SURREY — In the wake of Gord Downie’s death, nobody feels the weight of responsibility quite like Matt Mattson.
Mattson and his ‘mates have been at it since 2008, but the act of playing the music of Kingston’s most beloved band means so much more now, with renewed emphasis on the word ‘tribute’ for The Hip Show.
“I mean, we really are a tribute now, in the most sincere meaning of the word,” Mattson said this week. “I do feel more responsibility somehow, and I have some anxiety about the upcoming shows, because we haven’t played publicly since Gord’s death. You know, what’s that going to feel like? How’s it going to feel inside? I don’t know yet.”
The Hip Show will perform at The Union Jack pub in New Westminster this Saturday night (Nov. 11), on Remembrance Day. Beyond that, their gigs include setting up at Donegals Irish House in Surrey on Saturday, Dec. 16.
In preparation, Mattson has worked harder on the finer details of portraying Downie on stage – no easy task.
“Getting it right is important, as it’s always been, and some of it is knowing what to say, the right things to say, what I want to say (from the stage),” Mattson said. “The Tragically Hip was always a band of five equal parts, but Gord did become the focal point.… Because of all of what’s happened over the past couple of years with that band, I feel the weight of that, because I sing his words and I’m that guy, right. The eyes are on me, no question, and I try to give it respect and dignity.”
Mattson, born in Surrey Memorial Hospital and schooled at Earl Marriott Secondary, set about creating a Hip tribute band with guitarist Joe Foley nine years ago.
“I’d known Joe from Wreck Beach, because we were a couple of regulars there, and he was also in an original band,” Mattson recalled. “I phoned him up at the end of that summer and both of our original bands were sort of, you know, in a little bit of flux. Over the years I’d found that vocally, my range and my style, was always kind of similar to Gord and the Tragically Hip stuff I was hearing – specifically Fully Completely and Day for Night were my formative albums, that era of the band.
“I thought, I sound like him, I kind of look like him, because when I was 30 I was already balding, so there was that, too. So he was balding, I was balding, I loved the music and I thought it would be fun, but I didn’t really think it would be a long-term type of thing. I thought we’d play some shows at the Fairview (pub in Vancouver) for friends and have some fun with it, but nothing like this.”
Since day one, the band has featured Mattson and Foley along with Dave “Langlois” Van Andel, Brad “Sinclair” Uchida and Mike “Johnny” Satchwell.
Today, The Hip Show is more in demand than ever, with a 10th-anniversary year of casino dates, corporate shows and festivals on the calendar for 2018.
For Mattson, the year ahead also means continued work on a solo project under the name Mattson Music (mattsonmusic.com).
As a tribute band, The Hip Show is as close to the real deal as you’ll ever hear, probably because they approach it from a place of so much reverence.
“Being true and respectful, portraying (Downie) up there on stage, a lot of it comes naturally,” Mattson explained. “I watch a lot of Youtube, checking out his Gord-isms,” he added with a laugh.
“We have a lot of love and respect for that band, and hopefully that comes across when we play. Now more than ever, we’ll just keep doing what we do, move forward and keep paying respect and tribute, and giving the fans what they want, which is to get their Hip fix, to hear the songs live.”
The band feels the weight of responsibility for other things, too.
“As The Hip Show moving forward, we want to be part of the solution of reconciliation and answer Gord’s call to action to ‘do something,'” Mattson wrote in an email a few days after being interviewed by the Now-Leader. “The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund supports grassroots initiatives towards reconciliACTION. Partial band proceeds from all our shows will be donated to this great cause he was so passionate for. We feel a responsibility as a Tribute to carry the message, as well as the music, forward.”