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Band Interview: Our Lady Peace

Grant Walters Grant Walters Band Interview: Our Lady Peace
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The Canadian alt-rock veterans visit the InkCarceration Festival on Saturday night in Mansfield in support of their ninth studio album, "Somethingness"

“Why-e-i-e-i-eee…yeeaaaaaaahhh…Superman’s dead!”

Our monolithic concrete bunker of a residence hall at Simon Fraser University had surprisingly thin walls, which meant that my next door neighbor’s new obsession with Toronto alt-rockers Our Lady Peace also became an integral part of my life – usually when I didn’t want them to be. “Superman’s Dead,” the lead single from their 1997 breakthrough album, Clumsy, became the song I couldn’t escape even if I tried, because when my sweet, precious classmate wasn’t playing it on repeat, most of the radio stations in Vancouver were.

But eventually, my musical antagonist moved out and I explored more of Clumsy on my own as “Superman…” rolled out of rotation in favor of “Automatic Flowers,” “4 AM,” and the record’s title track. Despite my early aversion to Raine Maida’s distinctive and pungent lead vocal and its frequent infiltration of my college slumber, his ability and expression as a singer and songwriter are at the crux of what has made Our Lady Peace one of the most successful and important Canadian alt-rock bands. It’s one of the few outfits of its kind and generation that has remained commercially and artistically successful across three decades.

In February, Our Lady Peace released its ninth studio album, Somethingness, with its current line-up that includes sole founding member Maida, guitarist Steve Mazur, bassist Duncan Coutts, and drummer Jason Pierce. Somethingness arrived in two separate volumes, the first of which was a four-song EP that dropped last August. “Nice To Meet You,” the set’s most recent single, demonstrates the band’s skill in creating memorable melodic ballads with a tight rhythm section that delivers a sharp crunch and urgent texturing.

Celebrating their visceral impact on Canadian music, SOCAN – a national organization of music peers that advocates for the rights of artists across the industry – awarded Our Lady Peace their 2018 National Achievement Award.

“It was awesome, especially because you’re getting recognized…it’s not an award we got because we were a top seller of one year, or something,” Steve Mazur explained during a recent phone interview from his home in West Hollywood. “It was more like an achievement award. So to be honored and chosen by your peers and by as great an organization as SOCAN, it definitely did something to us, for sure, it definitely touched us and made us reflect. We don’t often reflect much, but we did for a night or two and it was a good thing for us.

It was very interesting. The award show itself was more than I thought it would be, as well – Sarah McLachlan was there, and Burton Cummings, and they were getting awards too, so it was an awesome night and we definitely feel honored to have been chosen.”

Although Our Lady Peace’s Canadian roots are firmly intact, the quartet has amassed an impressive international following, evidenced by their main stage spot at InkCarceration – a three-day music and tattoo festival that will launch its inaugural turn this weekend at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. OLP will perform Saturday night at 8 p.m., just ahead of UK rock veterans Bush.

I’ve really enjoyed this new album and would love to know just a bit more about the most recent single, “Nice To Meet You,” which you co-wrote. Tell me how this particular track came together as you assembled Somethingness.

“Well, you know, it’s interesting – we write and even record, too, in a lot of different ways…one thing that definitely is great about nowadays is that you can send music back and forth. So myself and Raine, our lead singer, are in Los Angeles, and Duncan, our bass player, and Jason, our drummer, are in Toronto still. So we send ideas back and forth a lot, but also at times we’re writing all in a room with each other. Usually we end up recording together in the studio, but ‘Nice To Meet You’ was interesting because it was an idea Raine had – like a demo – and he showed it to me and I liked it. We did a couple of guitar things on it and kind of started sussing it out a little bit more. And then he said, ‘You know, let’s see what we’ve got here. Let me send it to you in Toronto and put some drums and bass on it so we can see what it sounds like with stuff, just like a rough draft sort of thing.’

As it went on, we kind of liked the drums and the bass they recorded. Sometimes you catch magic in a bottle, and what Jason and Duncan had done on drums and bass sounded great. And we thought, ‘Well, if this feels great, why don’t we do it?’ So we just kept putting overdubs on top of it. That song is funny in terms of how it was recorded, just sort of piece-meal, compared to other songs on the record like ‘Ballad Of A Poet’ that was done live on the floor of a studio all together. So, yeah, ‘Nice To Know You’ came together a little inorganically, but if something sounds right and feels right, you stick with it.”

