It’s New Year’s Eve and Tim Hicks is getting ready to go on stage in a few hours to ring in 2015 with a crowd in the Nation’s Capital. This is nothing new to him and his band, who have played in Ottawa for almost a decade.
The only difference is, this time, they’re headlining a show they would’ve previously been watching on television as they played in a pub.
These kinds of occurrences have been more and more commonplace for Hicks in the last few years, whose success has climbed significantly in Canada since the release of his albums Throw Down and 5:01.
And on the eve of a new year, it’s going to be hard to top the last.
In 2014, he won the CMAO Male Artist of the Year award and took home the Rising Star prize at the CCMAs in September. The award was fitting as, just a few months later, he was asked to join the Canadian leg of Dierks Bentley’s Riser tour, opening for sold-out crowds at some of the country’s top venues.
“Dreams were coming true on a nightly basis,” says Hicks, who attended Bentley’s show in Niagara Falls as a fan soon before getting the call to open for the star. “And then, there I was, playing Saddledome and he’s calling me up to sing ‘Sideways’ with him!”
Hicks, who still considers himself a proud working musician, says he had almost given up on trying to become a “rockstar” after many years. “I still feel like the guy who plays chicken wing bars – the only difference is now I get to sing my own songs,” he explains.
He credits much of his recent success to luck and timing. “We’ve been doing our thing for a long time and I think country fans just sort of plucked me out of obscurity and gave me the opportunity to play on a national level. It feels like I’ve been drafted to the big leagues now… it’s fantastic,” explains Hicks. “It’s one of those things I feel like I can’t take credit for – the genre itself has become really big and busted down a few walls in mainstream music. With guys like Eric Church and Jason Aldean doing their things, it opened doors for guys like me.”
And amongst the excitement of performing life, Hicks says he tries to take it all with a grain of salt, which also helps to manage the emotional highs and lows that come with the territory. “This is really exciting stuff for me and my family and so you have these things happen, like the Dierks tour, and you’re on such a high and then you finish it, and – as Tom Petty would say – ‘then you’re back home taking out the trash.’ And it’s hard, emotionally, to take it all with a grain of salt and continue to be the same person that you were prior to that.”
One of the biggest highs for Hicks was playing Copps Coliseum (or First Ontario Centre) – the venue he grew up seeing shows at, with his family and friends in the audience. “To stand up there on that stage… it was emotional! It was a really exciting moment and then you come home and it’s done and you’re like, ‘what do we do now?’”
And what do you do once you’ve reached all your objectives? “Every goal that I set for myself when I was seven years old, we met and surpassed,” says Hicks.
So when it comes to giving advice to aspiring artists looking to reach their music goals, Hicks says he tells them to put away their webcam. “Get out in front of people and hone your craft,” he says. “Get out and do it! There are no shortcuts; it doesn’t work. I think time has proven that. Anybody who’s putting out music that’s going to stand the test of time has put the work in.”
Although he acknowledges his path is not the only one to take, Hicks says he encourages hopeful artists to play in front of live audiences – as big or small as they may be – to better themselves as artists. “You need to be able to go out and handle the first time somebody heckles you or the first time somebody requests the song. That’s when you connect with an audience – when you’re standing in front of them, singing your craft, and are at your most vulnerable.”
And while his days playing open mic nights in front of wary audiences may be long over, Hicks is looking forward to what this year has in store, including releasing new music and being on the road.
“Thinking to 2015, I don’t even know how we’re going to top it, but I’m excited to see what the year will bring,” he concludes. “People seem to be digging what we’re doing and I’m thankful for that, and I hope that ride continues.”
By Stephanie Brooks