Band From an Island: An Interview with Hey Rosetta!

Few bands have built the kind of loyal following that Hey Rosetta! has fostered throughout the years. In their 10th year of making music together, the St. John’s outfit has prepared an arsenal of soft, chiming, and soaring records that marry indie pop with traditional influences, a set of ethereal strings, and gentle rhythms. Their newest record Second Sight is among the band’s best: a showcase of their pop power in the golden hum of “Kintsukuroi”, and their artistry in the intangible melodies that hold “Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering)” together. Hailing from Newfoundland, the band reflects a culture that is tucked away from most eyes: the legacy of a life at sea, the quiet downtown of St. Johns, and the blissful quiet of the province’s best record shop. As they continue on their latest embarkment (a tour with Stars), we spoke to drummer Phil Maloney about the record industry, the struggles of a Canadian winter, how to repair things with gold, and the adventures of a band from an island.

Hey Phil! What is happening with Hey Rosetta?

Right now, we’re all scattered. I’m at a lovely random hotel. I’m about to hit the gym for the first time in a while. It’s good to get moving after sitting and lying around in the bus for this past little bit. We’re in frigid Winnipeg waiting to play a show tonight! We just rolled in, and in a few hours we’ll roll in for a soundcheck.


You just reminded me that I need to hit the gym.

It’s good to be productive on the road, but it’s true—it really knocks you out of that routine of exercising and eating healthy.


On another note, you guys released Second Sight exactly 4 months ago…



I know right? It’s like it was planned. How do you feel reception to the record has been so far?

It’s actually crazy—4 months seems like so long ago, and it feels to me like it just came out. I mean, it was Christmas when it came out, so we didn’t go on tour until now. But it feels good. It’s always hard to tell with that stuff. I know that it’s selling well, but I don’t know what well is anymore, because no one buys records anymore. People buy singles, or they download it for free or stream it—but it seems to me that it is received well. The shows are well-attended and people are out and singing along. I think it’s been received well, but I never know what well is.


I spoke to Evan from Stars just half an hour ago, and he said the same thing—that no one buys records. Do you think the way that we consume music is affecting the way you guys record it?

For some people, I think it does. It definitely plays into the whole process of it. Before we went into making this record, there were serious talks of just releasing a series of EPs, and having some that were more somber and others that were more lively and energetic. Maybe it’s an old fashioned way of thinking, but I’m still sold on records—things that really take you on a journey. Even the track order is something that has to be so thought out for the listener. It sucks that people are just streaming things and skipping tracks—ya know?


I’m just grateful that there are at least some bands out there that still make real records.

I think part of it is that people’s attention spans are lower. We want that quick, poppy three and a half minute sound. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll see.


I think records are making a comeback though. People are starting to look at older stuff and emulate it in their music.

Vinyl sales are definitely making a comeback, that’s true. Even on this latest record, there’s a shortage of it on vinyl, because the vinyl plants can’t keep up with people buying vinyl—there are only a few left, and they can’t handle the resurgence of it.


You guys spent around a year recording this record—how does it feel having that product officially out there?

It feels good. I would say we didn’t spend exactly a year on it—it was definitely a long time, but we’ve been demoing it in a lot of formats and arrangements for a long time, and we finally got to recording it last winter. We were all super happy about it, and then we went in and did a few extra tunes to add to it, and I’m glad we did that. The band is very happy with it. When you’re this close to something, you think differently about it, though. That’s why I don’t know if it’s being received well or not. I enjoy playing it, and to me, that means it’s a success.


You guys released the song “Kintsukuroi” as a single in August, and now Death Cab has a record called Kintsugi; both mean “to repair with gold”. What’s with all the gold, man?

Well actually, the Rural Alberta Advantage also have a record called Mended With Gold.


What the heck?

Yeah, I don’t know what the hell happened. And the thing was, we had it written and recorded for quite some time, but there is always the strategy of getting it on the radio and releasing it on the right time—the business side of it. We sat on it for so long, and then we got all these announcements that “hey, this band is doing this gold-themed thing”. It was crazy how it happened all at once.


Someone’s been spying on you.

Someone is spying on someone, that’s for sure. We were like “damn, now we really have to beat them to the punch and get this record out” and I’m still not sure if we beat them to it.


Great minds think alike, perhaps. Hey Rosetta! Is in Newfoundland, 5,000 kilometres from where I am in Vancouver. How is life over there?

I love where we’re from. We still live there and will be for the foreseeable future, although I can see us maybe doing the big city thing for touring purposes. The problem is that when we leave home it’s a full day of driving, then an overnight ferry, and then another half-day just to get to Halifax. That’s why a lot of bands from Newfoundland never tour. They might play every other week at a bar downtown, but all these great bands are never seen. That’s the thing about being a band on an island. But I do love it. It’s where we grew up, it’s where my family is, and it just feels homey. And the old culture of Newfoundland is something I appreciate more and more as I get older. What our grandparents did, out on boats with their hands—I’m one of those proud Newfoundlanders, for sure.


I understand that one of your favorite spots in St. Johns is Fred’s Records. Care to talk about it?

Absolutely! It’s the only independent record shop in Newfoundland right now, I think—besides an HMV in the mall or whatever. It’s great to local bands and to customers, and if they don’t have a record they’ll order it in. There’s a great new coffee shop across the street, so you grab a coffee and then head over to Fred’s and browse. I love those little Mom n Pop record shops—we did a little informal thing at Fred’s at one point and they were really good to us.


You’re currently touring with Stars…in the winter. A Canadian winter. What are the problems that poses?

Well, we swore a few years ago that we would never tour in the winter again. It just sucks [laughter]. I love Canada, but It really does suck. It’s freezing, we have to load in big heavy amps and gear through the slush and ice, it’s dangerous, and it’s kinda shitty. From what I gather, Stars had booked this tour, and we hopped on the American run in the fall and this is how it worked out, so no one to blame for it. Just trying to keep your feet warm is a constant struggle.


Evan mentioned that apparently Hey Rosetta! has a little dance routine they do during Stars’ set.

That’s right! We were trying to come up with something that we could do during their encore where we could all come together and have a big end of the night sing-along kinda thing. But we didn’t have time to rehearse anything like that. So half of us—I’m not involved in this—decided to put together a dance routine, just for a laugh. But then it turned into a very, very seriously choreographed routine. It comes off as kind of funny, because they’re all in their 80s fitness gear, but it’s pretty well done.


A lot of bands go through some truly horrendous names in high school. What’s the worst name you’ve ever performed under?

I was in a band once called “The Inelastic Band”.


So like, just not elastic?

Exactly! “Cloud Machine” was another one, and you know what? We were pretty freaking good for a high school band. Not to toot my horn or anything, but we won a battle of the bands or two.


It was just the name holding you back, man.

It probably was!


Anyways, my last question: What’s next?

We usually only know our next few months in advance, depending on how festivals line up, and obviously our little European tour has moved. We’ll be doing a bunch of Canadian festivals in the summer, and a few American ones as well, and I imagine we’ll be over in Australia for a few weeks in the spring or around then, as well as our European tour. We’ll have a few shows in America in April, and this tour will finish on March 11th—we’ll finish this leg in Victoria and then head down the west coast to do another leg. Then back home. Things get pretty hectic, and it’s the longest run we’ve done in a while—we’ll be away for two months straight, and just the other day we realized we’ve done 20 days straight without a day off. You don’t realize it when you’re in it, but then you have a day where you’re not driving for 10 hours or playing a show and you’re just like “wow”.

Hey Rosetta! will be playing with Stars at the Vogue on February 27th 

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