They've been on the Canadian music scene for more than 25 years, and they are perhaps best known for their high energy, and even higher volume live performances, but later this month, a different kind of Big Sugar is coming to Meaford Hall – an acoustic Big Sugar.
Their Meaford performance on January 29 is part of a tour in support of their upcoming album, Yardstyle - 13 tracks of what their record label describes as “languidly-paced, percussion-heavy acoustic reggae,” and “a fragrant spiritual groundation. This heavy, heavy musical statement, runs the gamut from classics like "Turn The Lights On" to brand new cuts "Calling All the Youth" and "Police Bway the Vampire". Featuring Reggae legend Willi Williams and an extended family of brethren, this is the heartbeat sound of Big Sugar.”
Not what one might expect from the band that brought us ear-splitting songs like The Scene, and Better Get Used to it, but Big Sugar front-man Gordie Johnson told The Independent in a recent interview that the acoustic approach actually presents their songs in their most natural state.
“Well, we're going to do it the only way that we would do it. It's not your typical quote, un-quote, unplugged version of us. There's eight of us on stage, and on some nights as many as twelve of us, and it really is all acoustic as opposed to some bands whose version of acoustic is acoustic guitars plugged into amps, with all their effect pedals. Not for us man, we really wanted to share with people something that we do all the time. If we rehearse, or if we go do a record store, or when we're writing, this is what we do. If you snuck up on Big Sugar in the wild, this is what you would find. We didn't have to spend time arranging these songs, this is pretty much them in their raw, natural state,” offered Johnson.
Big Sugar has a history of swimming against the tide in the music industry. Johnson and his band-mates officially formed in 1988, and from the beginning they were an eclectic mix of musical styles ranging from hard rock to reggae. A formula that Johnson says was definitely not a recipe for getting rich – not that getting rich has ever been a goal for Johnson.
“It's always been about making music. I'm not interested in success that involves a lot of compromise in terms of what we're allowed to do. Allowed? As soon as they say that I get my back up. Allowed? I'll tell you what I'm going to do,” explained Johnson. “Big Sugar's always gone counter to what's going on in terms what what's popular. We're a bunch of rock n roll, folk blues, and reggae. I don't think many had that on their grocery list of ways to get rich.”
Big Sugar took a break from 2003 until they reunited in 2010 with a new tour followed by a new album (Revolution Per Minute). Johnson, who now splits his time between Alberta and Texas, kept busy with a range of projects during hiatus including a band called Grady, a unique blend of heavy metal and southern rock, as well as producing albums for other musical artists including The Trews, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Taj Mahal, and Ashley MacIsaac.
27 years into his journey with Big Sugar, Johnson sounds as energetic and enthusiastic about the upcoming tour and album release as you would expect from an artist releasing their first album and embarking on their first tour.
“If it wasn't fun, we wouldn't do it. If it just felt like we were digging a ditch out there, we wouldn't bother. I've got plenty hard manual labour to do on my property here (in Texas), I don't need to get in the tour bus to experience that,” says Johnson with a laugh. “As long as every tour feels like a family reunion, we'll go out there and do it.”
He also said that he's looking forward to performing in Meaford Hall's historic opera house.
“I look forward to seeing this theatre. Because, you know, for the electric Big Sugar, we don't often get to play in pretty venues. We don't get to play in places like that where the acoustics are probably wonderful, and just hearing your own voice in a room like that will be a treat,” said Johnson.
Tickets for the Thursday January 29 Big Sugar performance at Meaford Hall can be purchased online by visiting www.meafordhall.ca or by visiting the box-office.