This was the first Our Lady Peace album that was delivered in two distinct chapters beginning last summer. Certainly, that’s becoming common practice among a lot of artists, but what specifically was the thinking behind that strategy for the four of you?

“Yeah, honestly in terms of the way things have changed in the music business and how people are releasing music, you see people now releasing singles or EPs, which are collections of four or five songs. And there are definitely some really cool things about that. We thought, ‘Hey! That might be fun to try to do for once. Let’s put out an album in two parts as two EPs.’ And so we had this idea in the back of our heads, but we weren’t completely sold on it. But then it became a logistical thing as well, because we had four songs definitely done that we were happy with, and three or four other ones that we didn’t feel were done yet.

And we were actually going on the road and ended up opening for Guns N’ Roses for a few weeks, which was only five shows, but there was space in between, in Canada. And we thought, ‘If we take a break now, and we’re going to be gone doing this for a few weeks because we have some other shows, by the time we get back and get going on this and hope we finish the other ones, we’re not going to have a new record for our fans until maybe 2018 or something. Why don’t we just take these four songs and put it out now, give them to them now so they have something and we can take our time finishing the other ones?’ So that was kind of really what it came down to.”

As someone who used to buy records and sometimes wait for years for my favorite artists to finally release something because they were touring or were trying to find that last perfect song to add to the track list, it’s mind-blowing when I hear musicians announce, “Oh, I’m going to release a new album…tomorrow.” And it’s like, “What? What do you mean tomorrow?!” It’s so amazing that audiences get access to new music so quickly and seamlessly now.

“Well, even more than just logistically, it was an actual product, so that took time to just make – to physically press a record, make the covers. Now it’s all digital. I mean, now you can finish a record in one day…it still takes a couple of weeks to go through iTunes and all that stuff, but it’s not like when you had to make all these records and ship them everywhere.”

I was researching a bit of press as I prepared for our conversation, and I came across a video of an interview you and Raine gave where you discussed the meaning behind the album’s title, Somethingness. You alluded to the fact that it had personal meaning referring to a place where you can slow down and put your finger on the fundamental reasons why you love music and this experience you’ve had as a musician. So what does that look like for you as a tangible thing?

“For me — and I’d joined this band after it had already gotten started, so it may have been a little more of a gradual thing for them starting a band from the ground up and learning to write and record and everything together – so I came in when all of that was full-formed. And I was pretty inexperienced in that stuff, I was young – 23 or 24, or something like that, you know? So some of that was very intimidating, and you start to wonder, ‘Well, how do I do this, or how do I do that?’

I found even from the beginning, even up until now, the basic feeling and seed of when you’re excited about music and inspired, that seed I felt when I was in my basement when I was 14 years old playing guitar and writing stuff with my friends and being excited about it – that basic feeling doesn’t really change. It might sound very simple and people might be saying, ‘Well yeah – duh!’ But even as it gets bigger and you’re in big studios, or you’re on big stages, that initial feeling is kind of as good as it gets. And that might sound negative, but it’s not. That initial buzz – that’s what it’s all about.

So sometimes when we’re doing things and we’re, you know, writing songs and making records in studios with a producer, or we’re playing shows or making videos, honestly I’ve found that as long as I try to focus on tapping into that feeling, that then no one’s ever going to find that you’re crazy or out of line. Because anyone can recognize whether someone is connected to that or not, whether it’s a musician or it’s your mom – anyone can tell. They’re either feeling it, or not. Even if we’re on stage and something’s going on, maybe I’ve broken a guitar string or I’m feeling bummed about something – just trying to reconnect to that place.

And when you’re there, it’s a very…it’s a place that’s slowing things down, and you’re pretty sure and pretty confident you’re in the right place. It’s always a fool-proof place, and it’s always a winner, pretty much.”

Your story of becoming a member of Our Lady Peace is the stuff of a kid’s rock-and-roll fantasy: you started out as a fan and ended up as a long-term member. Take me through how that actually happened to you because it just seems like it was such an enchanted series of events.

