Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame 2010 Inductee: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet

Official Illustration by Trevor Waurechen.

As legend has it, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet fired their singer after just a pair of initial rehearsals. From that point on, the remaining members -- guitarist Brian Connelly, bass player Reid Diamond and drummer Don Pyle -- felt they could do anything. And that’s precisely what they did.

Formed in Toronto in 1984, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet were always outsiders in the Toronto music scene (and, by extension, the Canadian scene). True independent pioneers, the band never had a manager, always released recordings on independent labels using indie distributors, and didn't even have a booking agent until their final years. The trio invested time (not money) into innovative packaging for their singles, made clever, original videos on paltry budgets of as little as $50 and forged sincere connections with various American underground scenes, scenesters and veritable institutions like K Records in Olympia, Washington and producer Steve Albini in Chicago. All the while, though, Pyle, Diamond and Connelly made a point of taking the time to play in just about every corner of Canada.

Shadowy Men defined a time in Canadian independent music that flourished with the help of Montreal-based Og Records (they were on all five It Came From Canada compilations), CBC Radio’s groundbreaking overnight program Brave New Waves, campus radio and MuchMusic, all of which were huge supporters. Despite the relative accessibility of their musical style, and the familiarity afforded it as houseband of The Kids in the Hall’s TV show, Shadowy Men found kindred spirits among groups like proto-riot-grrrls Fifth Column and other "art" bands, rather than the typical, aspiring rock 'n' roll circuit. Additionally, they sold 175,000 records in total -- an astounding number, both then and now, for a band operating on such a small scale.

Though currently (and unimaginably) out of print, all of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s releases, from 1985’s Love Without Words, to the 1994 EP It’s A Wonderful Record!, still stand the test of time. The group’s influence remains strong and can heard in bands like the Sadies, Broken Social Scene and just about any others that embark on cinematic instrumentals.

Writer and Thickspecs contributor Michael Barclay caught up with Don Pyle at the Shadowy Man’s shadowy living room in sunny Toronto. The wide-ranging conversation transpired just prior to the legendary band’s 2010 induction into the Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame.

Michael Barclay: In 1985, it seemed like the options were major label or bust, even for early punk bands. There was no alternate industry.

Don Pyle: Independent records, when punk began, there was almost nothing. It took a few people doing it to make everyone realize that it was possible.

And yet the birth of the rock ’n’ roll involved so many independent labels. Only in that ten-year window when rock ’n’ roll went corporate did it become the template for the next generations, even for the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

Whereas every little country bar would have a band with 45s to sell. I remember a friend of my uncle having a 45 out and thinking he was a star.

What did Toronto bands aspire to during that time?

My first band, Crash Kills Five, was 1979-81. What did they aspire to? (laughs) I know for Crash Kills Five there was no aspiration. Things were definitely different in 1980 than they were in 1976; things evolved quickly. The proportion of everything was so different. There was a fanzine called Drones and one called T.O. Punks and then Shades, but these things that were just photocopied eight pages are now not necessarily legendary, but collectible things that people have an awareness of. If you did that today, no one would notice and it would have no cultural resonance ten years from now. From 1980 to 1985, it was so different. Shadowy Men started in 1984, which felt like a completely different world than Crash Kills Five, but we also had different ideas.

What changed by 1984?

The punk explosion still resonated a lot in that period. Of course after that everyone was empowered by the idea that anything was possible, they could do things themselves, that art, theatre and music were all coming together. It was the growth of things. In 1976, there wasn’t a lot to be inspired by in terms of believing you could make something happen by yourself. But between 1976 and 1980 there are four years of accumulation, tons of great records and great artists and small press magazines. By today’s standards it might look minimal, but it’s all about the foundation being built, and the bigger the foundation the more there is for the next generation to stand on. Also the rise of community radio. That started happening at that time. CKLN wasn’t even something that existed in 1980. When Shadowy Men began, it was there. Other things like CBC’s Brave New Waves were on the air, which was a huge thing. It was totally Brave New Waves that allowed Shadowy Men to tour across Canada with one 45.

What was Brave New Waves’ influence across the country for non-classic rock bands? How many connections were being made between cities?

It bridged all of that. There are three significant things: Brave New Waves, community radio and Og Records. For us, Og Records was a connecting point to a lot of artists in other places. Being on those compilations, you automatically had a friend in Vancouver or Montreal that you shared a sensibility with and could stay with. It helped create a unified sense across the country.

These days, a band from Toronto might play in England or Germany before they play Vancouver. To what extent did bands used to look beyond Canada and think about touring the States and Europe?

We were very patriotic and we did play in every corner of Canada except Newfoundland. But we also had friendships beyond those things and didn’t consider the border as a limitation. If you’re going to play for no one and no money, why go to Thunder Bay when you could go to Chicago? We did both. It’s totally about community building. So often it’s one person in one place. In Olympia, Calvin Johnson was playing us and knew our records. We became pen pals and toured with Beat Happening and played at K Records festivals. In Chicago, someone wrote to us and asked us to play at their wedding and then Steve Albini did some interview where he said he wanted to work with us. We forged these friendships in all these different places and that created opportunities. You just want to work with that person and share that sensibility. With us it was never a conscious thing that we were going to conquer the U.S. market. It was small areas and doing hit-and-runs. >From that, word about you and your records spread from there.

Were you all still day jobbing?

Around 1989 we all left our day jobs.

Because of Kids in the Hall?

