route too often,” he says. “When we pick songs for the album I don’t want to put a token ballad on it; all of the songs have to work for me. ‘Forever Rebels’ is a little bit ballady, but it’s not lovey dovey. That song has perhaps more truth about me in it than any other number. I felt like that song said it all in terms of the paths that I’ve chosen and the number of people that told me I was never going to make it. Early on I did a gig with Blue Rodeo when I was 19 or 20, and I cornered their singer/guitarist Greg Keelor in the green room and asked him what the key to success was. He said ‘just don’t stop and eventually your number will come up’. I took that to heart and never did stop.”
Along with forming a musical vision at a young age, Tim also established his image early on, featuring his trademark baseball cap. If you check out the video for Stompin’ Ground you’ll find a youthful recreation of him riding a bike with his cap firmly pulled down to his ears, sporting a ‘Hicksy’ jersey.
“I had a basketball coach at A.N. Myer High in Niagara Falls that used to call me that,” he laughs. “When I hear someone in the crowd call out ‘Hicksy’, I go ‘Oh God, 1998 basketball team, somebody’s here’. As far as my cap goes, there was talk early on about me possibly wearing a cowboy hat. It was like, guys, I didn’t grow up on a ranch. My whole thing is I’m trying to be as honest as I can. I’ve been wearing baseball caps since I was a kid so it’s a natural thing. My manager says it’s good branding but I kind of roll my eyes at that.” https://www.facebook.com/roman.mitz