Post-grunge has become a dirty word among modern indie music fans. If you were making major label "rock" post the early 90s grunge heyday, you are almost without fail lumped in with the corporate rock bands like Creed and Nickelback (and is there really a worse group of musicians to be compared to?). So, we really had to cherish the great rock bands who were getting radio airplay and record deals from the major lables in those days. Canadian alt-rock icons Our Lady Peace
were one of those bands that were still making raw, in-your-face rock and roll that meant something and didn't sound factory-printed in an era where bland homogeny ruled rock radio. We had the chance to sit down and chat with Our Lady Peace's drummer Jeremy Taggart and bassist Duncan Coutts a couple hours before they put on a kick ass show
at New York's Bowery ballroom. Talking about twenty year career and honest admissions about the creative limits that were placed on them as a major label band, it was an educating chat with some of Canada's hardest rockers.
After twenty years as a band, what are some of the things that you all still feel you need to accomplish as Our Lady Peace?
Jeremy Taggart: I think just in general, we are always trying to get a little bit better, personally or musician wise, as a band, songs, all of those things. If we work on things to do what we can't do, that's usually how we get better.
Duncan Coutts: We've never been a band that tries to repeat what it's done in the past. It's exactly what Jeremy said. It's growth and curiosity. Whether it's intellectually or musically or personally, it's that arc of growth.
When Burn, Burn came out, you guys said it was a return to the more basic, raw sounds of Naveed and Clumsy. For Curve, are you still re-exploring the roots of your music? Are you maybe going back to the more ambitious, experimental middle period? Or are you going somewhere brand new for Curve
JT: I think its probably closer to the middle period. Spirit Machines
. It's probably closer to those records than Naveed
for sure. There's a lot of atmospheric stuff, a lot of synthesizers and cool topical stuff that's on top of the songs. I think Spiritual Machines
had that element where we're trying to give it something different. But just us as a band, we were just trying to make each individual idea and song as good as it could be instead of trying to formulate it into a single type thing or a pop song type thing. Perhaps we were looking at it more as a performance type record. These days with labels shrinking and radio shrinking, live is kind of where it's at. People hear your music more than they ever have through the internet and all other forms. That's kind of where we're at. The fact that we're on tour now and we've done about four shows before the record came out. Some of the new songs translated nearly as well as our old songs. We hit the mark for the record to be that kind of performance feel.
DC: I feel like on top of that we tried to really let go of any type of expectation of what this record would mean except for what it would be to us personally. It let us go further out on a limb than we have before. By that I mean, more adventurous chord progressions than we'd ever experimented with, and letting music go into places where you really might not expect it going into.
Curve is going to be your eight studio album. Has it been hard coming up with new material year after year since you've been around for so long?
JT: No. That's what we do as musicians. We listen to new things. We listen to new music that scratches at that idea. Steve [Mazur] for example, who came into his own as the guitarist for this band on this record by coming up with a lot of great ideas. A lot of great guitar based ideas. It was a lot easier for us to dig deeper into those kind of arrangements as opposed to what we had done before which was add the guitar last. On this record, it's probably why it has that kind of thing. It's a guitar-based record. There are a lot of layers on top sonically but it's about the guitar riffs.
DC: There's a new excitement based around that and I think you just hear it.
You just mentioned that you found inspiration from the music you all listen to. Are there any artists that have inspired you with the sound you take on this album in particular?
JT: Aboslutely. I think everyone has their feet in different pools of inspiration. I listen to mostly old stuff. Duncan and Steven are all over the map too. Raine [Maida] loves new music. We go from 1920 til now in terms of music. It's a little bit too much at times. But I think that's why we're happy at the end of the day. We have a gauge of where our vocabulary is for music.
Raine is 42. Some of you are in your 30s and some of you are in your 40s. How has getting older and maturing in your personal life affected the way that you write your music and the way that you've toured over these last couple of years.
DC: We toured a little bit less because of family commitment. Life is just a journey and you experience it. I kind of feel like I'm in a suspended state of adolescence ever since I first picked up a bass. There's that element of me I don't disassociate myself from. But at the same time, hopefully, you make music that comes from within, from the soul. Whatever experience you garner from your journey, you bring to your music.
JT: My mindset hasn't changed since I first started drumming since I was 14. I'm always trying to get better. I'm always trying to find some inspiration. I think, because again, we don't have a formula that we go to every time that if we did, I could probably say we have a thing and you follow it and follow it. But because we've always been trying to get better, it doesn't really change even though it's been twenty years. I don't feel like that because we're always doing something else. It feels like a process as opposed to Our Lady Peace's thing.
On Spiritual Machines, you used a lot of vocal samples from futurist author Ray Kurzweil. Is futurism still something that interests you or affects your writing or was that Spiritual Machines only?
JT: It was pretty cool that his singularity ideal back then, people didn't really know much about it. And at the time, his book Spiritual Machines
was very outspoken about how things will be in the future. Getting in touch with Ray and talking to him and having him pick excerpts from his book to read for the narration of the record and looking back, it's kind of funny because he's almost become a Stephen Hawking like figure. He's one of the most important humans on the planet in terms of understanding where we are going in the future and the merging of technological stuff and humans and curing all of our ailments with technology and living forever, and all of those crazy things make sense if you listen to how he talks about it. So, I don't think we'd ever have to do that again. I don't think we could have done a better job than how that record happened. He was cool enough to do what he did for us. It's kind of scary how close we are to getting to what he was actually talking about. We are close to "plugging in." That's very weird.