Yeah, when we signed the contract to do the series, we didn’t have time to work a day job and be a band and do a TV series. It was an amazing situation and rare for anyone we knew. I was always aware of how lucky I was. We were empowered a lot by our own feeling that anything was possible. Once we didn’t have a singer, it felt like we could do anything. We wrote to NASA once, saying that we wanted to be the first band in space. I remember Richard Hyatt from the Dundrells saying to us, “You fucking guys, you’ll probably get it.” At some point, nothing matters, there’s nothing to lose here. We can play anywhere with one amplifier. Touring with Beat Happening was really inspirational in making anything happen anywhere. We’d show up places with them, and there would be no PA, sometimes people wouldn’t even know there was a concert. We’d be anxious because we didn’t have drums, and Calvin would just be totally cool and ask people if we could borrow drums. People always wanted to help. At the end of the night, there are 200 people there and everyone’s dancing and having fun and it’s magical because we’re in a place that isn’t a concert situation, no bouncers or infrastructure associated with doing the bar circuit. We were lucky that we were able to circumvent the bar circuit. We certainly played a lot of bars, but we were open to anything.

Are you talking about shows in smaller communities or larger cities, too?

Large cities, too. We did that in Montreal and Portland and New York, different places where we had friends in different bands.

Who else do you think chose a similar path to Shadowy Men?

We had friendships and relationships with a lot of bands here, but we felt like outsiders in a lot of ways. Our closest friendships were with Young Fresh Fellows and Girl Trouble and Moto in Chicago. In Toronto, Fifth Column was a band we really saw as allies. We were doing similar things and playing in spaces that were unconventional and renting our own PA and doing things outside of what was the tiny system set up of booking agents and established clubs. We didn’t have a booking agent until years and years later, and we never had a manager. Fifth Column had their own community they were creating. In town we had Heimlich Manoeuvre, Dundrells, Dik Van Dykes we felt allied with, but Fifth Column felt like outsiders as much as we did, and conducted themselves in the same way, connecting with people in Chicago and L.A. and getting more support there than they were in Toronto. That was part of our reason for going other places. Playing Halifax was difficult and inaccessible; playing in Olympia or Seattle was easier.

To me, Shadowy Men tap into a fairly classic, accessible sound with older references. I find it weird that you guys were such outsiders when the music seems so welcoming.

We weren’t part of this community that was aspiring to be on a major label or sign with the biggest indie. We were doing things with a sense of humour, which alienated a lot of people. I look back on some of our stuff and think, oh god, that’s so corny or kitschy. At the time it didn’t feel like that, but now I groan. Humour was our way of dealing with self-consciousness about being on stage and not having a singer: “O my god we have to entertain them or they will kill us!” Humour was motivated by fear. Between the three of us we all enjoyed Woody Allen and Bugs Bunny, who were just as influential for us as Alice Cooper and the Sex Pistols.

Part of the appeal of Shadowy Men was in not taking yourselves too seriously and casting off aspirations of cool by being so uncool it was the coolest thing in the world. In the early ’90s, though, humour became a bit of an albatross for some Toronto bands. Thinking of milestones in independent music at the time, acts like the Shuffle Demons, Barenaked Ladies and Moxy Fruvous did very well, and even Look People and Corky and the Juice Pigs. There were strong ties between the comedy scene and music. Did you recognize a shift from that comedy/music connection going from a cool outside thing, to something a little more cringe inducing?
That was never an issue for us, because we never felt associated with those bands. If anything, we reacted against those bands. I remember seeing interviews with Barenaked Ladies really early on and feeling some embarrassment knowing that we probably look like that. I also remember a Dead Milkmen interview where they were giving stupid answers. We had just done our first interview giving all stupid answers and I thought, “Oh god, I’m never going to be funny again.” I was aware that our stupid answers came from self-consciousness, deflecting from people saying “you’re really good,” and we would say something self-deprecating to defuse that. We sought to distance ourselves from that sensibility. I don’t think we ever thought of ourselves that way, even if other people thought a similar thing was going on. We reacted against those things.

And yet at the same you’re doing Kids in the Hall…

Absolutely. So much of that is denial! We were already doing really well as a live touring band across the country and a few select places outside the country before Kids in the Hall. Obviously Kids in the Hall blew things up and people knew us in that context, so the connection was inevitable. But it wasn’t our reality; it was their reality and we would step into that and be part of it for a while and then go off and do our own thing. There’s no big laugh riot in sitting in the van for days and days. We had good camaraderie in the studio, but it wasn’t like the set of a comedy show. For us, our live show and our records stood on their own. We had a different perception of who we were than the audience did, and there’s no controlling that. The association with Kids in the Hall I’m so grateful for. The show was great, it was funny and I see it now and have no shame about it, which is unbelievable in comedy. It was a good show to be associated with because I really dislike comedy for the most part. Some of them were friends of ours. Reid was their theatre tech from when they had four people coming to their shows. We did shows with them because they were friends. It was like working with your friends who were really funny, not like we were entering the comedy business.

The Kids in the Hall’s success came at a time when perceptions of Canadian culture were changing, both at home and internationally. It had been a long time since something came out of Canada that people aspired to that wasn’t on the Bryan Adams level. Certainly growing up in Toronto and seeing Toronto reflected so well on that series made me excited to live here, as opposed to always thinking the best things happened elsewhere.

That was in line with our patriotic mood, that we were a Toronto band and a Canadian band.

How did that manifest itself?

A lot of that comes from the outsiderness that is inevitable in being the neighbour of the U.S. I don’t think that exists anymore. All those borders have dissolved. People in Tokyo know Broken Social Scene as well as people in Saskatoon. Brian and Reid came from Edmonton, and Reid came from Manitoba as well, and I grew up here. We all grew up with Don Messer’s Jubilee and the Tommy Hunter Show and Wayne and Shuster, things that were so distinctly Canadian and felt so corny but also normal. This is what Canadian TV is. I think our sensibility was informed by this discount presentation of what our culture was. If there’s something that’s distinctly Canadian, it’s that it’s low budget. Things like Arc Records and a lot of country music coming out of Canada, like Stompin’ Tom or the Canadian Sweethearts, those things definitely were touchstone things for us that had been part of our childhoods growing up in our parents’ record collections and what we watched on television. The Canadian sensibility, if you’re born here, it’s ingrained in you in a way that’s almost indescribable. It’s about isolation. In the ’60s and ’70s Canada was very much a distinct country from the U.S. Culturally, we had more of a distinction at that time, and some of those things can’t even be articulated. We just are different.

