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The 411 with 54-40

Canada's 54-40 celebrates 44 years of Rock n Roll this year.
Canada's 54-40 celebrates 40 years of Rock n Roll this year.

54·40 are making their return to Oshawa at the Biltmore Theatre on July 11! This band has been massively influential in shaping the Canadian rock/alt scene since their first release in 1984. Over time, the band from Tsawwassen, British Columbia, has released fifteen albums, including their latest, West Coast Band (2023). In this interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brad Merritt, 54·40’s original and current bass player, about their current tour, music, and return to Oshawa.


I brought up my observations of "West Coast Band" being a highly autobiographical album, focusing on the element of storytelling and the band's development. Merritt was straightforward in saying “Normally speaking, we’re not very reflective, you know? We don’t sit around and think about our history or our past, we’re more of a ‘what’s next’ kind of operation”. However, the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic changed their approach to songwriting on their newest album. Merrit says that the band “institutionalized these Thursday early evening Zoom meetings. It was a social thing as much as anything else, so we started telling stories and making each other laugh. Neil [Osbourne] took note of the conversations and said, ‘Why don't we write some songs about these stories.’ It was never meant for public consumption; it was just a way for us to keep busy and amuse ourselves.”


Merrit shed some light on one of his favourite stories they share on the album in the song,  Living Room Allen. He recalled: “We were driving back from San Francisco through the night, which we did all the time. We’d play a show, and Allen would drive all night. Allen was still driving when we got to Oregon, and he got pulled over by an Oregon state trooper. We were trying to do this interview at a college radio station, and you couldn’t pry the steering wheel off Allen’s hands. So he's dealing with this trooper who thought that Allen was tailgating and says, ‘You gotta give yourself a little living room that has two meanings, you know, Allen.’ We were all quite amused. But they all do that to me, right? I laugh, and we’re trying to share that with people who have an interest in the band”.


54·40 has so many amazing stories to tell as they’ve been a part of the music industry for over four decades. In that time a lot has changed, Merrit says that in the beginning “We’d all get together, we were just a three-piece at the time, and we’d kind of jam out these things. We had no idea what we were doing. I had this little pioneer portable radio cassette player, a ghetto blaster, which they called it. It had two condenser microphones, and I'd put a tape in there, and we’d record.” Through all this change, they managed to maintain an incredible sound that is uniquely theirs and comes from their natural improvisation talents. Merritt says: “We still go back and forth and do these jammy things. There's a sense of urgency there that's trying to capture something. We like to mix up the creative process and give it some parameters to make each album unique.” 


Clearly, their style and creative process has paid off, as they are continuing to travel across the country to perform in theatres just like the Biltmore. In fact, this is not the band's first time performing in Oshawa. When asked about his memories playing in Oshawa, Merritt expressed his admiration and appreciation for the city, saying, “It’s always a great show here. Oshawa is like a few other cities in Canada where you people like to rock. We appreciate that as a band. There are some cities that have a reputation for us, which will remain nameless, that don't [like to rock] and kind of sit on their hands with a ‘here we are now, entertain us’ kind of approach. Whereas in Oshawa, they participate”.


The inclusion of the fans is what makes 54·40’s performances so moving and spectacular. Merritt explained, “When we have a show, it's not just us presenting; we try to create a community. We're all in this together, and we're going to go through this process. There’s peaks and valleys and a catharsis that I think takes place. Neil talks about love and what love means, we still have people's politics at our core”. The band is extremely excited to return to Oshawa since they can always count on this kind of synergy to be present.


54·40 has always pursued music for their love of the form of expression and its ability to connect people. Because of this, they have no plans to retire just yet. Merritt recalled a moment years ago when he was asked how much longer they would continue to pursue music. He responded, “When The Rolling Stones quit, that's our 20-year warning!” So far, the band has stayed true to their word and plans to work on another record or EP this summer, which should be released sometime in 2025 or 2026. From here on out, as Merritt says, they’re going to “Keep on keeping on.”


Predictably, the 54-40 show at The Biltmore Theatre is sold out, but take a look at all their incredible upcoming events here and plan a rocking night out with friends and family.


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