If combined, the biographies of the members of the TransCanada Highwaymen would tell the story of a defining era in Canadian indie music. The band, also known by the more straightforward tag of Berg, Murphy, Northey & Page, is undoubtedly one of the greatest collections of indie rock musicians ever assembled in this country. And though they shy away from the term “supergroup,” it’s hard not to refer to them as such. Just think about this; in the 10-year span from 1993 and 2002, there is not a year where a member of this band wasn’t nominated for a JUNO Award. For Canadian music fans aged 30 to 45, the songs of Sloan (Chris Murphy), Odds (Craig Northey), Pursuit of Happiness (Moe Berg), and the Barenaked Ladies (Steven Page) were ubiquitous.
While the four members of the band crossed paths over the years in the tight-knit Canadian indie music scene, it was actually a mutual friend, theatre director Jim Millan, who planted the idea for them to play together live, sharing their songs and stories from the stage. As such, this isn’t the kind of supergroup that ignores the members’ respective discographies. In fact, for the upcoming TransCanada Highwaymen shows including an April 19 stop at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines, there are no new songs. These concerts are all about pleasing the crowds and having fun, with each guy bringing his four or five most popular tunes.
“Those guys are all entertainers in terms of the, ‘are you an artist or are you an entertainer?’ But I also think everybody in the Highwaymen group has their artist side,” says Murphy. “I think that when the four of us get together, everybody is willing to engage the audience and engage each other.”
While seeing this collection musicians together at once, sharing songs everyone knows the words to, like Sloan’s “The Rest of My Life” or Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” has a high novelty factor for the audience, it’s a pretty novel experience for the musicians themselves.
“I’m just hanging out with my friends and getting to play [Pursuit of Happiness’] ‘I’m an Adult Now’ with the guy who wrote it and having Moe Berg sing the harmony on [Sloan’s] ‘Underwhelmed,’ it’s all high novelty for me,” says Murphy. “And I think as a sort of package thing, I think it’s a pretty high-quality show and it’s a super fun hang for me.”
With both Sloan and his other group, Tuns, still active, Murphy is happy to see the TransCanada Highwaymen keep it easy and just have fun playing the hits. That said, “I think there could be the next step to it where it’s like, ‘you know what? Let’s put our heads together and write some songs’ or ‘let’s get together and record some other covers,’” he says. “But for now, I’m also trying to keep Sloan on the tracks, too. Page has got his own thing, Craig is doing the Odds still, they continue to make music, and Moe Berg is the most dormant. I think he would probably be up for whatever. I don’t know exactly how that’s going to go, but in the process, it’s super fun.”