As a Clevelander, it’s easy to take for granted how easily one can hop in the car and in about five hours and be on the Canadian side of things in Toronto, Ontario. Thanks to that relative close proximity, fans have often had the benefit of connecting with bands from the Canadian scene whose music filters this way. Eventually, things build to the point that the groups end up coming here to play shows, closing the gap on a long distance love affair that finally becomes permanent.
Thanks to active radio support from both WMMS-FM, The Buzzard and alternative crosstown rivals, WENZ-FM, 107.9 The End, a diverse slate of Canadian bands found their way into many a CD collection in the ‘90s. One of the most interesting sounding groups to emerge during that era was Our Lady Peace, the Toronto-bred band led by charismatic frontman Raine Maida, who released their debut album, Naveed
, on Sony Music Canada in early 1994. Their album wouldn’t arrive officially in America until a year later, finally seeing a release here in the States on the Sony subsidiary Relativity Records in March of 1995.
The muscular rocker “Starseed” took hold at both rock and alternative radio and listening to the track now, it’s not hard to hear how the song found an audience. As you dig deeper into the album, the depth and confidence that the group had on display so early in its career is astonishing — the title track remains a stunning epic that clocks in at nearly six minutes, musically stacked with layers of complexity that made the band sound like a seasoned veteran rather than the relatively green players that it was at that time.
Reflecting back on the experience of making that first album, Maida now says “it’s either confidence or being naive,” when discussing how far along the developmental path the band’s music sounded in those early days.
“When we signed our record deal, Sony didn’t really give a shit, they were like, ‘Oh, there’s some good songs, go do what you’re doing,’" he says in a phone interview. "We were making demos and they kind of sounded like that anyway, so they just said, ‘Yeah, keep going’ and never really paid attention to us. I think not knowing anything about the music business was perfect. Naveed
was this incredible journey where we were able just to do whatever we wanted to do. We didn’t have to answer to anyone and again, we didn’t know anything. We didn’t even care about radio [potential]. We never talked about that ever. It was never like, ‘Oh, what’s going to be the single?’ Until we finally delivered the record, none of that shit ever came up. So it was really like art at its purest form.”
“It didn't sound like anything else that was out at the time,” says Dominic Nardella, a longtime area fan who has followed the band since getting his hands on an early copy of Naveed
prior to the American release. “It was just this sound they had. This manic, yet rhythmic, drumming. Inventive and weird guitar sounds. And very mysterious and intriguing lyrics. Almost kind of spiritual. The way it all came together, as pretentious as this may sound, but it was art.”
Nardella doesn’t have a concrete number when it comes to how many times he’s seen the band, but says that it’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 shows, both as an opener and a headliner.
The first time that he saw the band live, it opened for Van Halen at Blossom in July of 1995, sharing opening duties with Skid Row. “I remember thinking that was a weird bill for them to be on,” Nardella recalls. “ They didn't seem like the type of band to open for Van Halen. I was out on the lawn and no one was paying attention to them and I was like, "Don't you people know what you're missing?"
As Maida recollects, the Van Halen tour was an especially interesting experience. They were getting a chance to play in front of a lot of people, but the pairing was a tough combination.
“It was a weird thing. Sammy Hagar is a great guy, an incredible singer. He’s a pro. That guy is amazing, night after night, he just killed it,” Maida says. “But I’m not that guy. I’m not about trying to get the audience to party and I don’t wear shorts on stage. He’s all about that. So for the first couple of weeks, I don’t know if it was really him that wanted us on the tour — it was more Ed and Alex, who we became really good friends with, because they really liked our music. I think Sammy just didn’t get me as a singer. So he kept pressuring me, he was like, ‘You’ve got to get the crowd up and you’ve got to talk to them more.’ I kind of looked at him and I was like, ‘They don’t want to see us, guys who are standing there are giving me the finger. They’re waiting for you guys. What do you want? I’m doing my best out there, I’m playing the songs.’ I said, ‘I’m not an entertainer, you’re an entertainer.’
Eventually, things came to a head and boiled over backstage after one of the gigs.
“Our show was fine, but it was a tough crowd,” Maida remembers. “He came backstage, and he’s like, ‘What the fuck? What did I tell you?’ I was like, ‘Fuck man, stop. Give me a fuckin’ break.’ I didn’t tell him off or anything, I was just like, ‘Dude, I’m not you. I’m never going to be you. They don’t want me to be you.’ He’s like, ‘You guys are done.’ He said we were kicked off and went to his manager. They said, ‘Yep, okay, fine, Sammy, whatever.’ We were literally hanging around our bus saying, ‘Did this just happen?’ But then I guess Eddie and Alex caught word of it and were like, ‘No way, you guys aren’t going anywhere.’”
Things went more smoothly for Our Lady Peace this summer when they were tapped to open a string of sold out Canadian stadium dates this summer for the reunited Guns N’ Roses. “On paper, it’s like, okay, that’s kind of weird,” Maida admits. But they hunkered down and put together a harder-edged nine song set that offered a tight overview of their career, while also previewing a bit of fresh material with “Drop Me in the Water,” their new single which dropped the day before the group’s first GNR opening slot in mid-August. To the surprise of all involved, the combination worked.