“It was amazing, you know? I’m not much of a networker by nature, but basically I’d just moved to Los Angeles, and I’d been there maybe half a year. And I was a fan of the band, and they were on tour for the Spiritual Machines record. I went and saw them at the House of Blues, and it was great. And I happened to be in this band in L.A. at the time, and the drummer in that band was a fellow named Jason Sutter, and Jason played with tons and tons of bands and stuff. I had the good fortune of winding up in this band that we’d both auditioned to get into with him.

And when we would talk on breaks, we’d talk about what we like, and I said, ‘Oh, man, I’m a big Our Lady Peace fan.’ And he said, ‘What? Those guys are my bros, man!’ He’d been in a band called Letters to Cleo who had toured with OLP back in the day, and he’d actually filled in for Jeremy once for a week because he had to go home, he had an issue at home or something.

So anyway, when they decided to make a guitar player change, they were sort of halfway through making the Gravity record, and they called him and said, ‘Hey, dude – we don’t know that many people down in the States, so we’re just trying to make a few phone calls to tell people we’re going to be making a guitar player change. Do you know anyone?’ And he said, ‘I actually know this kid who’s pretty green…’ And it was true because I was pretty inexperienced and very young, but he said ‘… but he loves your band. Maybe that’d be a good thing if you get someone who’s kind of a blank slate as far as the music industry goes.’

So we hooked up and we started talking, and after a while they said, ‘Well, you know, we’re finishing up this record. Why don’t you come out here and hang out? We’re going to need some more guitar parts anyway.’ So I went out to Hawaii and hung out with them for a few weeks and got to know everybody, which was a crazy experience – pretty intimidating at times. And Bob Rock, who’s also from Winnipeg, was also there, so that was a bit intimidating, but awesome.

But at the end of it, they said, ‘Well, you know, we’re still going to have an audition and look at some other people, but let’s stay in contact.’ The next couple of months were a little nerve-wracking, but then lo and behold I got the call one day, and they said, ‘Hey, man – we’re going to go on the road, so why don’t you come out and do it, and hopefully everything will go well and we’ll go from there.’

So, yeah, then we just started on the path that we’re on now 16 years later. Pretty awesome and pretty crazy – I’d say maybe a one-in-a-million chance, but maybe even more odd that the band you’re a fan of you get to, like, be in – and in a way that I’m not even a hired guy, but actually a member. It’s pretty ridiculous.”

Amazing. And now, you’re a member of one of the most successful and admired bands in Canadian music history, and you’ve built a following over the past 30 years that’s outlasted all of the fickle and transient aspects of the industry. It’s really remarkable.

“We feel so lucky, and the one thing that’s very fortunate for us is how Our Lady Peace songs have gotten ingrained at different points in people’s lives and their college or high school experiences. I don’t think you ever think about that when you’re writing and recording a song…you just try and make the best music you can. But we’ve been very fortunate, and there’s a different connection when you latch onto a song or an artist at a certain point in your life, and we’ve been fortunate to have that where people want to come back and see us because we’ve been a marker for a certain point in your life. What more could you ask for?”

And hopefully the show in Mansfield, among the other touring you’re doing in support of this record, will eventually turn into more new music?

“We’re still as excited as ever about the new music we’re making. And this new record we put out recently – we’re just as excited about that as anything we’ve ever done, and now that it’s been out a little while, the conversation…you know, usually it’s a cycle that’s, you know, from writing songs, recording, then the completion stages of making a record, and you go on to make videos and then you go tour. And then all of a sudden after you’ve been touring a while, you’re talking about, ‘Oh yeah – we should start working on…you have that idea and that idea.’ And the conversation’s already started to shift to those places…and that’s so exciting. It’s kind of like spring training in baseball, or something.

We’ve already shifted to that, and we’re like little kids again, and that’s awesome and exciting, and we just want to stay on that tip, you know, and just keep on pumping out new music because it keeps us going, and it keeps our fans going too.”

Our Lady Peace will perform on the main stage at the inaugural InkCarceration Festival8 p.m. on Saturday, July 14 at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. Single-day admission tickets start at $65 (plus applicable taxes and fees) and can be purchased here. More information about OLP and their new album, “Somethingness” and new single “Nice To Meet You” is available via the band’s official website.

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