“When we get into the song, we let go of ourselves, and it takes some pushing of the courage level, just to see how far the song can go with us. That’s why music is so special; it’s the last mass cultural form of spiritualism left. Letting go of yourself as a musician is one of the truly great experiences in life.”
Neil Osbourne, 54-40
Four guys, one band, and a four-number name. Fifteen years, seven albums, and now Trusted By Millions. Thirteen songs all wrapped up in a post punk angst meets The X-Files package.
Resistance is futile: Canada’s pre-eminent pop-rock ensemble is back with a new album and sights firmly set on emulating their Canadian success in Europe.
“We’ve found that 54-40 fans come in three flavours: Dear Dear fans, Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret fans (and never the twain shall meet), and people who pretty much like everything we’ve ever done,” says bassist Brad Merritt. “I think we’ve finally made a record that encompasses all three flavours.” Brad is confident about the accessibility of the music on Trusted By Millions: a combination of “polish and polyphony,” in his words, that has the spit and the shine of the best work in the band’s career.
That career dates back to the early 1980s, when Brad’s father owned a foundry in British Columbia. As a teenager, Brad had a part-time job there; the foundry was also the first rehearsal space for a band Neil (Osbourne, vocalist) and Brad started a band they named 54-40. “We’re a product of our environment,” Brad jokes. “There’s always been a really gritty quality to our music.”
The refinement found on 54-40’s seventh studio album, Trusted By Millions, took shape over two years of touring writing and jamming and the band rendered in its final form during two months of recording under the direction of Odds’ Steven Drake.
Steven’s association with the band dates back to 1985 when he used to be in a band when he used to be in a band with Neil’s brother David, called The Nerve Tubes. Ironically, 11 years later, Steven’s first-ever “real” production gig was this record. “It truly was a wish come true,” he says simply of his decade old ambition to work the boards for the group.
Steven “played Scottie to my Captain Kirk,” according to Neil, when it came to capturing the band’s combination of road-tested tunes and a willingness to experiment musically. A self-described “stereo freak”, Steven focussed on putting together a full complex sound, stretching at both the high and low ends of the mix to capture the subtleties of the group’s song structures. “We’ve never had a problem being dissonant,” acknowledges Matt Johnson (Drums). “It’s just that this time, we consciously focussed on framing the songs in a classic pop context.” That context is notable on the first single, Lies to Me. As Neil puts it, “It’s just a great pop song” and on the song Love You All, which features a sinister pop guitar lick for an anchor and an almost anthemic angst. This marriage of pop sensibility and angst lies at the heart of 54-40’s sound. “We were spawned out of this post-punk angst hypnotic groove thing,” reflects Neil.
Many of the songs on Trusted By Millions were written during the band’s tour in support of the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret album. Beside each song’s title in the booklet there’s a place line. Since the band rarely attempted more than three takes of a song in the studio the spontaneous energy and spirit of these global experiences was captured intact. The twisted “Sweet Jane” meets “Jack and Diane” sensibility of “Crossing a Canyon” originated in the urban sprawl o London, England; and the angry energy of “This is my Haircut” first found form in the decaying burg of Koln, Germany.
Trusted By Millions
Jump forward a few months, Trusted By Millions has exceeded the success of its predecessors in the band’s native Canada. Attention, now focuses on the U.K. with the release of the single “Lies to Me” and a week later, the album Trusted By Millions. Unlike its Canadian sibling, the U.K. release of the album will be a special multi-media edition including video and other graphical treats. The band will also be setting foot on these shores for a string of live dates in late April/May.
Since Trusted By Millions
Though the band’s relationship with the label ended after this album, they have remained active, releasing a number of albums over the years and playing a number of live shows: their most recent release at the time of writing is an unplugged celebration of their music, which they released in 2016.