“I got an ocean pearl.”
All it takes is five words before sounds of trucking guitars and stomping bass flood the brain with a wave of nostalgia, transporting the listener through post-punk angst back to the early ’90s.
Vancouver’s iconic alt-rockers 54-40 will conjure such images as they ignite the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre stage, both with old hits like Ocean Pearl and the group’s newest offerings.
54-40’s 14th album Keep On Walking, which drops Nov. 24, falls on the heel’s of the group’s 2016 release La Difference: A History Unplugged. From their formative years cutting their teeth in the Lower-Mainland dive-bar scene to their more than three decades of touring, selling more than a million records worldwide, their’s is a sound that has evolved.
“It’s fairly eclectic in nature with a bunch of different types of songs,” said 54-40 bass veteran Brad Merritt of Keep On Walking. “I think the record moves from one place to another — there’s a thematic thread. We have a sense of melody. The words sort of hold together and the chorus ties together the verses. It’s kind of old-fashioned in a way.”
Despite their success and sonic evolution, 54-40 has always remained true to their passion, Merritt said.
“It was a real exploration — we created our own sound,” Merritt said. “There’s growth and regression, which is good, and then we push in another direction. It’s an exploration. When you don’t have the will to change and explore, you’re just dead artistically. We’re not interested in that.”
Their unquenchable thirst for creative growth pushed the group to rework a selection of their hits spanning their 36 year history for their most recent release — a project 54-40 had never imagined.
“What a privilege to be able to re-imagine our catalogue in a way that is equal parts fresh and familiar,” said 54-40 pianist Dave Genn. “Given the opportunity to frame Neil’s lyrics in a different light reminded me of the emotional connection between the words and music, and how that connection can be massaged in order to give the songs new moods and meaning. A thoroughly inspiring exercise and a labour of love.”
When going into the studio to work on an album, that love is what 54-40 focusses on.
“When we hand the thing in, the completed master, and everyone in the band is proud — that’s a successful record,” Merritt said. “Otherwise, you’re looking to external markers and you have no control over that. We want the validation from the people who like our music —that’s all good, but it’s not what we’re about. We’ve never been about that.”
But their hard work and dedication to the creative process, one of Merritt’s favourite parts of being a musician, translates to the stage where they have no choice but to embrace the music.
“Whether it’s good, bad or ugly, no matter what happens, you’re out there,” Merritt said of performing live. “I really like it when the stage sound is really good, you just build this emotional momentum and there can be a moment of catharsis that happens.”
In a few short months, Merritt and singer Neil Osbourne will have racked up 37 years with 54-40, and it’s that drive for creative evolution and the resulting catharsis that keeps them going.
“I can see right through to 2019. After that, I have no idea what the future holds,” Merritt said, adding that the group will be on the road until then for La Difference and Keep On Walking.
“Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t mind slowing down a bit here or there before speeding up (again).”
54-40 rocks the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre stage Feb. 17, 2018. Tickets are available Oct. 14 for $69 all seats from the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.