Unparalleled 54-40 set to play Fernival

The band will be headlining this year’s Fernival, hosted at the Fernie Alpine Resort on Saturday, April 11.

Canadian band 54-40 will be playing at Fernie Alpine Resort on Saturday, April 11 as part of Fernival. Photo by M. Maryanovich

With a career spanning close to four decades, Canadian legends 54-40 seem content with their version of innovation in a drastically changed musical landscape.

Having witnessed the evolution of vinyl to cassette to CD to digital sound byte to the revival of the vinyl, bassist Brad Merritt said that the aims of 54-40 have always been constant.

“When we started doing this, we did it because we wanted to create music and share that in terms of both recorded material and live. And that’s what we do. So it doesn’t matter what the medium is,” said Merritt.

The band will be headlining this year’s Fernival, hosted at the Fernie Alpine Resort on Saturday, April 11, marking the annual celebration of the resort’s finish to a season.

Merritt recalls that the band’s last appearance in Fernie was at the Fernie Memorial Arena approximately 15 years ago.

Heading in to the one-off show that will kickstart the band’s penchant for summer festival top billing, Merritt said he isn’t too worried.

“There will be zero preparation for playing in Fernie. If we can’t do it after 34 years without preparing for it we have to find something else to do. The main thing for us, and [it] will be no problem to have, is to enjoy the experience and that’s what we’ll do.”

Merritt noted that concertgoers can expect a smattering of old favourites to be played alongside new tracks in the works.

Currently, the band is working on a live acoustic recording from a trio of shows they performed at Blue Fog Studios earlier this year as well as songs to act as either a full-length to follow 2011’s Lost In the City or a shorter extended play (EP) to at least give a taste of where the band’s sound is going.

Since their debut in 1981, Merritt said that what makes 54-40 so distinctive is the way they go about changing their sound from album to album.

“For better or for worse, we change within what we’re capable of changing all the time. The things that are inherent to the way I play, the way Neil sings, the way I play bass — that has been constant with us from the very beginning. But we change from record to record to record,” said Merritt.

These changes are depicted in the band’s movement from their eponymous alternative rock album 54-40 (affectionately dubbed The Green Album by fans and the band) to tight shiny sequencing courtesy of Los Angeles production on Show Me (considered by the band to be the redheaded stepchild in 54-40’s works). Further transformations have pendulum swung from unapologetic rock (Dear Dear), eclectic and raw (Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret) and acoustic country-folk (Since When).

“I think that’s what excites us about creating,” said Merritt who cited the band’s love for The Beatles’ experimentation as inspiration for how they write albums. “It’s not about a formula or maximizing dollars we can take out of the market. It’s about creativity and exploration and the fact that we’re allowed to drag people along with us that has been extremely gratifying.”

In a digital age where the popular currency is a two and a half minute bubblegum sound byte blaring from a radio speaker or climbing a Top 40 chart, Merritt explained that the band’s focus has been on creating works that can be listened to from beginning to end, with transcending themes, production and lyrics to connect the tracks together.

“I think that’s a huge part of our longevity is that we’ve tapped in to people who appreciate albums,” explained Merritt. “This whole idea of the pressure cooker of trying to come up with a hit song for radio would probably drive our band crazy. Not just in terms of actually being able to do it but also philosophically.”

He added, “Ultimately, I think the creation of music, at least for us, and a lot of people, is that it’s a personal experience. In trying to be relevant to others it seems to be counter-productive. If it’s relevant to you then it has the potential to be relevant to somebody else and that’s all that matters and that’s all you have control over.”