Formed in 1983 in Kingston, Ontario, The Tragically Hip came together with childhood friends Gordon Downie (vocals), Bobby Baker (guitar), Paul Langlois (guitar), Gord Sinclair (bass), and Johnny Fay (drums). The group took their name from a Michael Nesmith video entitled Elephant Parts and focused on making a name for themselves in the local scene during the mid-'80s. While performing Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, MCA Records president Bruce Dickinson was impressed by the Hip's infectious live presence and offered them a deal. A self-titled eponymous EP appeared in 1987, but it took the band two years to get critical attention. Their proper studio effort, 1989's Up to Here, boasted the swagger of "Blow at High Dough" and Downie's powerful songcraft was blossoming. College charts were instantly attracted and fellow Canadians were appreciative of The Tragically Hip's insatiable appeal. Road Apples, issued in 1991, was moderately successful; however, the band's third album, Fully Completely (1993), allowed for international crossover. Singles such as "Courage" and "Wheat Kings" became mainstays in pockets of Michigan and New York; the Hip were slowly being noticed and American fans began cherishing them as much as their Canadian loyalists. They continued with a steady rise for 1995's somber storm, Day for Night, and their star power was burgeoning. Sold-out tours across Canada and Midwest America and a spot on Saturday Night Live catupulted the vibrance of "Grace, Too" onto modern rock charts. The Tragically Hip were becoming an anthemic band among the split indie and rock crowds, practically on the verge of being an arena attraction.
Trouble at the Henhouse, their first for Atlantic, was blistering with similar passion of Day for Night, but released too closely to the previous effort. It wasn't radio-friendly enough for America, either, but the band wasn't concerned. The Hip trudged on, selling out countless dates in North America. Downie, who was also a poetic madman, composed a frenzied stage presence and the band's tight rhythm was infectious. The mix of roots rock and light country tinges was something tangible for mid-'90s grunge reign. While touring in support of Trouble at the Henhouse, the Hip recorded their first-ever live album Live Between Us (1997). This particular album captured an astonishing night at Detroit's Cobo Arena in 1996 and it was uncut and unfearing. The band was at the top of their game, never selling out to corporate ideals. They were a stadium sensation without ever having a major hit in America. The rest of the '90s were a time of rest, but also a period when the band returned to basics of true rock & roll grit.
Phantom Power (1998), the band's sixth studio album, eighth overall, marked their most cohesive work to date. It was also their debut for Sire Records. The album was recorded in the band's hometown of Kingston and the songs themselves were cathartic and seductive. "Fireworks" and "Poets" were again mainstays on college radio. A showcase at Woodstock '99 proved glorious for Canadians the next summer. Music @ Work followed in summer 2000 with subsequent U.S. tours with Guster. The next year, Gordon Downie put his pen to paper for a book of poetry and a solo album, entitled Coke Machine Glow. Downie returned to the studio in 2001 to join his bandmates for another Hip record. Producer Hugh Padgham (Split Enz, XTC, Phil Collins) was also on board to tweak the sonic bliss of The Tragically Hip's ninth record In Violet Light, issued in June 2002. ~ MacKenzie Wilson, All Music Guide