DC: It affects the writing because a lot of his predictions are coming true. It's just part of our normal social make up. And a lot of Raine's lyrics this time around, although they're cryptic, they're based around what's happening in society today.
Speaking of Raine's lyrics, when I go back and listen to the older albums, you seemed like you drew your lyrical inspirations for a wide variety of sources. What do you think was driving the lyrical songwriting process for Curve?
DC: We don't really discuss a lot of what he's talking about. I think a lot of the beauty of the music is trying to interpret what the writer is saying. My interpretation can be totally different from yours and totally different from the writers. Obviously, he's bringing in grand social themes but he's being more cryptic.
Would you say this a return to more of Raine's cryptic lyrics than the more personal and direct stuff on Gravity and Healthy in Paranoid Times?
JT: Absolutely. I like him more when he's vague to be honest.
DC: Yes, on Naveed
it was Middle Eastern. But later on when you hear the stories, it was personal but it was really well guarded.
What are you two specifically hoping fans get the most out of Curve?
JT: I don't give a shit to be honest. I hate it when bands try to tell people what to think, to the point of anger. We're working really hard, and we're happy and hopefully they get that.
DC: That was the thing when we scrapped the first five or six songs when we were making this. We needed to be more adventurous. Challenge each other more. We knew it would challenge other people. You can't control other people's reactions to your record.
Whenever I listen to your records, especially the older stuff, I get this feeling of Zeppelin via Soundgarden. Were you guys big fans of that guitar heavy classic rock growing up?
JT: I was a huge Who fan, huge Zeppelin fan. The Beatles were a big influence. Now, it's a little bit different. You see a lot of the bands that like the Beatles, or Zeppelin, or even Booker T and the MGs, the smash-bang thing isn't true. You see a person who plays the drums and says they have to smash everything like Jon Bonham, but Jon Bonham played very quietly to get that sound. There's almost a stupid thing that happens with musicians where they think big and smashy means big and smashy. Those kinds of records in the 90s and stuff like that. Now you have those bands that liked those same kinds of bands, MGMT and Phoenix, these bands that are really proficient musicians but they aren't smashing and bashing. It's this same idea but there's a maturity in these younger bands and a realization that maybe with recording techniques, I don't know if maybe the engineers in the 90s weren't as happening as they are now., but there's some coolness to the fact that what you're saying the Zeppelin/Soundgarden type thing is still alive and well. It's gotten a little more sensitive.
One of the best bands I've seen live recently was another Canadian band, Zeus, who also had this classic rock thing while simultaneously managing to seem very controlled.
JT: Yeah. Sheep Dog is another band of the same vein. Patrick Carney did their record coming out on Atlantic. Arkells is another band with that kind of feeling. Canada is amazing in that way. We like to fund our talent. There's a system where you can develop as a band, as opposed to down in America where either you get signed or you don't do anything. It's great to be in that environment. There are so many great Canadian bands but I think that's the reason. There's a development system that works. Even bands like Arcade Fire, if there weren't a development system, they wouldn't have had a chance. Those are indie labels that are funded by our government.
Gravity is often considered a turning point for your band's sound. Is there anything about the post-Gravity records that you would have done differently? I know that Raine has expressed dissatisfaction with the production process of Healthy in Paranoid Times.
DC: It's funny because earlier we always said we tried to be different on every record.Gravity
was as adventurously different from Spiritual Machines
as Spiritual Machines
was from Clumsy
. Afterwards, the problem with Healthy
, I'm proud of a few songs that survived on Healthy
, but it was one of the few times in our career where we got bogged down in the machine of business. The record company was crumbling around us, and they were searching for us to get a single out to radio. It was just kind of a mess. I'm still very proud of a few of the songs on that record. I never want to dismiss that record. Burn, Burn
was the record we needed to make as the four of us, to be a band, to look each other in the eyes, and say "Okay, we're growing we're moving, we're writing new stuff." That got us to where we are today. They're all just necessary steps in the life of Our Lady Peace.
To me, Our Lady Peace was always one of those bands that managed to hold up the banner of raw, emotional rock in the late 90s and early 2000s when there was this deluge of soulless corporate alt-rock bands. What do you guys have to say about what happened to rock during that period? Where did it go?
JT: Limp Bizkit and all of that shit. It was a tough time for music. It was the same thing as fashion in the 80s. Where you kind of go in a weird spot. With that whole era, Puddle of Mudd and Limp Bizkit, that stuff was a bad byproduct of great bands. From Nirvana and all of those early great grunge bands who just had a terrible c-grade version that became the mainstream. You can't fault anything other than that's what happens. How many times in the ten year span from the 50s was there a period of cheesy music. Every ten year it happens, almost every five years. It was very hard for us because the labels talked about those kinds of bands and trying to get into that. That's why Gravity
sounded the way it did and probably why Healthy
sounded like it did too. I don't think we regret it. That's how life was. We were on a major label. We couldn't say, "F-ck you. We're putting this out anyways." We had meeting every six months where they were like, "You got to fucking keep writing." You can say you can do whatever you want, but you can't although now we kind of can. But at the same time, we were on radio, we were selling a lot more records. So that's just the way of the beast. It's too bad there were shitty bands and Fred Durst and all of that stuff. We've hopefully moved on and hopefully it won't come back.
For all of you Our Lady Peace fans out there, their newest album, Curve
is out now on Warner Music.