I wanted to ask you about videos. Shadowy Men had a very strong visual aesthetic. What was the most expensive video the band made?

We did one for a song called “They Don’t Call Them Chihuahuas Anymore” which was directed by someone else, and she got a grant to do it, that we were barely involved with. I think the budget for that was $7,500. When we started, our first video cost us $50, which was “Countdown.” Brian was working at a video editing place that does a lot of archival stuff, so he could edit things. Reid had a Super-8 camera and wasn’t going to art college yet, but was on that path. You have a camera and an editor, and space to do things. We had a huge space in the basement of Brian’s work. We’d hide our equipment in the corner and hide boxes of videotape around it so no one could see there was a band there. We had this warehouse we could spray paint posters and do the arts and crafts thing, which were as much a part of our “fun” experience together as the other things. The first one was $50, and each budget doubled after that for the first four videos. The second was $125, the third was $250, and the fourth was $500. That’s when we thought things were getting out of control.

How many records did Shadowy Men sell?

We sold about 175,000 copies of all three combined. The first album sold the most, about 85,000. The second one was the lowest selling at about 50,000, and the third one was about 70,000. They were only really available in North America. One of the things I’m most proud of about Shadowy Men is that we paid for everything ourselves and we own everything and years later we reap the rewards of that by getting all the royalties.

How much of the Shadowy Men catalogue is in print right now?

Nothing. We did a licensing deal to Cargo, who didn’t pay us for more than 10 years. Reid Diamond was very fiercely loyal to anybody who had been supportive of him. Brian and I would have cut ties with Cargo years ago, but we had a consensus policy in the band. Reid wanted to stay with Cargo, and we got totally shafted by them and haven’t been paid for about 100,000 records. After Reid died, we severed our ties with Cargo and Brian and I will be doing a reissue, remaster thing sometime in the future. We’re busy maintaining the present, and maintaining the past is a lot of work.

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet Discography

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet EP - 1984 - Self-released
Love Without Words (single) - 1985 - Self-released
Wow Flutter Hiss ‘86 EP - 1986 - Jetpac Music
Schlagers! EP - 1987 - Jetpac Music
Live Record with Extra Bread and Cheese EP - 1987 - Jetpac Music
Explosion of Taste (single) - 1988 - Self-released
Savvy Show Stoppers - 1988 - Glass Records/Cargo
Reid Does Neil (single) - 1988 - Jetpac Music
Music for Pets - 1991 - Jetpac Music
Dim the Lights, Chill the Ham - 1991 - Cargo
Tired of Waking Up Tired (single) - 1991 - Cargo
Just Married (single) - 1991 - Self-released
Dog & Squeegie (single) - 1992 - Estrus
Sport Fishin’: The Lure of the Bait, The Luck of the Hook - 1993 - Cargo
Take Outs (single) - 1993 - Derivative
It’s a Wonderful Record EP - 1994 - Jetpac Music


Musical Interlude/Shadowy Countdown* - 1988

Rover and Rusty - 1991

Memories of Gay Paree - 1993

They Don’t Call Them Chihauhaus Anymore* - 1993

(* both of these starred videos are available via the Shadowy Men web site’s video page:

Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame 2010 Inductee: Sloan

Official Illustration by Trevor Waurechen.

They weren’t the first band caught up in the Maritime indie-rock blitz of the early 1990s, but Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame inductee Sloan emerged as the preeminent band of the era, as well as the most enduring.

Formed in Halifax in 1991, Sloan comprised two members of Kearney Lake Rd. (Chris Murphy, and Jay Ferguson), local DJ Andrew Scott and Happy Co. guitarist Patrick Pentland, best known to the others as the shopkeeper at downtown magazine vendor Blowers Street Paper Chase.

From the outset, the band adopted a collective, creative philosophy that not only informed its distinctive sound, but is still cited by members as the primary reason for Sloan’s longevity and relative harmony (both literally and figuratively). Everyone writes and contributes songs, everyone sings on each other’s tunes (most of the time, at least) and, on those occasions when the band is fortunate enough to get paid, everyone gets paid equally.

Admittedly, the progressive architecture of a band’s inner workings is neither sexy nor very “rock ‘n’ roll”. But it’s a noteworthy aspect of the Sloan story and, by extension, that of the Halifax indie-rock scene. After all, had Sloan adopted a more typical, slackerly stance and contented themselves with waiting for the phone to ring, the band likely wouldn’t have created its murderecords label, upon which its 1992 debut, the Peppermint EP, was issued. That release helped garner and galvanize the attention of Geffen Records, which signed Sloan and released the band’s full-length debut, Smeared, the following year.

Although the relationship with Geffen didn’t last, it provided Sloan a considerable springboard with which to promote and distribute future releases by the band, along with those of murderecords signees (and fellow East Coast indie artists) Eric’s Trip, The Inbreds, Thrush Hermit, The Super Friendz, Hardship Post and Stinkin’ Rich (a.k.a. Buck 65), among others.

Over the years, Sloan has continued to tour extensively throughout Canada and parts of the U.S. and has released numerous well-received and critically-acclaimed albums. In both 1996 and 2005, Sloan’s second full-length effort, Twice Removed, was named in Chart magazine’s annual readers’ poll as the best Canadian album ever recorded. The band’s 1996 effort One Chord to Another was bestowed a Juno Award (the Canadian Grammy, if you will) for Best Alternative Album. And as recently as 2009, Sloan’s Parallel Play received a Juno nomination for Best Rock Album, indicating the continued quality and relevance of the band’s music. As of the writing of this profile (summer, 2010) the members of Sloan are at work on the band’s tenth full-length release, which they hope to launch in early 2011 on the 20th anniversary of the band’s first-ever live gig.

