Catching up with 54-40
Formed in 1981 in Tsawwassen, BC, the rock ’n’ roll outfit has been a staple in Canadian music for over 30 years with popular hits like ‘I Go Blind’ and ‘Ocean Pearl’. The name 54-40 comes from the slogan “Fifty-four forty or fight!” coined from the Oregon boundary dispute during James K. Polk’s presidency in the 1800’s. Founding band members Neil Osborne and Brad Merrit decided to name their band 54-40 after learning about the dispute in history class.
Lead singer and song writer Neil Osborne took the time to speak with the Weal prior to the band’s campus show at The Gateway.
The Weal: How did 54-40 come together?
Osborne: Brad [Merrit], the bass player, and myself were in high school, we sort of created it out of that, and he came up with the name. We were in history class together; we lived in Tsawwassen, on the border. In Vancouver there was an emerging new-wave/punk rock scene, and it seemed like if you had the guts to throw a band together and get out there, you could get a gig. So that inspired us to be a band.
The Weal: What bands do you draw your influence from?
Osborne: We had a background liking Neil Young and 60s music, definitely the Beatles—it all merged into what we became.
The Weal: How would you describe your music?
Osborne: Well, we’re a rock outfit for sure. We have drums, bass, two guitars, that’s part of what we do. There’s a little bit of a folk side to it too.
The Weal: Any favourite songs to perform live?
Osborne: Anything that’s new is exciting for us; digging out old gems like ‘Ocean Pearl’ is fun for us too.
The Weal: Do you still encounter people who think ‘I Go Blind’ is originally a Hootie and the Blowfish song?
Osborne: [laughs] I haven’t seen any, but I’m told they’re out there. They did that song ten years after we released it.
The Weal: What factored into your decision to headline SAITSA’s 90th anniversary party?
Osborne: It’s one of the places we started out playing. We played there a lot of times, so it’s nice to go back.
The Weal: How are you staying connected with fans and attracting new ones?
Osborne: We have Twitter and Facebook and all that stuff to keep people informed. We liken that to the olden days of putting posters up in record stores.
The Weal: Coming out of high school, did you envision 54-40 to still be touring and making music over 30 years later?
Osborne: Gosh no. I don’t know what we really envisioned. It was, and still is, about our next gig. Do we have a next gig, and where is it?
There are no signs of 54-40 slowing down anytime soon. Their new music is exciting and fun to rock out to, and their old hits still pack a punch. Join in the celebration Sept. 29 at The Gateway.
Tickets are $20 in advance or $26.50 on Ticketmaster, visit www.ticketmaster.ca.