The term supergroup is an over-used one, but in terms of Canadian rock in the ‘90s especially, the newly-formed The Trans-Canada Highwaymen can justifiedly be given that tag. The combo comprises Chris Murphy (Sloan), Moe Berg (The Pursuit Of Happiness), Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies) and Craig Northey (Odds).
They played a gig together at The Jackson-Triggs Winery in Niagara last weekend, one described to FYI by Northey as “over the top”, in terms of fun for the band and audience like. News that this will be more than a one-off occasion will certainly please fans of all four members.
Northey tells us that the idea of this collaboration “came when Steven, Chris and I were talking a couple of years ago then Moe and our friend Jim Millan came to us all with a multi-media interpretation of the same idea (which we're working on) so we thought "this must be a good idea". If Moe Berg wants to rock you don't get in his way, you just say, "let's go".
We also reached Moe Berg yesterday for his take. He confirmed that “The idea was presented by Jim Millan who is a theatrical director/producer/writer. He is responsible for the most recent Kids In The Hall tour, also The Mythbusters stage production, Alton Brown, Penn and Teller etc. etc. He sees it as a theatrical, multi-media production more than just a concert or ‘songwriters in the round’. So that is in the process of being worked out and shows are booked for April 2017. However, the show at Jackson Triggs was more like an impromptu concert with the four of us, kind of to get our feet wet.”
To Berg, this first gig “was a real blast. We had an extraordinarily enthusiastic crowd who really seemed to enjoy the opportunity to see the four of us together as well as the off the cuff delivery of the show. The venue, The Jackson Triggs Amphitheater, is spectacular."
The paths of all four have intersected in many ways over the years, and Northey and Page have been working together extensively, as on Page’s most recent solo album, Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct. To Northey, “I love and respect all these guys and we have only good memories of our times together over the years. Most of our common language is in the form of jokes and arcane pop culture references. I look forward to any chance I get to see any of them.”
Berg is also part of the mutual admiration society. “I was very familiar with the other guys material. I am a big fan of all of their music and have a deep respect for them as writers and musicians.”
The concept behind The Trans-Canada Highwaymen is for the band only to perform songs the members wrote for their original group. “We still had to practice a couple of times although we were all familiar with each other's tunes,” says Northey. “We're all switching around on instruments so there were things to get used to."
According to Berg, “the idea was to play your hits. So everyone picked the four songs of theirs they thought were most recognizable.”
It seems like rehearsals were a blast. Berg explains that “getting together with the guys for rehearsals and for the show was more fun that I even thought it would be and I thought it would be pretty great. All the guys, besides being wonderful people, are super hilarious. So it’s been fun and I am looking forward to having more fun. We’d all known each other from the past, so the chemistry was pretty immediate and the rehearsals were half story telling, half actually practicing the songs.
The name is a punning reference to country supergroup The Highwaymen. Northey explains that “I suggested we do 'The Highwayman' by The Highwaymen and I believe Steven emailed that name back as an answer to that proposal. The next email contained an attachment from Chris with the logo and T-shirt concept. Moe could be heard chortling in a further email attachment.”
Upcoming shows are expected to be in a theatre setting, and will include anecdotes based around their classic material. Given the genuine wit of all four members, that’s sure to be a winning proposition. Northey and Berg both give April 2017 as a potential time setting for more shows.
All the members remain active with other projects too. Tickets for a Steven Page solo show at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on Nov. 18 went on sale today (Friday), with Northey in his band. He (Northey) explains that “Odds are doing dates this summer and starting another batch of songs. Rob Baker [The Tragically Hip] and I have a big chunk of a Strippers Union record written, and I'll be touring the States with the Art of Time Ensemble in October.”
Chris Murphy has another ‘supergroup’ project in motion, TUNS (with Matt Murphy and Mike O’Neill), and they will be releasing a self-titled debut album on August 26 through Royal Mountain Records. They play a free show at Mill Street Brewery in Toronto on Monday.
Berg is busy on the production side, telling FYI that “a record I recently produced by a wonderful songwriter named Taylor Holden was just released. Another great songwriter that I had that good fortune of working with named James Clark will be releasing his record in the fall. I am currently in the pre-production stage with a very talented singer named Tam Heart.”