Convened in a “haunted house” in New Orleans, The Tragically Hip were still riding the high of their 1989 debut Up to Here as they began working on a follow up, tentatively titled Saskadelphia, named after the band’s extensive touring—anywhere between Saskatoon, Philadelphia, and beyond. Working through the tracks of what would later get rechristened as Road Apples, at The Kingsways Studio in the French Quarter in New Orleans—a past Prohibition-era restaurant-turned-studio (by the 1990s) originally built in 1848 and known to house the spirit of its proprietor Germaine Cazenave Wells—The Tragically Hip recorded their 1991 sophomore album, cutting five songs from the final track list.
Now, three decades later, and four years following the ultimately passing of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, the surviving band members—guitarist Paul Langlois and Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair, and Drummer Johnny Fay—recouped the songs of Saskadelphia. “We’ve been sort of describing it as an archeological dig,” says Sinclair. “It’s an excavation.”
First retrieving the tapes in 2020, following a New York Times story the previous year that originally listed The Tragically Hip among the artists who lost their music in a Universal Studios fire in 2008, the band started searching for Saskadelphia and unearthed two-inch, unlabeled tapes, which were safely moved to Canada years prior to the fire. “We feared that we lost all our material,” Sinclair tells American Songwriter. “Then we started to think ‘now’s the time,’ and we discussed it amongst ourselves. I know Gord would be totally into it. In fact, I’m positive he would be into it.”
Returning to the original Saskadelphia recordings, the EP features fives songs recorded during the band’s 1990 Road Apples sessions in New Orleans, moving through the injectable funk and groove of opening “Ouch” through “Crack My Spine Like a Whip,” a track the band often used to open their set and unbridled “Reformed Baptist Blues.” A sixth track, “Montreal,” was recorded live during a 2000 concert at the Bell Centre, marking the 11th anniversary of the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique—the second mass shooting in Canada at the time—and a song the band continued incorporating into their setlist long after. “We had a deep emotional connection to that event,” shares Sinclair, “and it still resonates.”
Left with various versions of material that eventually made it onto the album, many were cut including the songs of Saskadelphia and alternate versions of Road Apples tracks like an acoustic version of “Fiddler’s Green” with just guitarist Rob Baker and Downie singing.