Neil Osborne is the lead singer of multi-platinum Canadian alt-rockers 54*40, a band whose recent album Goodbye Flatland was inspired by IN host Ken Wilber. The Vancouver-based quartet, comprised of singer/guitarist Osborne, guitarist/vocalist Phil Comparelli, bassist Brad Merritt and drummer Matt Johnson, have enjoyed a career spanning over twenty years, including ten studio albums and a collection of greatest hits. Continually reinventing themselves with each album, their jangly, college-pop sound has drawn comparisons to the likes of R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Camper Van Beethoven and Counting Crows.
It was in 1978 that Osborne met Merritt at a high school in suburban Vancouver. When Osborne went away to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston the following year, Merritt made in-roads within the Vancouver punk scene, eventually persuading Osborne to drop out of Berklee and pick up a DIY education in the clubs of the Canadian West Coast. The band formed a year or two later, taking their name from US president James Polk's pro-Manifest Destiny (and anti-Canadian) slogan "54â€¢40 or Fight!"â€”an early indicator of the hard-bitten idealism that would mark the band‘s career.
After building a large following on the independent circuit, 54*40 were eventually picked up by Warner/Reprise, where they made their major-label debut with 1986‘s self-titled LP. Coming of age during the MTV revolution, 54*40 soon became known for pushing the medium of the music video, a standard they uphold to this day (as evidenced by a recent video for the single "Take Me Out"). The late 80s saw the band take on such hot-button issues as human rights, social injustice, environmentalism, and corporate control of the music industry, culminating in a 1989 performance behind the Iron Curtain at a music festival in Moscow.
Although their career took off in Canada with a string of well-received albums and singles, it wasn‘t until 1995 that the band broached the cultural radar of the United States when #1 selling pop act Hootie & The Blowfish covered 54*40 standard "I Go Blind" for the B-side of their hit song "Hold My Hand."
54*40, now on Columbia, continued to produce such solid albums as Trusted by Millions, Since When, and 2001‘s Casual Viewin‘, the latter inspired by the work of fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan, whose ideas the band paid homage to with a string of six videos accompanying the album. Following a collection of their catchiest singles (Radio Love Songs) the next year, 54*40 left Columbia and, for the first time since the early 1980s, decided to test their fortunes as an independent act.
As Osborne declared in a recent interview, "We always said we're doing this for the 'right' reasons; the love of creativity through music, writing, recording and performing. We've now put our money where are mouths are and are pleased to say we are doing it for the right reasons."
The result was 2003‘s critically acclaimed smash Beyond Flatland.
"The problem is that the empirical ("IT") has become so dominant in the West that our perspective is flat," says Osborne, explaining the influence of Wilber. "Music is a way to reach out a bit beyond the flatlandâ€¦ into other states of being."