Thickspecs’ Chuck Molgat caught up with Sloan co-frontman Chris Murphy (who, like the other three members of the band, now makes his home in Toronto) to find out where the Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame band is at, and to look back at a few memorable aspects of the route it took to get there.

Chuck Molgat: Under what circumstances did the members of Sloan initially meet?

Chris Murphy: I met Matt Murphy (The Super Friendz, Flashing Lights) right after high school in the summer of 1986. We were both messenger/porters at the Victoria General Hospital. Jay was a friend of Matt’s. Jay, another friend of theirs, Henri Sangalang and I started a trio called Kearney Lake Rd.

Andrew was a DJ at various clubs in the city. I met him in 1988/89 while requesting Public Enemy and heckling his song selects. After Kearney Lake Rd., Andrew and I played in another trio that went under various names (Right Arm/The Despots/Furious George) with a guy named John Goodrich.

Andrew, Jay and I decided we should be in a band so we were looking for a fourth guy and I knew Patrick from his previous bands and those guys knew him because he worked at a magazine/convenience store downtown.

I understand you’re hoping to release Sloan’s next album on the anniversary of the band’s first ever live show. Where was that, what tunes did you play and what is the most enduring memory of the gig?

I have it on video but it looks pretty bad and sounds worse. I believe we played all originals. I’m pretty sure we did “Underwhelmed” and “Marcus Said”, both of which appeared on Smeared and the Peppermint EP. Others we probably did had titles like “Sandy”, “Kool Aid” and “Caroline”. Those were never released.

We were playing the art school (NSCAD) where Andrew and I attended. The evening was going severely overtime. Wolfblitzer’s Gasmask played a bit too long. We didn’t play many songs partly because we had to do a 15-minute stobe light noise freakout complete with a puppet show. I believe Bert of Ernie and Bert fame can be made out in the video. Tempers were high and I remember headliners Coffee In Madrid had the plug pulled on them and there was literally a screaming match about it. “This is a school of art!” someone was screaming at the idea of having the “art” tampered with by “the man” (student council).

What is the secret to staying together so long as a band?

We have always split the money evenly and we make sure the band allows us all to contribute creatively. Plus we have the best drummer in rock.

Have any Sloan members done any solo stuff of any consequence on the side?

I have always tried to keep us from doing solo projects so as to keep our best material in the band. Jay produced You Can’t Touch This by the Local Rabbits. He has guested with lots of people but I don’t think he has done any co-writes. I recorded an album for a band called The Poumons in 1996. I played with The Super Friendz for a bunch of Canadian tours in 1995 and played drums in a country act called Little Orton Hoggett, which produced very few originals and no releases. Patrick has done a bunch of co-writes. I don’t know them all. He wrote a song called “Felix The Frog” for a kids’ show whose name I forget. He recently produced an EP for a band called The Modern Superstitions. Andrew had a band called Maker’s Mark and he was the original drummer for the Sadies and very recently produced an album for Luke Doucet.

I understand Sloan recently performed Twice Removed in its entirety. Any plans to perform it, or any other Sloan LPs, in their entirety again?

We tested it out at Sappyfest and it was great. As trendy as the playing the entire record phenomenon is now, it should be said that Jay has wanted to do it for some time. He has been frustrated by the lack of interest from our booking agents about this but we will probably do more of this in the future. We figure with a few rehearsals we could pull off One Chord To Another, Navy Blues and Between The Bridges. Those would be the ones that people want to see the most. Smeared might be more difficult to bother learning but I would do it.

Sloan covered an Eric’s Trip tune at Sappyfest too, correct?

I thought it might be a bit of a downer to end (Twice Removed) with the album closer “I Can Feel It”, so I sent a text out to the band the day of the show suggesting we have an Eric’s Trip song in our pockets in case an encore seemed appropriate. We didn’t get a chance to rehearse but I have included the text that I sent out to demonstrate how modern the band is:

On 2010-08-01, at 7:53 PM, Chris Murphy wrote:
It might be fun to cover Smother and get Rick and Julie to sing.
But we might not have time and people might not know it.
I have just gone through it with Jay. It’s fairly easy.
The beginning is “tricky” with a 3 chords over 4 bars bit...
F# - A – B – F#
A – B – F# - A
B – F# - A – B

What was the most memorable gig you ever performed and what was it that made it memorable?

The best for all of us I think was playing in Tokyo for the first time. I believe it was 1997. We had been to Europe a few times but all on our first record. That was exciting but we weren’t a great band at that point to be honest. By the time we finally played in Japan, we had been playing for a few years and we were finally getting pretty good and going to Japan was like going to another planet. The fan culture there was over the top and everyone seemed to know the words. It was a real thrill.

What is your personal favourite Sloan album and why?

Mine was always One Chord To Another because we had been broken up for a while and then came back and made this record so cheaply and it turned out to be our best seller. I feel that was the record where Patrick finally stepped out of the shadows and we really had four strong writers/characters/forces in the band.

The next time I was as happy with a record was Never Hear The End Of It. I feel like we had really been put out to pasture during the years that we put out Action Pact and A Sides Win. Action Pact was a bit uni-dimentional and then a hits record that I didn’t want to do but circumstances dictated… (it’s a long story). It seemed like years went by and we had nothing new/interesting to offer. Anyway, to then put out such a bold 30-song eclectic record was very satisfying to me.

Can you name three of your favourite Sloan tracks, and why they rank as such?

No, but I can tell you that I don’t love all of the songs and I’m sure none of us do but I would argue that’s part of what makes us great.

Is there any particular Sloan song or album that inspires in you a sense of "I wish I/we had done such-and-such differently when we wrote or recorded it"?

I have a song called “The Life of a Working Girl” and it has wispy backwards guitar on it. I let someone do that but I shouldn’t have. I have a song called “Anyone Who’s Anyone” which was mixed quickly so that I could go see a Kiss cover band called Black Diamond. I just saw the end of their last song. I should have skipped it and mixed it properly.

