Tim Baker started the band Hey Rosetta! because he had "a pile of songs, no money and no jobs on the horizon."
That was five years ago, when Baker was 21 and had just returned to his hometown of St. John's, Newfoundland—on the rugged east coast of Canada—from an extended road trip.
"I started playing solo around town a bit, completely unsatisfied with the sound of it," said Baker in a recent interview via e-mail, a day after returning from a tour of China.
"I thought the songs deserved more dynamics and power and grace than my shitty guitar-playing could summon up, so I went looking for the right people and the right players. Many incarnations and electric guitars later, here we are."
In the beginning, Hey Rosetta! was a "singer/songwriter, folk music/classical music type of conglomeration with cello, acoustic guitar, piano and percussion. And it was from this very acoustic place that the rock began to seep in," Baker said.
Tucson concertgoers can witness the seeped-in rock of Hey Rosetta! at The Rock on Tuesday, Aug. 24. The sextet, along with the 22-20s, will open the show for Hot Hot Heat.
Of the hit-making headlining act, Baker said, "I just heard a tune off their new record today on the radio. It was super-fun. We love touring with other bands. It's nice to make friends, to hang out with people that live the same crazy lifestyle, to listen to their music night after night and learn it so thoroughly. We can't wait."
Touring to support its second album, Baker's group has grown into a dramatic, hard-rocking chamber-pop band, with violin, piano and cello supplementing the rippling guitarscapes. The collective heart of Hey Rosetta! seems to embrace unabashed rock transcendentalism, somewhere in the Venn diagram sweet spot where Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire, Elbow and U2 overlap.
Hey Rosetta!'s newest album, Into Your Lungs (subtitled And Around in Your Heart and on Through Your Blood), may be its introduction to many American audiences, but it's the group's second full-length recording, and was released in Canada two years ago.
"And now we've just finished recording a new album, which, of course, I want everyone to hear right now, but it looks as though it won't be out-out until 2011," Baker said.
"So it's a bit weird, 'cause we've (got) a bunch of other music we've done that you all can't hear. But this record (Into Your Lungs) has gone over well up north and overseas, and we would like you all to hear it. So it's cool. And the other music should be available down there soon."
He promised that the band would play at least a few of the new tunes when it appears in Tucson.
Although Into Your Lungs was recorded in remote, coastal St. John's in the dead of winter, Baker isn't convinced the music of Hey Rosetta! reflects the location of its creation.
"I'm really not sure how a geography or landscape can affect music. I don't think our music really sounds much like red cliffs and foggy harbors and pine trees and brightly painted townhouses and dilapidated fish plants. But maybe it does. It's a hard and beautiful place. And I guess I'd be delighted to hear our music described as such."
Although Hey Rosetta! began as a semi-acoustic group, partly due to the cultural influence of Newfoundland, which is "very Irish and very musical and very proud of it," Baker said he doesn't consciously borrow from traditional folk.
"We were all raised on Irish-Newfoundland folksongs, but I can't say that I knowingly incorporate it into our music. I can say that growing up we all definitely learned a love of music, and an appreciation of music as an everyday thing to do, and to dance to and drink to and get into and love."
And, let's face it: Hey Rosetta! rocks big-time now. Unapologetically so, according to Baker.
"I played in a few bands in high school, and, man, they were loud and fun, and what's wrong with that? Nothing; it's another notch to go to, when the song demands another. And I guess that is more our modus operandi than anything else: going where the song demands, and staying as open to being loud or quiet or sweet or savage or whatever sounds we need to be."
Sometimes, a Hey Rosetta! tune will require a stark piano arrangement, as on "Psalm," on which Baker sings, "But often it happens you know / that the things you don't trust are the ones you need most."
On other occasions, he'll howl toward a guitar-riff-fueled release, such as during "New Goodbye," which leaves behind the past and embraces a new life. Baker sings, "But I believe if we run into red full speed / then there isn't a blade beneath keen enough to pierce our skins."
Hey Rosetta! is perhaps most adept building from small, quiet moments to brawling and grand statements, such as on "I've Been Asleep for a Long, Long Time," "Black Heart" and "Holy Shit (What a Relief)."
Asked about his deeply personal, sometimes introspective and often cathartic lyrics, Baker said, "Well, I really can't stand inane lyrics. When you think about it, singing in a band is a lot like standing in front of rooms full of people and shouting things at them.
"And I've always thought that, as a singer, I sort of owe it to all these people (all these people coming out of their houses, paying their money, spending their time, gathering around, listening) to say something of consequence. So I sing things that matter to me. And it does end up being pretty cathartic."