Head­stones cel­e­brate longevity by play­ing de­but al­bum to au­di­ences across Canada

Calgary Herald - - YOU - ERIC VOLMERS

Hugh Dil­lon can speak elo­quently about his band’s de­but al­bum, Pic­ture of Health.

Af­ter all, he’s had 25 years to think about it.

The al­bum has aged in­cred­i­bly well, in­tro­duc­ing Kingston, Ont., ex­pats Head­stones as a fully formed, rau­cous rock ’n’ roll band pow­ered by old-school punk and prone to ex­plor­ing dark sub­ject mat­ter with both a bru­tal hon­esty and gal­lows hu­mour. It pro­vided sturdy mu­si­cal and es­thetic DNA for the band, help­ing it sur­vive, off and on, for more than a quar­ter cen­tury in the Cana­dian mu­sic scene.

So Dil­lon can cer­tainly wax po­etic about the al­bum, the band and those early days. But the word that seems to spring up the most in con­ver­sa­tion with him about Pic­ture of Health is “lucky.”

“That record kept us out of jail,” the vo­cal­ist says. “It was a cross­roads of just bad de­ci­sions and bad life­styles. We were so lucky to fo­cus all our en­er­gies and our life on the band .... We were so lucky to have sur­vived it in one piece. We were so lucky to sur­vive the drug ad­dic­tion and the things that come along with play­ing in the band in the 1990s. And we were lucky just to have had those au­di­ences.”

Dil­lon, along­side band co-founders gui­tarist Trent Carr and bassist Tim White, may be lead­ing Head­stones on a cross-coun­try tour to cel­e­brate the reis­sue of a 25-yearold al­bum, but it could be ar­gued the band is also in the midst of en­joy­ing its sec­ond act.

Or maybe it’s their third act. Af­ter re­leas­ing five stu­dio records and be­com­ing one of the coun­try’s most re­li­ably ex­cit­ing live acts, Head­stones did call it quits in 2003, a breakup that was at least partly due to Dil­lon’s re­lapse into heroin ad­dic­tion.

The charis­matic front­man would go on to have a suc­cess­ful act­ing ca­reer af­ter his break­out role in Bruce McDon­ald’s 1996 Hard Core Logo — he re­cently showed up in David Lynch’s sur­real 2017 Twin Peaks re­boot, for in­stance — and re­leased a 2005 solo record un­der the name the Hugh Dil­lon Re­demp­tion Choir.

Head­stones re­united in 2011 for a suc­cess­ful tour and be­gan record­ing again a few years later with 2013’s Juno-nom­i­nated re­lease Love + Fury. In 2017, the band re­leased Lit­tle Army, which in­cluded the No. 1 sin­gle Devil’s On Fire.

So while the most re­cent tour, which hits Cal­gary’s Grey Ea­gle Casino on Nov. 16, may find the now six-piece band play­ing its de­but al­bum from be­gin­ning to end, it’s hard to see Head­stones as a nos­tal­gia act.

Dil­lon says the band is record­ing new ma­te­rial. As a song­writer, Dil­lon’s life may be very dif­fer­ent from that of the an­gry young man who wrote about men­tal-health is­sues and ad­dic­tion on songs such as Heart of Dark­ness and It’s All Over, but he says the writ­ing process hasn’t changed all that much in 25 years.

“It’s al­most un­con­scious, you have to go in and find what drives you or what makes you an­gry,” he says. “Most peo­ple walk around say­ing ‘No, I’m fine. Ev­ery­thing is great’ and un­der­neath it isn’t that. That’s what’s great about this band. It’s ther­a­peu­tic. Even on Lit­tle Army, those songs aren’t ‘Hey baby, baby ...’ They are talk­ing about ev­ery­thing, from ex­is­ten­tial angst to you name it. It is a place for us to go that al­lows you to use your po­etic li­cence and ex­press your­self. Be­cause there are so many places you can’t ex­press your­self.

“Some­times it’s a good ex­er­cise to quote that raw rage, or what­ever it is, into an ar­tic­u­late piece of art that en­ables you to con­tinue with your life as op­posed to ex­plod­ing on the street,” he adds with a laugh.

One song on Lit­tle Army that di­rectly ad­dresses Dil­lon’s past is

Kingston, an ode to his home­town that was in­spired by an old post­card his friends The Trag­i­cally Hip sent him when they were tour­ing the world in the 1990s. Dil­lon grew up with them and was in­spired to put his own band to­gether by the Hip’s suc­cess. He cred­its The Trag­i­cally Hip, par­tic­u­larly the late Gord Downie and gui­tarist Paul Lan­glois, as be­ing in­stru­men­tal in help­ing build the buzz that landed Head­stones its ma­jor record deal.

As with the rest of the coun­try, Dil­lon is still pro­cess­ing Downie’s 2017 death from brain cancer.

“I shot the lyrics (of Kingston) by him be­fore he passed away,” Dil­lon says. “It’s all just a mat­ter of cop­ing, you have to find ways to cope. For me, it’s song­writ­ing. It’s not just cop­ing, it’s ap­pre­ci­at­ing the time. For a guy like that, he did so much for so many peo­ple, in­clud­ing me, on such a per­sonal level.”

Downie was not the only loss, of course. Dil­lon says there are a num­ber of peo­ple from Head­stones’ early days who have died, in­clud­ing the band’s orig­i­nal drum­mer and co-founder Mark Gib­son.

So while Head­stones may not be a nos­tal­gia act, Dil­lon ad­mits re­vis­it­ing the songs from Pic­ture of Health cer­tainly re­minds him of the band’s all-for-one at­ti­tude in the early days, long be­fore the ma­jor la­bels came call­ing.

“We set up our own shows be­cause we be­lieved in it,” he says. “We postered the streets our­selves. This be­came our life, and our so­cial life. Ev­ery week­end we dumped our money into a re­hearsal space and buy­ing a few cases of beer and some weed. And we stayed in that place and wrote songs. At the end of the week­end, to get us through our sh-t jobs, we now had this ob­ses­sion.”

It’s been 25 years since Head­stones re­leased Pic­ture of Health, and they’re play­ing the al­bum front to back on a cross-Canada tour.

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