If, for buoyancy’s sake, you had to dispatch one of Sloan’s albums from the life raft, which one would it be?

I would go with Never Hear The End Of It because it has the most songs but it might be the least buoyant. I’d like to think that our lesser popular albums are the favourite albums of at least some of the Sloan fans the same way that I would like to think that our audience is divided neatly into quarters each with a different favourite member.

What two decisions were among the toughest the band ever had to make?

Sloan was originally co-managed by Chip Sutherland and Peter Rowan. We split with Peter in 1993 or maybe even 1992. Chip was the business minded lawyer and Peter was the all heart music fan. Peter had done a lot to get us to where we were but we let him go. It was a business decision and it was sad to realize that business decisions would be part of our lives.

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet were also inducted into the Zunior Indie Music Hall of Fame this year. If Sloan was to perform a Shadowy Men tune at an imaginary induction ceremony, which song would you want to cover, and why?

I know very little about Shadowy Men. I certainly have nothing against them but they were never my bag. I’ve met them all and they are great players and great guys. In 1997, we rehearsed at Phono Comb’s (Shadowy Men minus Brian) space in Toronto and I remember piecing together “Money City Maniacs” at that space. The Kids In The Hall should have used that!

Sloan Discography

Peppermint EP - 1992 - murderecords
Smeared - 1992 - Geffen/murderecords
Twice Removed - 1994 - Geffen/murderecords
One Chord to Another - 1996 - murderecords
Recorded Live at a Sloan Party - 1996 - The Enclave
Navy Blues - 1998 - murderecords
4 Nights at the Palais Royale - 1999 - murderecords
Between the Bridges - 1999 - murderecords
Pretty Together - 2002 - murderecords
Action Pact - 2003 - RCA
Never Hear the End of It - 2006 - Sony/BMG
Parallel Play - 2008 - murderecords
Hit & Run EP - 2009 - murderecords


Underwhelmed (indie version) - 1992
Underwhelmed - 1992
500 Up - 1992
Coax Me - 1994

People of the Sky - 1994
People of the Sky (alternate version) - 1994
The Good In Everyone - 1996

Everything You’ve Done Wrong - 1996
The Lines You Amend - 1996

Money City Maniacs - 1998

She Says What She Means - 1998
Losing California - 1999
Friendship - 1999
If It Feels Good Do It - 2001

The Other Man - 2001
The Rest of My Life - 2003

All Used Up - 2005

I’ve Gotta Try - 2006
Flying High Again - 2006
Someone I Can Be True With - 2006
Believe In Me - 2008

Witch's Wand - 2008

Monday, June 7, 2010

The 2010 Winners

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet


We are very pleased to announce the two winners of the 2010 Independent Music Hall of Fame:

1. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (Toronto)
2. Sloan (originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia)

The jury completed their votes last week and these two icons emerged as our first ever winners. In the coming weeks you will see in depth features on both these bands right here on the Independent Hall of Music website/shrine.

To give you a taste of the jury debate on these winners, here are few excerpts from the original nomination proposals made by members of the jury:

1. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet - nominated by Frank Yang:

"For a few years they were maybe the most-heard independent Canadian act anywhere, even it was just one song, and basically soundtracked the best cultural export we've had, as a country, in ages." - Frank Yang

" When this band started in 1984, they fired their singer after only a couple of practices. They then felt that they could do anything. Always outsiders in the Toronto--and by extension, Canadian--scene, Shadowy Men were true independent pioneers who never had a manager, always released on independent labels and indie distributors, didn't even have a booking agent until their final years. They invested time (not money) into innovative packaging for their singles. They made clever videos on budgets from $50 to a whopping $500. They made valuable connections to the American underground, especially K Records in Olympia and Steve Albini in Chicago, but always took the time to play in every corner of Canada. They defined a time in Canadian independent music that flourished with the help of Og Records (Shadowy Men were on all five It Came From Canada comps), Brave New Waves, campus radio and MuchMusic (all were huge supporters). Even though their music was very welcoming and accessible, they found kindred spirits in bands like proto-riot-grrrls Fifth Column and other "art" bands, rather than the rock'n'roll bar circuit. All their records still stand the test of time, with or without the Kids in the Hall association, and their influence can still be heard in bands like the Sadies and anyone else who embarks on cinematic instrumentals (including, say, Broken Social Scene)." - Michael Barclay

2. Sloan- nominated by Chuck Molgat

"The most successful and influential band to emerge from the squalid ghettos of Halifax since April Wine, Sloan has remained true to its creative integrity and independent roots over the course of two decades of recording and performing. Along the way, the band's beloved indie label,murderecords , has played a key role in fostering the careers of numerous noteworthy and critically heralded Canadian artists. Despite being signed to major record labels in Canada and the U.S., and routinely humiliated by the organ-grinding staff ofMuchMusic , the members of Sloan have - quite remarkably - managed to avoid selling out... except maybe to Future Shop. And like Neil Young (who, come to think of it, is probably a natch future ZIMHOF nominee) Sloan enjoys the distinction of being widely recognized and respected by both mainstream and alternative-minded music fans." - Chuck Molgat

Stay tuned for more on these bands in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame
2009 Inductee: Eric’s Trip

Official Illustration by Trevor Waurechen
(Purchase a t-shirt with all proceeds to charity)

Like the Velvet Underground decades earlier, the success of Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame inductees Eric’s Trip has never been gauged by album and ticket sales, but rather by the number of bands, and the volume of art, inspired and influenced by the trailblazing Moncton quartet.

Formed in the summer of 1990, Eric’s Trip comprised the principal members of Moncton punk band The Forrest (guitarists Rick White and Chris Thompson), drummer Ed Vaughan (replaced two years later by local music scene veteran Mark Gaudet) and charmingly shy budding songwriter Julie Doiron. The band took its name from track five of Sonic Youth’s influential 1988 LP Daydream Nation – an early indication of the group’s self-effacement and lack of pretension.

