CanCulture’s Christine Ackerley talked with Hey Rosetta! bassist Josh Ward about Ottawa Bluesfest, touring, and evolving as a band.
CanCulture: You actually spoke to CanCulture around this time last year. What’s changed for Hey Rosetta! since then?
Josh Ward: In the last year, we’ve basically been on the same trajectory, working towards the same goals. We’ve also been trying to play a lot more in the U.S., and we’ve been spending a lot of time down there. We’ve been to Europe a lot more as well, trying to break into Europe for the first time.
CC: As a band, it seems like you’re always on tour. How do you find foreign music scenes compare to Canada’s?
JW: I feel like they’re similar. The bands are all basically the same. They share the same enthusiasm for music and passion for what they do. The difference is the number of people. Obviously when we play Canada, we have really great shows and a lot of people come out. In the U.S, getting people to come out and come back is more of a challenge. It’s kind of like starting over again. Ultimately, the cultures are different but everyone has the same appreciation for music.
CC: You’ll be returning to Ottawa Bluesfest on July 13th. What was last year like, and what do you expect this year?
JW: I’m really looking forward to it. It’s one of my favourite festivals. Unfortunately, this year we don’t get as much time to hang out; we’re just flying in and leaving. Last year was really funny! We got rained out, so we decided to unplug and go out and play in the rain. They crowd loved it. Everyone was standing in the rain anyways, and we figured we could either stand under a little tent or go out and join them. And it’s not the first time [we got rained out]! That always seems to happen to us. We did a show in Hamilton and it just poured rain. It’s actually kind of dangerous. They have to shut down the power because no one wants to get electrocuted. And one time in North Bay, we were playing with The Sheepdogs and it happened again. It’s actually strange, how many times we’ve been playing outdoors and the sky just opens up out of nowhere.
CC: How do you feel about Hey Rosetta!’s critical acclaim and being compared to bands like Coldplay and Arcade Fire?
JW: I don’t know, you kind of take that stuff with a grain of salt. For every good review you get, there’s also a bad one. You try not to get too swept up in that. In some ways it adds a bit of pressure, but that might be a good thing. It gives us a little more drive to live up to those expectations. When you do get those comparisons, it gives you that impetus to work harder at it. At least that’s what I hope it does!
CC: Who would you say are the band’s main musical influences?
JW: The biggest, most immediate influences are the bands we play with on the road. We’re influenced through seeing them time and time again, running in to them at festivals and seeing how those successful bands do their thing. In the band, we all have our individual tastes. When we’re in the van together, we all just listen to everything, and we take ideas from everything we listen to. [...] You have to draw whatever influence you can from music you like, by finding what it is that you like about it and trying to apply that in some way.
CC: How has your music and the band’s dynamic evolved since you started in 2005?
JW: It’s still kind of the same vibe. Tim is definitely the songwriter, and [the band] is his baby. In the very early days, Tim would have entire songs thought out and organized, and we would just walk in, and play them together, deciding what worked and what didn’t. Now, there’s more input from everyone earlier on. [...]
The bands that we’re on the road with have always been our biggest influence. [...] Any evolution that’s occurred in the creative process is a result of that [influence], but also just us being together for a long time.
CC: Your most recent album, Seeds, addresses environmental concerns about things like sustainable farming and global warming. How does social responsibility fit into Hey Rosetta!’s identity as a band?
JW: That was never a plan from the start. I don’t know if we ever wanted to be like Rage Against the Machine or anything. But I think the music we play has always been more serious, discussing bigger ideas. There’s not a lot of silly love songs, and we try to tackle more universal ideas.
[...] So with Seeds, the environmental message kind of worked out with the metaphor of the whole record. I don’t think of us as a political type of band, but I do feel we have an obligation to help in some way, however we can. [...] Even if that’s as simple as saying, “Hey everybody, stay away from [genetically modified foods],” and basically trying to warn people. Trying…I guess just trying is our vibe.
CC: When the band is hanging out, do you have any vices or favourite pastimes?
JW: I don’t know about vices, but we like to do stuff together. A lot of times you can get in this rut of playing in this town, then driving to the next town, then going to the hotel, and then playing the show. It’s a routine from hotel to highway to venue. So whenever we get the chance to do something outside of that, we take it. We like to play Frisbee, or we‘d all go to a movie together. When we stop for gas, we play with the hacky-sack. We like anything we can do where we’re all together, outside of the van.
CC: What can we expect from Hey Rosetta! in the near future?
JW: We’re definitely working on writing music this whole time. [...] There are still some upcoming tours, but we’re going to try to squirrel away some time and just buckle down. Being in the same place for a while, and being in the studio, we’re going to try to work like a nine-to-five, just go in, do it, then walk away and come back the next day. So we’ve got a couple new tunes we’ve been playing, figuring them out and seeing how people react to them.