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MUSIC : Tragically Hip Intent on Seeking More Fame : While touring the States, the hit Canadian group hopes to build on their fan base and attract folks to their shows.


The Tragically Hip got together for a good reason; at least it seemed like a good idea to a bunch of teen-agers 10 years ago. At that time in Kingston, their hometown in Ontario, Canada, all the clubs had nothing but cover bands. The Hip wanted to provide a suitable soundtrack to hang out with their friends and drink beer.

Now a decade and many beers later, the Hip, have just released their fourth album, "Day for Night." They'll be showcasing that and more when they play the Voodoo Lounge in Santa Barbara on Tuesday night. That's a long way from Belgium, according to phone interview victim Gordon Sinclair, who knows geography, beer, the Hip and the bass.

"You know, Belgium is the place for beer. It seems like every little town has their own brewery. Every one is different and a lot of them are great," said Sinclair.

The Tragically Hip play the basic two guitar-powered rock, but with insightful, readily decipherable lyrics and one-of-a-kind vocals by Gordon Downie.

"After the first album, everyone thought we were just like the Georgia Satellites; then after the second one, it was the Black Crowes; then after the third one, it was R.E.M. And since our new one came out the same week as R.E.M., we'll probably hear that one again," said Sinclair. "Playing, performing--that's what this band is all about. I think we have our own original sound."

In addition to the two Gordons--Sinclair and Downie, there are two guitarists, Paul Langlois and Bobby Baker, and Johnny Fay beats those drums.

"It's important that we've been playing together for years, plus we knew each other beforehand," said Sinclair. "Personality-wise, we've sort of grown up together. The greatest thing is actually playing the gig; the worst thing is sitting around between gigs."

The Hip have long been the biggest band in Canada, where they have won lots of awards and sold even more albums. But groups from north of the border, in addition to having reliable vehicles, have to try harder. They can't just cruise down to Hollywood every weekend for a showcase for the corporate slugs at Megazilla Records.

"Canada is a country bigger than the United States but with only 25 million people. The only way to make it as a band here is to take it on the road," said Sinclair. "Usually, you can't play and drive back home. You can drive six or eight hours between gigs and see nothing but trees and wheat fields. Those bands that can hang together, get tighter. Those that can't, explode.

"A couple of Canadian winter tours will make or break a band. We go out for six or eight months of the year, but usually no more than three weeks at a time. Four out of five of us are married and some of us have kids."

Yet being Big Time in Canada still hasn't given the band the avalanche of acclaim south of the border, despite their heavy touring schedule.

"We really sell a lot in Canada, modestly so in Europe, but not so much in the States. The American thing is not based on selling tons of records. We're into building our fan base, and getting more people out to the shows," said Sinclair.

"The tastemakers--MTV and the Rolling Stone--they decide what's going on, and so far, we don't fall into their star system. Anyway, you can still do very well and not be a household word in America."

And yet, the band puts on a killer live show, makes great albums and generates favorable press. None of which guarantees anything in the music biz. The band was recently dropped by MCA, their record label since 1987.

"We're no longer on MCA in the States, but we're staying with MCA in Canada. But I can't really say too much right now; we've got lawyers working," said Sinclair.

"The album will be out in the States after the first of the year, but I'm not sure on which label. "Day for Night" is out up here in Canada. It's quite a bit different than the ones before, because it was written over a much longer period of time during the winter: long, gray and freezing cold--even for Canada. So I think some of the winter slipped in.

"Our music has become a real group effort after four albums. Gordon (Downie) writes all the lyrics now, but everyone brings something of their own to every song. There's a lot of dynamics now. It's not just one person's vision."


* WHAT: The Tragically Hip.

* WHERE: Voodoo Lounge, 500 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara.

* WHEN: 9 p.m. Tuesday.

* HOW MUCH: $12.

* CALL: 966-1634.

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