When country music artist Tim Hicks decided to name his 2022 Canadian tour Zero to Sixty, it had nothing to do with fast cars. Instead, it had everything to do with our collective transition from the restrictions brought on by the pandemic to living with COVID.
“It felt like we went from nothing to everything, and no one could catch their breath all of a sudden,” says Hicks. “My life changed completely over the last two years, as did everyone else’s, and then all of a sudden, we’re talking about getting back out on the road and when it actually happened, we were so busy. So the name suited how we were all feeling just before getting ready to go back out.”
Kicking off the tour with a performance at the 2022 Canada Summer Games in April, Hicks has made his way across the country, with three performances remaining this year, including a stop in Halifax on November 17 with special guest, CCMA Award winner Robyn Ottolini.
But like many artists, there was a moment during the height of the pandemic when Hicks wondered if he would ever be back on the road doing what he loves. “That was one of those low dire moments during COVID when I felt like my identity had been ripped from me,” he says.
As a performer since the age of seven and playing professionally at just fifteen, when the Canadian government recommended residents return home because of the growing pandemic, he not only found himself grieving the loss of his tour but also the possibility of his career at the time.
“I was in England getting ready to play The O2 arena, and when Uncle Justin said all Canadians must come home, I turned to my guitar player and said, he’s talking about us,” says Hicks. “We had a lot of momentum that had culminated at that moment, and then it was all taken away instantly.”
Returning to his hometown of St. Catherine’s, Ontario, Hicks put his touring days on hold as he became a stay-at-home dad to his two children as his wife Amanda was a front-line health care worker.
“I had never gone so long without performing in front of people,” he says. “I thought this was it, live music was never coming back, and the idea of never being back out on the road again was a really a low moment for me mentally.”
As things began to open up, Hicks was excited to get back on the road.
“It’s not quite the same yet, and it’s going to take several years to build our industry back to where it once was, but I’m really pleased that we’re able to get out and do our thing and that we’re able to come to see you guys out east,” he says. “It’s going to be great.”
But while in-person gigs and travel were not in the cards until earlier this year, it did allow Hicks to work on his newest album, Talk To Time.
Released in September, the eleven-track album is one that Hicks is particularly proud of and, in retrospect, is happy things worked out the way they did.
“It includes songs like Whiskey Does, Dodge Out Of Hell, The Good, The Bad and The Pretty and High Rollers, which have been floating around for a long time, so it’s nice to find a home for them and get them out there for fans,” he says.
The album was also very much a product of the pandemic in the way it was produced.
“We used this program called Audiomovers, which ended up being great for us at the time,” he says. “We were able to connect my studio here with the studio in Nashville, and the day the band cut a lot of the material, I could listen and comment in real-time with about the same lag as a telephone call. Then the next day, we turned that process on its head and I sang here and they were able to hear what I was singing down in Nashville.”
And while Hicks admits it doesn’t replace being live in-studio with everyone simultaneously, it made the process easier than other technologies like Facetime and Zoom.
Despite the challenges, Hicks considers Talk To Time one of his most well-rounded albums.
“Mostly because we had time to pick good songs that went together in a body of work,” he says. “With every record, I feel more comfortable in my own skin as an artist. I always identify as a working musician, so writing songs and putting albums together is challenging. But it was gratifying to have the time to hone in on that body of work and make it all work together.”
With every record, I feel more comfortable in my own skin as an artist. I always identify as a working musician, so writing songs and putting albums together is challenging. But it was gratifying to have the time to hone in on that body of work and make it all work together.
It is also a bit of maturing for Hicks as an artist, far from the days of as a working musician playing the bars, where the job was to “bring a party to whatever chcken wing bar” they were playing on a particular night.
“But I’m ten years in now, I’ve got two kids, and at 43 years old, I want to say some different stuff,” he says. “So that’s how you get songs like Numb and Loved Them First. Whereas those songs have been weeded out before because they weren’t brand-consistent with the party country guy thing.”
Another departure for Hicks comes from the album’s title track, not only from its sound but the fact that he has only recorded his material since the release of 5:01 in 2014.
“It was written by heavyweight guys down in Nashville, and I don’t even know how it came to me other than my manager sent me a link to some songs and said I should check them out,” he says. “And when I heard the demo, I remember saying that it was a great song, but not for me because it was a little bit more pop country than I would typically put out as I like to ride the rock line.”
But while the song spoke to him as a father lyrically, he still wasn’t convinced until everyone around him, including his wife, children, record label and his manager, told him if he didn’t cut the song, someone else would.
“For whatever reason, I couldn’t hear past the production on the demo, but once I stripped all that away and learned how to play the song and demoed it my way, I fell in love with it,” he says. “As always for our team, the best song wins, and in this case, I think the best song on the record is Talk To Time.”
While audiences will get a taste of the new album with several songs from Talk To Time on the setlist for his Zero to Sixty Tour, Hicks also knows his fans want more.
“I understand the artist’s tendency to want to play the new stuff, but when people spend their hard-earned money to come to see us, we also want to play some of our hit songs for them,” he says. “It’s important to me because, as a music fan myself, when I go see bands play, I want to hear them sing the songs that I know and like.”
With just a handful of tour stops left on the East Coast, Hicks is already talking about extending his Zero to Sixty Tour following a Christmas break with his family.
“Canada’s a big country, and there’s a bunch of towns that we couldn’t schedule in, so I’d like to go back and hit those and see those folks if we can,” he says.
Tim Hicks plays at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium with special guest Robyn Ottolini in Halifax on November 17. Visit timhicksmusic.com for tickets and more information.