Whether due to Moncton’s relative isolation, its anemic underground scene or the peerless style of the band’s music, Eric’s Trip didn’t make its live debut until April, 1991. By that time, however, the group had already recorded and released a pair of cassette EPs (Eric’s Trip and Catapillars) and had another (Drowning) in the works. In classic DIY style, the tapes (composed on borrowed four-track recorders in band members’ family basements) featured gorgeous original artwork by the band, along with extensive and poetic liner notes. A fourth independent release, the Warm Girl EP, followed in January of ’92.

The arrival of a solicited copy of Warm Girl upon the desk of Halifax music scene impresario Peter Rowan set in motion a chain of events that would propel Eric’s Trip from a Maritime basement project to a North American indie-rock institution. Rowan (who, at the time, managed Sloan) became manager of Eric’s Trip. A CD EP (Peter) was released on Halifax’s murderecords label and within months Eric’s Trip became the first Canadian band signed to highly regarded Seattle record label Sub Pop. (Although the band has long eschewed any inferred membership in the Halifax music scene, Eric’s Trip remains widely regarded as a pioneering element of that city’s “Seattle North” distinction of yore.)

Love Tara, the band’s first full-length release, was issued by Sub Pop in November of ’93. Given the album’s wide release, Love Tara represented an introduction for many listeners to what White described as, “sappy melodic pop music on top of thick distortion.” Most mainstream critics scratched their heads and bemoaned the album’s lo-fi qualities, while those same elements were enthusiastically celebrated by members of alternative-friendly media outlets. Thematically, much of Love Tara’s lyrical content was inspired by the end of White and Doiron’s romantic relationship. The resulting amalgam made for a highly original style presenting sonically heavy music with vulnerable, at times naively confessional lyrics, softly delivered by both male and female voices.

Even after inking the Sub Pop deal, Eric’s Trip maintained the ability to release singles via numerous smaller indie labels including Cinnamon Toast, Sonic Unyon, Derivative and Summershine. In 1994, Eric’s Trip issued its second full-length Sub Pop effort, Forever Again, spawning a minor hit with the song “Viewmaster.” Two years later the album Purple Blue followed. The group disbanded in 1996, mere months after joining fellow Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame inductees Rheostatics on the road as part of the Tragically Hip’s Another Roadside Attraction cross-Canada tour. As evidence of the band’s widening appeal at the time of its split, Hip frontman Gord Downie immortalized the group in his ’96 song “Put It Off,” singing “I played Love Tara/by Eric’s Trip/on the day that you were born.”

Since first reuniting for a Canadian tour in 2001, Eric’s Trip has performed a handful of live shows including annual appearances at the Sappy Records Festival in Sackville, N.B., and a showcase at the 2007 Halifax Pop Explosion festival. A live CD called Eric’s Trip: Live In Concert, Nov. 4, 2001 was issued by White’s label Great Beyond Recordings in 2002.

The members of Eric’s Trip have remained prolific and creative since the band’s original breakup and over the course of subsequent reformations. White has released several albums of psychedelic rock under the auspices of Elevator to Hell, Elevator Through and simply Elevator. He also has a number of solo discs to his credit, has performed and recorded as a member of The Unintended and has produced albums for various other artists including The Sadies, Orange Glass, Joel Plaskett and Julie Doiron.

Doiron, meanwhile, has enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist, initially under the auspices of Broken Girl. In March 2000, the artist was bestowed a Juno Award for her work on the CD Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars. Her many other collaborations include those with Shotgun & Jaybird, Phil Elverum, Calm Down It’s Monday and Okkervil River.

Chris Thompson remains busy with his solo project Moon Socket, which he has been working on since prior to Eric’s Trip’s demise. Thompson’s other ongoing musical projects include Orange Glass and The Memories Attack.

After several years collaborating with White in Elevator, Mark Gaudet has rekindled his old 1980s punk band, The Robins. A new album (produced by White) has been recorded and is awaiting release.

-Chuck Molgat

Eric's Trip Discography

Eric's Trip EP - 1990 - Self-released
Catapillars EP - 1991 - Self-released
Drowning EP - 1991 - Self-released
Warm Girl EP - 1992 - Self-released
Peter EP - 1993 - murderecords
Songs About Chris EP - 1993 - Sub Pop
Love Tara - 1993 - Sub Pop
Gordon Street Haunting EP - 1994 - Sub Pop
Forever Again - 1994 - Sub Pop
Purple Blue - 1996 - Sub Pop
Long Day's Ride 'Till Tomorrow (compilation) - 1997 - Sappy Records
The Eric's Trip Show - 2001 - Teenage USA
The First Album - 2001 - Great Beyond
Live In Concert Nov. 4, 2001 - 2002 - Great Beyond
Warm Girl, Belong - 2002 - Great Beyond
Bootleg LP - 2007 - (no label)


Belong 45 (b/w Mirror/Red Haired Girl/All I Want to Do) - 1992 - Self-released
Julie And The Porthole To Dementia 45 - 1993 - Sappy Records
Opening Song 45 (b/w Trapped In New York/Float) - 1993 - Summershine
Warm Girl 45 (b/w Window/So Easier Last Time/My Chest Is Empty Part 1/The Future) - 1994 - Derivative
Eric's Trip/Sloan split 45 (Eric's Trip: 1994/Laying Blame b/w Sloan: Stove/Smother) - 1994 - Cinnamon Toast * *
The Road South 45 (b/w Smoke/I Exist) - 1995 - Sonic Unyon
Eric's Trip/Moviola split 45 (Eric's Trip: Pillow (Red) b/w Moviola: Pay Day/Don't Speak/The Horse) - 1996 - Metoo!


