Tim Hicks is no stranger to the music scene. He signed to his first country label in 2013, but has been playing music for over thirty years. He was in Ottawa in June to perform at the CMA Ontario Awards, and took home the title for Male Artist of the Year once again. His fourth studio album, New Tattoo, was released in 2018 and has already found a few singles on the Top Ten charts in Canada. Hicks grew up in Niagara Falls, which is still home for him, his wife, and two kids. His fans know him as the Hell Raisin’ Good Time guy, but we learned a lot more about the depth of his songwriting, and his confident ability to keep pushing the limits.
Take us back to how it all started for you in the music industry and when you first began playing.
I’ve been playing in bands since I was seven years old. I took lessons, where they put kids together that were around the same skill level into a little band. The idea was that if kids were playing together, they would want to practice more because it makes it fun. I compare it to being a hockey player; shooting on a net in your driveway is completely different from playing a game. Right from the time I was seven, music was a team sport for me and I just loved it. I got bit by the bug really bad and I’ve played in bands ever since. I started playing in bars when I was underage; I had a whole career playing in all different sorts of gigs: tribute bands, cruise ships, wedding gigs… I was a working musician for 18 years before I ever had a song on the radio. I found that to be a unique position in this day and age. For me, it was about getting in front of people and really honing the craft to become an entertainer. I had actually given up on trying to “make it”. All those years playing in bars just prepared me for being an artist at the National level.
Canadian Music Week just wrapped and you landed an Indie Award for Video of the Year for The Worst Kind. Tell us a bit more about this extremely successful collaboration with Lindsay Ell and how it came together.
I knew I wanted Lindsay Ell on the song the day we wrote it. I wrote it with Karen Kosowski and Tori Tullier. At some point in the write, Tori started to sing it, and I thought it would be great as a duet. I thought of Lindsay Ell because we could not only sing the harmony, but do a guitar harmony like a true duet all the way through. I didn’t have anything like that on my record so it was an easy sell to my managers. We shot the video just outside of Hamilton. She’s such a wonderful person with great energy. The nomination and win was completely unexpected.
The video for What A Song Should Do just came out and it’s been soaring up the charts as well. Tell us about the inspiration behind this one.
It happened very organically. I go to Nashville to write songs because it’s hard with distractions at home. We started talking about the power of music, and right away the light bulbs were on. That one just sort of happened. I remember saying “I think this was the best song I’ve ever written from a composition point of view”. For it to be a single is really cool. It recently just became my 13th Top Ten hit in Canada.
Your New Tattoo album released in 2018 was entirely co-written by you, and was nominated for country album of the year at the JUNOs. What do you like most about the song writing process, and then getting to bring that energy on stage to perform it for your fans?
It’s a bizarre dichotomy. They’re separate; writing songs and performing, but for me, I’m always thinking about how this song will fit with my show. It’s something I have to consider right from the beginning. Managers would say we have to choose songs that are consistent with my brand, but for me, I also want to push the limits and go down different roads that I haven’t gone down before. Yes, I’m the Hell Raisin’ Good Time guy and I sing about Stronger Beer; but, I do like singing songs like Throw A Ball, which is about how my dad and I used to play catch, and now my son and I do. It’s about how wonderful it is to come full circle. I love that about songwriting…it can take you to a place you don’t get to normally go. It’s exciting when I get to do something different. With a song like She Don’t Drink Whiskey Anymore, there was a huge discussion about, “Can Tim Hicks sing a song like that?” I want to stretch my wings a bit as a vocalist and show people I’m not just a one trick pony. When it came to this album, I wanted to go down a few new roads and see how that ties into the live shows.
LOUD was licensed by the NHL in North America, and was the #1 most added song at Canadian radio in its first week of release. What does it mean to you to reach such success with the first single off that album?
Prior to it coming out, I was second guessing myself. I didn’t know if it moved the dial. In retrospect, it was the perfect song to put out. We called our tour the GET LOUD tour. Any time you get a song on the radio, that is a huge win. To see a song come out of the gate and do so well—and for instance, come on the TV during the hockey game—for a kid from Niagara Falls, that is so exciting. That’s what you want when you release the first single from a record. I’m a strange mix of overconfidence and insecurity when I release music. I dig it, so I want my fans to as well.
You just came off a busy winter of shows with your national headlining GET LOUD tour, and now coming in to summer you’re headed back on the road including stops at the Calgary Stampede and Boots & Hearts again. How are these festival performances different than doing shows in arenas, and which do you prefer?
They’re all different. I like them all for different reasons. It’s kind of like driving different cars. Outdoor festivals are such a good time in the summer. At shows like Boots & Hearts, when you look out and see a sea of people singing along, it’s a great vibe. But I also love small clubs where you can reach out and touch people and look them in the eye. Arenas are somewhere in between. I never thought as a kid I would be rolling across the country, town after town, playing at arenas. It’s a dream come true. The core of my band has been the same for years, so to get to share that with these guys is amazing. Going from playing at Crazy Horse in Kanata to the Canadian Tire Centre was a big deal for us. It’s wonderful. To look across the stage and see the same guys that have been here all along is very special.
Do you have any pre-show rituals before going on stage?
Yes. We do it every time. About half an hour before show time, my tour manager kicks everyone out of our room so we can sing a few songs, get focused, and we always do a shot of tequila before we go on.
Your family still lives in Niagara where you grew up. What’s the best thing about being a Dad for you?
I think just those smiling faces. It’s a hard thing to describe. Prior to being a parent, everyone wants to give you advice. They always say it’s the hardest thing but the greatest thing. You never understand until you do it. It’s so hard to be away from them. My favourite is when I come home after being away for a period of time and they come running to hug me.
You were here in Ottawa for the CMA Ontario Awards in June. What’s your favourite part about visiting the Nation’s Capital? Anywhere you always like to go?
We always stop at the Crazy Horse. It reminds me of those times when we were playing there and how great it was. I look back on that time of my career with such nostalgia, and I am thankful I was able to do what I love. I love the Byward Market and grabbing a pint down there, especially in the summertime. I’ve been coming to Ottawa for years so it almost feels like home for me.
You mentioned that you’ve been writing in Nashville recently…what’s next for you?
I’ll probably be in the studio in the fall, and there’s plans on the books to release new music. Once we get our ducks in a row and pick which songs we’re gonna do, then everyone will know cause we’ll be yelling it from the rooftops.