Two decades before Canada’s reknowned indie output grew to a level that yielded regular international press spotlights and “new Brooklyn” type tags for emerging pockets in Toronto or Montreal, it had already been through a next-Seattle hype heyday. When Halifax’s Sloan signed to major Nirvana-toting label DGC for their 1994 sophomore album Twice Removed, the healthy and vital undergound was hopeful, but it remained largely ignored, leaving Bryan Adams and Glass Tiger to it and the promise of proper alternative representation in the mainstream unfulfilled.
It’s possible those years might have been largely forgotten, but luckily, in 2001, authors Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack, and Jason Schneider put those years to paper in what’s now known as the key Canadian indie-rock tome, Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995. When the book was updated for its tenth anniversary in 2011, it was given a companion compilation featuring Canada’s current wave of pertinent artists covering songs from years’ past, and in late 2012, a second compilation featuring rare and unreleased material from some of the book’s subjects.
“Along with providing a partial soundtrack for the book, I hope this compilation sheds some light on the great musicians who paved the way for the internationally acclaimed Canadian indie rockers of today,” Have Not Been The Same co-author Schneider (who also put together this compilation) says. “I’m also proud to have all proceeds from sales of the comp go to Kids Help Phone, a service that’s more important now than ever.”
Members of Sloan, Jale, The Pursuit of Happiness, and more give us some insight into these uncovered Canadian gems.
Chris Murphy, Sloan
“Lucky For Me”
This recording is from CFNY’s CASBY (Canadian Artists Selected By You) Awards in Toronto in 1992. Sloan took home the coveted “Favourite New Eastern Canadian Group” award. After the long awards show we were to play a full set and we basically cleared the room. The Barenaked Ladies stayed to cheer us on. We did a lot of rolling around on the stage back then. We were still pretty amateurish on our instruments and as singers as this recording illustrates, but there’s something charming about it. Maybe?
Michael Timmins, Hunger Project
“The Same Inside”
It’s been a long time since this song was written and recorded (1980?), so my memory is a little fuzzy. I think we recorded it at the old Wellesley Studio in Toronto. It was one of those load-in-set-up-record-mix-go-home sessions as they all were in those days. All of the weird harmonics and sounds coming out of my Jaguar guitar were done live through my Roland J200. Liza Dawson-Whisker was our vocalist and she does her best Siouxsie Sioux impersonation here. That’s Alan Anton on his Rickenbacker holding down the guitar/bass line, and Geoff Railton on drums just powers us through. When I listen to this I am shocked at how together we were considering how inexperienced we were at the time.
John Borra, A Neon Rome
“Shatter The Illusions”
“Shatter the Illusions” was written during an acid trip while on tour in Montreal. The title derives from the words the lead singer thought he heard the walls whispering. The band locked ourselves in the studio and we were living on a constant diet of LSD, bong hits, and pizza. The result of this mad blitz of creative freedom was disastrous. The producer filed charges against the band for forcible confinement (apparently he was forced to mix songs against his will). Only two tracks from the completed album ever saw the light of day. This is one of them.
John Critchley, 13 Engines
This is a track from the bands’ sophomore release, Byram Lake Blues. We recorded it at The Old Schoolhouse studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As its name suggests, it was a century-old, one-room school. The band was staying at a cottage on the shores of Byram Lake in Michigan while the album was being tracked. The album was produced by me and was released by Detroit-based indie label Nocturnal Records.
Moe Berg, The Pursuit of Happiness
“Wake Up And Smell Cathy”
The version that appears here is a demo we recorded pretty early in our history. It was among the 30 or so demos that we gave to our producer, Todd Rundgren, as candidates for Love Junk. He dismissed it as “too twee,” accurately so, I believe. One of the best things Todd did for us was help us define our sound. He found the songs that simulaneously embraced the rock and pop sides of our personality. However, for those few who were more into the power-pop side of our band, this one should bring a smile to your face.
Eve Hartling and Laura Stein, Jale
“Jesus Loves Me”
EH: I remember walking in Halifax and seeing a car go by with the bumper sticker “Jesus Loves Me,” and I guess for some reason it stuck with me. The song came later, when I was living in New York City. It was a time when I felt disconnected from friends and insecure in some of my relationships, and often very much alone. And despite the personal struggle at the core of the song—feelings of loneliness and sadness—I wanted to keep it upbeat and playful.
LS: We recorded the song with Brenndan McGuire, and one of my favourite parts of the recording is the wailing ode-to-Neil-Young guitar at the end of the song. It was some guitar bit that we recorded, and then listened to played backwards, which was Brenndan’s idea I’m sure.
Buy the compilation here. All proceeds go to the Kids Help Phone.
This feature originally appeared in the December/January issue of AUX Magazine. Download and subscribe foe free in the App Store.