TORONTO — When asked how his family influences his music, Gord Downie is uncharacteristically grand in his response.
“They inspire everything,” says the father of four over coffee in Toronto’s east end. “Everything I do, everything I eat, everything I don’t eat.”
“You settle into the fact that you let these kids affect you in their great and positive ways, and that can only affect your work in great and positive ways.”
And, in the case of Downie’s new solo record, “The Grand Bounce,” his kids, who range in age from four to 14, affected the music in more tangible ways, too.
As the album disappears into its swirling closer “Pinned,” Downie whispers softly over a simple piano melody while ambient sounds of a train hum gently in the background.
Downie says most of the track was, in fact, recorded with his laptop while on a train ride home from a funeral. And the guest pianist was none other than his daughter, whom he’d recorded while she was “tinkling away at the piano.”
“She was appalled that I’d done that,” Downie said with a smile. “And I liked it. I kept it with me.”
Downie expanded kernels of inspiration like that one over and over for “The Grand Bounce.”
Its driving opener and first single, “The East Wind” — where swiftly strummed acoustic guitars provide an infectious accompaniment to Downie’s oft-repeated howl: “It doesn’t go around you, it goes right through” — was inspired by some idle chatter between Downie and his neighbour, Todd.
The brooding “The Drowning Machine,” meanwhile, was inspired by a newspaper clipping Downie spotted that reported on a deadly wave caused by a low-head dam in Alberta’s Bow River, while “The Hard Canadian” grew from a comment video director Mike Clattenburg made to Downie that one of his projects was “hard Canadian and dope.”
These moments add up to a record in which Downie clearly takes significant pride. He says that, in a way, he’s even going to be a little sad when the album hits store shelves on Tuesday.
“It’s been a real labour of love — I’m sorry to see it go, in fact,” said Downie, who recorded the new disc in August with producer Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie, Tegan and Sara).
“To sort of measure the depths of my affection for it, you probably don’t have to look much further than the fact that yeah, I’m a little heartsick to see it go.
“Putting it all together has conjured up every aspect of what I love about music and creating music and recording music for repetition and playback.”
And its release comes after a seven-year break in Downie’s solo career (2003’s “Battle of the Nudes” had been the most recent record to bear Downie’s name).
He said he was simply too busy with the last two Tragically Hip records — 2006’s “World Container” and last year’s “We are the Same” — to work on another solo album.
“We made two records in fairly quick succession, and I remember saying to my wife that I was really going to commit to that and try to do as good a job as possible,” he said.
“There was just no time.”
He found himself in a similar situation on this day, when — running late for his interviews — Downie had to hurtle through town atop his forest-green Batavus bicycle, a Dutch import that he clearly cherishes (he jokes that he’s informed his wife that he wants to be buried with it).
Just before sitting down to chat, he reluctantly peels off the hoodie he’s wearing only after checking to ensure the long-sleeved green T-shirt he has on underneath isn’t still soaked with sweat.
But despite the harried morning, he was friendly and relaxed as he chatted in-depth about his new album — even if he still feels a bit uncomfortable being interviewed.
“As you get older, you mellow, but there’s a natural propensity to watch what you say, ’cause you learn that you want more time and space to craft what you want to say because you’re less likely to want to say impetuous things, or things that aren’t thought-out properly,” he explains.
“That is the tricky part, and the nerve-making thing about interviews.”
Downie has mellowed with age, yes. It’s in that space that much of “The Grand Bounce” dwells, as Downie expresses himself with a clarity and eloquence he has only recently mastered.
And he is the first to acknowledge that the past years have marked a period of growth in his life.
“I’ve changed like crazy,” he said. “I know I have, ’cause I work at it. I work at being a better member of my family. So I know that that affects and drifts and soaks into my work, and my art.
“I’m very comfortable with my name on this record and that’s probably changed since seven years ago. For some reason, I was less so then. And probably, I’m more comfortable with that because I’ve just grown into it.”