Stove - 1993 (YouTube:
My Room - 1993 (YouTube:
Viewmaster - 1994 (YouTube:
Girlfriend - 1994 (YouTube:
Sun Coming Up - 1996 (YouTube:


Please leave your comments/tributes to 2009 Independent Music of Fame Winners Eric's Trip right here:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame
2009 Inductee: Rheostatics

Official Illustration by Trevor Waurechen
(Purchase a t-shirt with all proceeds to charity)

Rheostatics’ induction into the Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame ought not to come as a surprise to anyone with a pulse and a passing knowledge of the Canadian music scene over the past two-and-a-half decades. Prior to disbanding in early 2007, the pioneering quartet carved its place in the figurative shield of Canadian music lore, logging countless thousands of kilometres on the Trans-Canada Highway, and inspiring as many fans with music at once contemporary yet unconventional, eccentric yet accessible.

But don’t just take our word for it.

“For well over 20 years,” writes Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame voter and web forum poster carolelarson, “Rheostatics played their way back and forth across the country, released 14 albums, and supported, worked with and influenced countless other musicians, from Barenaked Ladies to the Weakerthans. They are a major part of the foundation of the independent music scene in Canada.”

Formed in 1980 in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke (a neighbourhood so tough residents don’t even pronounce the “k”), the band played its first gig under the auspices of Rheostatics and the Trans-Canada Soul Patrol. Though shortened to Rheostatics soon thereafter, the discarded elements betrayed what would become the unit’s noted tendency for looking well beyond the primer grey horizon of southwestern Ontario, and out into the varied and various heartlands of Canada at large.

Numerous tours followed. And albums, beginning with the band’s self-effacingly titled debut, Greatest Hits (1987). Melville (1991) and Whale Music (1992) spawned numerous campus radio staples from Victoria to Halifax. Videos for such tracks as “The Ballad of Wendel Clark” and “Aliens (Christmas 1988)” saw the Rheos become one of the first independent Canadian bands to enjoy regular spins on fledgling cable TV station MuchMusic.

Though largely ignored by mainstream music-biz tastemakers, commercial radio and major labels, many others were taking notice and taking Rheostatics seriously. Counter-inspired by the band’s 1992 album Whale Music, celebrated author Paul Quarrington invited Rheostatics to score the cinematic version of his novel, the lush results of which were later released as Music from the Motion Picture Whale Music (1994). The following year saw hugely popular Canadian rock band Tragically Hip embrace Rheostatics as the opening act for a national tour. Meanwhile, the National Gallery of Canada commissioned the band to compose music to accompany its 75th anniversary retrospective of another highly original and definitively Canadian combo, the Group of Seven. A dozen tracks of the mostly instrumental material (co-written with Kevin Hearne of Barenaked Ladies) comprised the band’s CD Music Inspired by the Group of Seven (1995). Many comparisons have since been drawn between those celebrated visual artists and the similarly dynamic, highly original and definitively Canadian Rheostatics.

Following those high water marks, Rheostatics issued three additional studio albums, The Blue Hysteria (1996), Night of the Shooting Stars (2001) and 2067 (2004). The band also issued three live recordings (among them 1997’s critically acclaimed Double Live), a full-length disc of CBC Radio recordings (1998’s The Nightlines Sessions) and a children’s album, The Story of Harmelodia (1999), written by guitarist Dave Bidini, narrated by musician (and Bidini’s wife) Janet Morassutti and scored by the band.

Throughout Rheostatics’ career and travels, the band made a point of supporting and encouraging emerging independent acts, routinely sharing stages, resources and whatever advice was asked of its various members.

“Not to mention Green Sprouts Music Week, which gave young up-and-coming musicians (including some of my friends) the opportunity to play shows with the Rheos during their residencies at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto,” wrote Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame voter and web forum poster loweeda. “This recognition and support of Canada's music scene (from the grassroots up), coupled with their amazing music, means the Rheos deserve to [be inducted]!”

Rheostatics performed their final live concert on March 30, 2007 at Toronto’s venerable Massey Hall.

Further testament to Rheostatics’ boundless creativity is the fact each former member of the band continues to produce a variety of artistic output. Guitarist/vocalist Martin Tielli has released a pair of solo albums and has emerged as a renowned visual artist. Bass player/vocalist Tim Vesely fronts the Violet Archers. Dave Bidini remains an active solo musician and is also a noted author with several books to his credit. Drummer Don Kerr continues to play with Ron Sexsmith, and is a regular studio producer, too. Original Rheostatics drummer Dave Clark is involved in a variety of artistic pursuits, including artist’s collective The WoodChopper’s Association. Meanwhile, long time Rheos producer (and the band’s last drummer) Michael Phillip Wojewoda continues to work his magic in recording studios near and far.

-Chuck Molgat

Five questions with Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame inductee Rheostatics:

It seems Melville, Whale Music and Introducing Happiness are most often cited as Rheostatics’ best albums. In retrospect, where do you rank them in the band’s catalogue?

Don Kerr: I love Introducing Happiness. It's always been my favourite. It's the pinnacle of Rheostatics’ production and songwriting. Melville is great as it's so simple compared to everything else, and I've never loved Whale Music as much as every one else who loves is so much.

Tim Vesely: I think about the Rheostatics catalogue in terms of individual songs, not albums. And not necessarily recordings either. Some songs I identify with live versions more than album versions. For instance, if I think of The Blue Hysteria, I think of playing the song “A Mid Winter Night's Dream.” Or Night of the Shooting Stars, I think of all the times we played the song “Mumbletypeg”, or “PIN” live. Or with Whale Music, the way “Self Serve Gas” and “California Dreamline” go together, or when we recorded “Self Serve Gas” and made up the reprise ending on the spot. Albums are more like arbitrary markers on a timeline continuum. I don't think making albums was our ultimate goal. We were more about crafting songs, playing them live, letting them evolve and enjoying it.

If possible, can you name your three favourite Rheostatics songs?

