Published Apr 15, 2019"I felt detached from everything that was natural and good," says Tim Baker, frontman of the in-hiatus indie rock band Hey Rosetta!, of the big city blues that inspired "Strange River," one of the key tracks off his new debut solo album, Forever Overhead.
"It just plain sucked," Baker explains in an Exclaim! interview. "People are so unfriendly here. We're all together 'living the dream,' fancy-free, here in the city. But we can't have a laugh together for some reason," he says of the disillusionment with Toronto that fuelled the song.
Aside from capturing such discontent on the LP, and recording odes to the natural wonders of his Maritime homeland, Baker also broke out of the metropolitan rat race by taking the Forever Overhead songs on the road. Before releasing those fresh songs, Baker toured them in venues that transcended the typical nightclub or concert hall circuit: old fashioned kitchen and house parties, which he arranged via his Arts & Crafts labelmate Dan Mangan's Side Door virtual booking and ticket platform. As an official press release put it, co-founder Mangan's Side Door "matches performers with spaces to create shows anytime, anywhere," which allowed Baker to play Legion halls, laundromats and the living rooms of fans' homes.
"I wanted to play some of these tunes and figure out 'Is this song good enough?' in its bare bones. And I also just wanted to get out there and reconnect with people, but not at the same old venues," Baker says.
However, he says that goal was easier in theory than in practice. That's because: "People always think Newfoundlanders just sit around the kitchen playing songs for each other, but my family never did, and it always actually made me nervous."
Instead, Baker is accustomed to the fourth wall of a stage where, with Hey Rosetta!, he would often think to himself: "Here I am onstage, in front of these people. So what am I going to yell?'"
"I loved being in that band with my friends, but sometimes I felt like it was me yelling with music playing. Now, to tour behind this more intimate and very personal new project, I knew the traveling troubadour vibe was something I should get better at."
Forever Overhead demands such nuanced performances, much more so than Hey Rosetta!'s more anthemic tracks. On this new solo LP, Baker says he drew on the '70s pop records by Elton John, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne and Van Morrison that his parents exposed him to as a boy. He wanted to connect with people, the way he connected with those records.
"I knew I had to begin from the very beginning again, with this stripped-down playing for someone right in front of you, looking them in the eye. Which, by the way, is very distracting. I didn't enjoy it at first. But you should push against your comfort zone, right?"
Tough as those nose-to-nose shows were, Baker knew that they'd drive his artistry forward, and serve as a remedy to the angst he and many of his listeners are contending with.
"Intimate togetherness," he asserts. "That is the solution to the anonymity and alienation of city life. I know there are a lot of people who feel the same way. I walk past them on the crowded city streets everyday."
Forever Overhead is out April 19 courtesy of Arts & Crafts.