“Halfway through our set, the place was packed, and it was great,” he says “It wasn’t our show, obviously, but it was pretty amazing. I think even the Guns guys were pretty surprised that we got the crowd going like that.”
In late August, they released a new four song EP —including “Drop Me In The Water." It's an impressive and strong sampling of what will eventually be their next full length album, Somethingness
. They’re releasing the material from the album in two installments with a second EP release tentatively slated for December if Maida has his way. “I was arguing with my manager the other day, he’s like, ‘Well, we have to wait until January to put the new thing out’ and I was like, ‘No fuckin’ way, man. I can’t wait that long.’”
He says that the new material emerged over the past three years with demos going back and forth. When it felt like the songs were ready, they went into Jackson Browne’s studio in Santa Monica, California, where they tracked the material live for the first time as a band, with Maida estimating that they kept about 80 percent of what was put down in those initial sessions, successfully resisting the urge to go back and revise what they had done.
“It puts a unique pressure on a band, and Jackson’s place is setup to do that,” he says. “The sightlines for everyone are amazing, the sounds are great and you hit record and you go for it and that’s what comes out. There’s just no other way to get the energy like we have on these two volumes without doing that. It just doesn’t work. There’s something about playing together and the anticipation and just knowing that you can’t go redo stuff. It just brings out a different side from an artist and a musician, and I think we’re thrilled by it.”
According to Maida, releasing the material in two installments unlocks an important advantage creatively.
“On most of our albums, we’d write a record and go into the studio and record it. But then at the end of the record, like [with] Clumsy
, I wrote ‘4am,’ ‘Automatic Flowers’ and ‘Superman’s Dead,’” he says. “We thought the record was done before that. So it’s like, to think about that record without those three songs [is crazy]. As you record and as you’re getting close to being done, I think as an artist and a writer for sure, I’m like, ‘Oh shit is there anything else I can tap into?’ So you kind of mine the depths of your creative soul. For whatever reason, I think that doing it this way, having four songs actually out there before we finished the latest four, it really gives you that perspective, and I think the next four songs are actually better.”
The band’s current tour is their most extensive run of U.S. dates in quite some time. Fans will essentially be rewarded with two shows for the price of one. First, Maida and the group will open with a heavy selection of material from the Clumsy
album, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Following a short break, they’ll finish out the night with a second set which features a mix of both fan favorites and also material from both installments of the Somethingness
EPs — Maida is perfectly fine if fan recordings of the unreleased material from the second EP circulate. “We’re going to be playing those songs live,” he says. “People will hopefully record them and trade them around.”
As Maida remembers, when they were working on the Clumsy
album, their record label became anxious and wanted to hear the new material to get a hint of what they might expect from the group.
“We had them come in, and they heard 'Clumsy' and a few other songs and they were like, ‘Okay, this is great, when do you guys think you’re going to have it done?’ That might have been something to do with it, but after they left, that’s when I went and wrote those other songs and then when we handed in the final thing, they were just flipping out,” he says. “It was really exciting. It was still really pure for us, because you never know what’s going to happen and we really wrote those songs from our hard and it was still close to Naveed
in terms of nothing Machiavellian. We weren’t really trying to take over the world. We weren’t really thinking about singles, but we were feeling like, okay, as artists, there’s something more personal about this that maybe people are going to connect to more. We could feel that. So when the label was hyped about it, it was like, okay, maybe we got to where we wanted to go.”
Looking back at what they accomplished with the success of Naveed
, Maida feels a good amount of the same spirit in the songs that will be released later this year on the second EP.
“It really feels somewhere back to those first two records in terms of the way the music speaks to you and the way the music feels,” he says. “Sonically and stuff, it’s different, obviously. But I get that same feeling, which is really amazing.”
Included in that next batch is “The Ballad of a Poet," which Maida wrote with Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie in mind, prior to his passing earlier this month.
“The first time I saw the Tragically Hip in Toronto. I didn’t even know who they were,” he says. “I was at some Toronto music awards show, because I was just trying to get into the business, so I went to this thing. Out comes that band and again, I hadn’t really heard of them [and I didn’t know] their music. I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ I think I walked out after they played. Some other band came on and it’s like, ‘I can’t listen to this. What I just saw was so incredible.’”
Revisiting the experience during an interview led Maida to put pen to paper several months ago. “The clarity of that night came back to me, so I wrote a song about that night. Because after seeing Gord in person, after never knowing who he was, it just stuck with me. It got into my heart. I’d never really told that story, so we tell it in the song.”
Downie, that poet, leaves a lasting impact with Maida, even as he looks at the inner workings of his own band. He sees an extremely positive picture that he can relate back to the words of his old friend.
“I think what’s happened now is that it’s finally come full circle again to where we own everything and we don’t answer to anyone. We’re in the best place this band’s been in for a long time, so it’s interesting. And you know what? I’ll give you one last quote and this goes straight to Gord Downie, it’s something that he said a while back [which] really resonates, that sometimes the hardest thing to do for a band is to stay together.”
Our Lady Peace, SMSHNG HRTS, 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $32-$42, houseofblues.com.