Dave Bidini: It's hard to pick three because a lot of songs were recorded or sequenced in these big swaths of music, “King of the Past” into “RDA”, “Self Serve Gas Station” into “California Dreamline”, “Earth” into “Digital Beach” and almost all of Harmelodia. And live, it became even more about these big moments, where songs would kind of smash against each other, endings would become beginnings and one riff would appear in another song. I also guess I like the songs where everybody's playing and singing together: “Horses”, “Shaved Head” and “Song of the Garden”, that sort of thing.

Don Kerr: “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson.” The sounds perfectly match the song's lyrical content. “When Winter Comes” because I love a good epic song. And “Introducing Happiness.” Pure joy channelled into a perfect pop song.

Tim Vesely: I wouldn't say "It" from Melville is one of my favourite songs, but I do remember vividly playing that song for the first time live at the Silver Dollar in Toronto and feeling like, "Wow, we're onto something here." It was a departure from what we had done previously and it made me feel like more good stuff was to come.

I feel strongly about “A Mid Winter Night's Dream” too. I remember that song as the first we arranged with our "new" drummer at the time, Don Kerr. I had that same sort of feeling that we were onto something good. I also vividly remember playing that song at our farewell Don show in Ottawa at the Tulip Festival in the pouring rain. One more pick, eh? Can’t decide.

What are you up to these days, creatively or otherwise?

Tim Vesely: I'm starting to think about recording the next Violet Archers record. We've been playing a bunch of shows and it's feeling good. I'm recording and producing a record for my friend Jane Gowan's band Shade. I just played bass on the next Great Aunt Ida record and I've been busy for the past couple of years writing and recording music for television.

Don Kerr: Actually playing and recording a lot with Dave Bidini, Paul Linklater and Doug Friesen as Bidiniband. Also producing a lot of songwriters and young rock bands in my home studio. And my prized creative project lately has been a rooftop garden. It has taken off wildly, providing my family with lots of food and great times.

What is the greatest difference between your creative process now and that of your old Rheostatics days?

Don Kerr: More variety of songwriters now, but I miss the three hour shows every night.

Tim Vesely: I get to record and produce my own recordings, so my songs these days end up sounding way closer to the way I hear them when I write them. As far as bringing it to the people live, I'm much more responsible for it now and I like the challenge. It's been inspiring. In the Rheos, there was always someone to hide behind. You could do your thing for a song or two and then fall back or goof off or just disappear.

Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to be an independent artist these days as compared to a decade or two ago?

Tim Vesely: I would say it's both easier and harder. It's obviously easier to make your music available on the Internet. And it's way more affordable to make good sounding recordings with new digital technology. But there's just way more stuff being put out there. And the idea of actually selling your recordings is becoming more and more remote. In the end, though, the best stuff tends to rise to the top no matter what.

Don Kerr: I think it's got to be either the same or easier with the Internet as a publicity and sales tool. Plus, live music still has huge cultural value, even if there's not a lot of money in it.

Rheostatics' Discography

Greatest Hits – 1987 - Self-Releaseed
Melville – 1991 - Intrepid
Whale Music – 1992 - Intrepid
Music from The Motion Picture Whale Music – 1994 - Sire Records
Introducing Happiness – 1994 - Sire Records
Music Inspired by the Group of Seven – 1995 - DROG
The Blue Hysteria – 1996 - DROG
Double Live – 1997 - DROG
The Nightlines Sessions – 1998 - DROG
The Story of Harmelodia – 1999 - DROG
Night of the Shooting Stars – 2001 - Perimeter
2067 – 2004 - True North Records
The Whale Music Concert – 2005 - Zunior Label
Calling Out the Chords, Vol. 1 – 2005 - Zunior Label


My Generation/Satellite Dancing 45 - 1982 - Self-released
The Secret Sessions - A Tribute to the Rheostatics - 2007 - Zunior Label



Please leave your comments/tributes to 2009 Independent Music of Fame Winners Rheostatics right here:

Monday, June 29, 2009

The 2009 Winners

Eric's Trip


We are very pleased to announce the two winners of the 2009 Independent Music Hall of Fame:

1. Eric's Trip (originally from Moncton, New Brunswick)
2. Rheostatics (Toronto)

The jury completed their votes last week and these two icons emerged as our first ever winners. In the coming weeks you will see in depth features on both these bands right here on the Independent Hall of Music website/shrine.

To give you a taste of the jury debate on these winners, here are few excerpts from the original nomination proposals made by members of the jury:

1. Eric's Trip - nominated by Carla Gillis:

"Thoroughly D.I.Y. – in their case, homemade artwork and everything."

"Spearheaded the East Coast “Halifax is the Seattle of the north” movement in the early 90s."

"Totally original sound that mixed sludgy heaviness with vulnerable, highly personal soft-sung lyrics sung by a guy AND a girl."

"Never signed to a major."

"Influenced almost as many U.S. bands as Canadian ones, and many younger contemporary bands."

2. Rheostatics - nominated by Michael Barclay

"They combine the best elements of Stompin’ Tom, Jane Siberry, Max Webster, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Neil Young. They were incredibly eclectic and yet you always knew it was the Rheostatics."

"They were singular and unique; no other band in the world sounds like them, to this day."

"Deadly serious and downright goofy; operatic art rock and bare-bones punk rock; grand ambitions and self-sabotage—it’s all there."

"10 official releases (counting off the top of my head); one of them on a major label, the rest done to varying degrees of indie-ness and DIY. 29-year career (1979-2008)."

Stay tuned for more on these bands in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The 2009 Hall of Fame Short List

On behalf of the jury, we are pleased to announce the 2009 Independent Music Hall of Fame Short List.

In alphabetical order, we have:

Eric's Trip
Joel Plaskett
Stompin' Tom Connors
The Evaporators
The Lowest Of The Low

The two winners of the 2009 award will be announced on Saturday night at the Zunior 5th Anniversary Show at the Tranzac in Toronto. Stay tuned!