So Not Over
Gordie Johnson on Big Sugars end and the changing music industry
by Dave Gassner
The State was rocking October 17 with an incredible performance by Canadian rock titans Big Sugar, who also played with The Trews. The show held special meaning for the group’s Regina fan base; the concert marks one of the last chances to see Big Sugar as a complete five-piece before the band reportedly calls it quits at the end of the year.
“We’re touring until New Year’s and then we’re all going off to do our own things for a while,” lead singer Gordie Johnson confirms. “Indefinitely-not for like a year, like I mean, for a while.”
The show was one of the many dates on the new “Hit and Run” tour, the group’s stream of concerts following the release of their greatest hits disc of the same name. Johnson reflects on what the release of a greatest hits disc signifies in the band’s decade-long career. “We’ve had ten years of making records and touring and, you know, it’s all good... we’ve had a good time doing it, but by the time you release a greatest hits record, there tends to be a lot of leaning on the past. I wanna keep moving forward, playing new stuff.”
The album and tour conclude an eleven-year run that saw Big Sugar rise from their diverse southern Ontario roots to become a national music icon, with extensive lineup changes, timeless Canadian rock anthems, and a handful of best-selling albums along the way. But Johnson insists that it’s their intense live shows have always truly defined the band more than their studio work. With the new tour possibly being their last, Johnson wants to make it particularly memorable for the fans. “We just wing it every night–we pull songs into the set that [we] maybe haven’t done. Ever, in some cases. There’s just some stuff in the set lists that’s really just unique to that particular night.”
A high-quality live act such as Big Sugar’s, Johnson feels, is more important than ever, in light of new technology changing the way music is being recorded. Besides being a musician, Johnson has also served as a record producer for acts like The Trews and Wide Mouth Mason, and knows firsthand that new studio equipment can allow rather untalented groups to sound like musical masters on CD. “Now with technology, you can make anybody have a good record. If you have a good production team and good technology you can make anybody sound great. I think people just sort of assume that everybody sounds that good when in real life they don’t. So when someone can walk up and pull it off live, then you know they’re not bullshitting.”
Technology aside, Johnson senses the industry changing in more serious ways, and a veteran like Johnson worries about his future in it. “I feel…a little pressure from our industry to like, sort of fade into the background now, ‘cause we’ve been around for ten years, and the industry doesn’t respect people who have longevity, unless [they’ve] been around for like fifty years, or something. You know, if you’re the Rolling Stones, all of a sudden everyone claims to have loved you from the beginning. Those guys never won a goddamn Grammy award, you know what I mean?”
But Johnson insists he won’t be held back. “I love to play, I love to tour, I love to rock. I don’t wanna fade into the background, I wanna keep on playing, making new music, so that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Big Sugar will continue to tour across the western half of the country before wrapping things up with a New Year’s Eve bash in Edmonton.