By Rhia Perkins
It’s a big step from the Republik to the Saddledome, but Great Big Sea haven’t let it go to their heads.
"It’s a challenge," laughed the multifaceted Bob Hallett, who contributes vocals, button accordian, fiddle, tin and low whistles, bouzouki, concertina, and mandolin to the band. "You really have to think about the concert in a different way. People aren’t standing right in front of you, so, I guess the whole thing has to be a little broader."
Taking the increase in popularity in stride, Hallett is more concerned about the increased complexity and elaborate arrangement of the songs, and how this affects their usually- lively stage show.
"From an instrumental point of view, it’s more difficult to play these things–I can run around or I can play really well. You gotta find something in between," Hallett said matter of factly.
Though the music is more complicated, the band remains true to their musical roots of St. John’s, where they grew up. Hallett is strongly influenced by the traditional music that surrounded him as a child, and sees the band as a way to ensure the tradition is not lost.
"The four of us are all the only people in our families–and some of the guys come form quite large families–who play this music, so we felt a certain amount of responsibility to carry it on," he said.
Family is also extremely important to Hallett and the rest of the band.
"We chose to stay in Newfoundland because we wanted to be close to our family, friends and community and it’s a vital part of us and who we are," he said. "For us to move away and lose that, we would have lost the essential thing that made our music worthwhile in the first place. Our music only makes sense in context–in Newfoundland."
Hallett is philosophical about the mainstream success they’re finally enjoying on their third and fourth albums.
"I can’t say radio’s embraced us, but it’s gotten easier," he mused. "The first three singles we put off [Up] got nothing. I’m sure if it hadn’t been for MuchMusic no one would have heard of us."
He credits unique pop music videos for giving them exposure to a public that wouldn’t typically be interested in traditional Newfoundland music.
"The look of the videos was so pop, I guess it kind of disguised from the public what kind of music we were doing," he said. "Our goal was to make music that would be popular and to make it using the tools of Newfoundland music."
Their fourth album, Turn, was released early this summer. While steeped in the maritime folk tradition, it is more creative and complex than the earlier three.
"The fourth one is brutal," said Hallett. "Because all the good ideas you’ve been saving up for the last 20 years are all gone now, so you really have to dig down deep. At the same time, we wanted to move the band forward, but you don’t want to screw up the thing that everybody liked about it in the first place," he laughed.
The album has gone platinum and still sells strongly across Canada, so it appears the changes are for the best.
One of the most interesting of these was the band’s decision to do a song in French. According to Hallett, none of the band are native speakers and the song they chose was written in Newfoundland French, a dialect very different to those spoken in Canada today.
"It’s like Newfoundland English," he said. "It has a lot of expressions and dialects that are extinct in the modern world. There are words in it that don’t even exist in the two main Canadian streams of French."
The band played across Europe and toured extensively in the us. Still, they are undecided as to whether the us market is essential to the band’s success.
"I don’t think it’s vital, we’ve had a very good career in Canada and if the States thing never happened, I don’t think anybody in the band would be disappointed," he said. "But as a challenge, I must say I find it enjoyable. Cracking the United States is kind of this Emerald City for Canadian bands–everyone wants to do it."
At the same time, they don’t want to lose sight of home.
"It’s no point being a huge star in the States if you get home and none of your friends are speaking to you and your family’s all moved."
The band has therefore decided to concentrate on playing in Canada–much to the delight of the fans here at home.
Great Big Sea will be playing at the Canadian Airlines Saddledome Fri., Oct. 22.