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54-40 kick off GO Fest

Singer Neil Osbourne talks about B.C. alt-rock band's new album ahead of free Whistler concert

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Neil Osbourne, the singer and guitarist with B.C. alt-rockers 54-40, sounds like he's in a mellow mood down the phone line.

It's the morning after the provincial election and he lives in former NDP leader Carole James's riding; he's on the side of the party that almost entirely swept Vancouver Island.

"I think we should separate!" he jokes.

Together for almost 37 years now, 54-40 formed in 1980, and as veterans in the Canadian music industry they've pretty much seen everything.

"We still very much like doing it, and feel there is more for us to do and more to learn. Other options are behind us," Osbourne laughs.

"It's funny, you know, because I think about people I've known over the years and most people go through three or four different careers, but I only have the one."

I point out that in this case the guys in 54-40 are truly fortunate because they started out as kids who wanted to be rockers forever and that happened for them."I think our priorities when we started were survival, whether that was financial survival or not. The survival of the band, staying together and keeping writing, performing, learning and getting better," Osbourne says.

"We didn't necessarily have goals to be millionaires, we mostly just wanted to be able to afford the luxury of being in a band."

54-40 performs a free concert on the main stage in Village Square at the Great Outdoors Festival (GO Fest) on Friday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m.

These days, the four band members — Osbourne, Brad Merrit (bass), Matt Johnson (drums) and Dave Genn (guitar) — are spread out. Osbourne and Merrit live on Vancouver Island, Johnson on Salt Spring Island, and Genn in Vancouver.

"It's hard to know the formula for (whether living away from each other helps the band). I can tell you that we all get on really well and most of our shows are in southern Ontario or Alberta, so we get to travel together," Osbourne says.

"So if we're travelling we will meet up in the airport hotel at the start and maybe have a nice drink and dinner together, like old fishing buddies. We appreciate the privilege to still be doing this."

54-40 has a new 11-track album Keep on Walking, which is expected to be released in July, the first since their previous album La Difference: A History Unplugged in 2016.

"It took a while, we used four different producers to do a lot of the songs. We would tweak at it. We would do an original version (of each song), just recording it ourselves, and we'd bring in producers to see if they would embellish the sound a bit more."

Does that mean they are perfectionists or just the way they've worked over the years?"I think it's a bit of both," Osbourne says.

"Dave (Genn) and I, with Dave (Rave) Ogilvie, produced the Unplugged record and we had kind of exhausted our mental capacities after that one, and it was nice to turn the reins over to some other folks.

He says the result of using multiple producers is that the tracks all sound different, which was refreshing.

"We'd never done it where we'd used different producers on the same record. It was that variety approach that I think makes the record a little more eclectic within the 54-40 sound," Osbourne says.

The first single from the album, also called Keep on Walking, is already out and can be checked out on the band's website www.5440.com.

"We like to call ourselves artists, believe it or not," he laughs.

"You end up wearing a lot of hats; you're business guys, you're music industry types, you're performers and entertainers, but you're also creators.

Every few years we feel compelled to reflect our experiences and our journey through music. It keeps us going."

But for this album they got back to basics. The four got together at the start of the album project and jammed, like kids in a garage.

"We worked on the ideas we brought. Then I would take something home. Dave and I worked a lot on refining them at our home studios and then we got together with the producers to finish it," Osbourne says.

It has been two to three years since their last Whistler visit.

"I think for sure we will throw in Keep on Walking and then hit them with a package of hits. It going to be more up-tempo rocking rather than the acoustic side, I'm thinking," he says.

For more information on GO Fest, visit www.greatoutdoorsfestival.com.

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