Our Lady Peace speaks

Jenny Dwoskin

Blame Canada. I do. I blame those Canucks for cultivating Our Lady Peace, the Toronto-based band that epitomizes the label “alternative rock.” Since they sprouted up in 1992, OLP has refused to confine its music to one particular genre. It’s like my roommate, C.A.M. Ay, says: “genre sounds too much like generic.” Instead of going grunge or punk, each OLP song projects a feeling all its own. Their music is an “alternative” to mainstream categorization, and a refreshing one at that.

Since their first record, “Naveed,” was released in 1994, OLP has expanded its discography to include a total of seven albums. Over that 11-year span, the band has earned countless Juno Awards (the Canadian version of the Grammys), while captivating an internationally sprawling fan base.

In 2002, OLP released “Gravity,” a record that received impressive hype from both the Canadian and American media. The chart-climber even convinced Villanova to invite OLP to play a sold-out concert in the Connelly Center. Most recently, though, on August 30th – after 1165 days of recording – their seventh record, “Healthy in Paranoid Times,” graced store shelves.

Although this interview with the band members was my first rock star encounter, I have a hunch that OLP is a rarity among today’s cookie-cutter music scene. They are not only musicians, but humanitarians and environmentalists, as well. Although their songs feature lyrics that are often spiritual and even cosmic, the guys of OLP are charmingly earthbound.

Backstage, guitarist Steve Mazur and bassist Duncan Coutts prepped for the concert as vocalist/guitarist Raine Maida, drummer Jeremy Taggart and I discussed the new record and the evolution of OLP’s music. All the while Maida crunched on fistfuls of Wheat Thins, while Taggart split open ballpark peanuts. Maida pointed out the fridge, letting us know that we were welcome to help ourselves to “whatever’s in there” (a case of Heineken and a 30-pack of Miller Light).

After an engaging Q&A, the interview wound down to the topic of Philly cheesesteaks. Maida called OLP’s manager, Karen, into the room; he had only one request for after the show: twelve cheesesteaks from Pat’s. There are only four guys in the band.

Q: According to the Columbia Records press release for “Healthy in Paranoid Times,” you stated that the new record features songs that OLP “needed” to make. It seems as if the sound and lyrics are unique to your band, giving the record a sort of garage band feeling. You are making music for the sake of making music. Can you elaborate on this? How is “Healthy in Paranoid Times” an accurate portrayal of who OLP is?

Raine Maida: On this record, we looked back on our music and tried to focus on those moments which were most honest, and tried to capture about 10 of them instead of just two or three. What we ended up with are those moments when it seems as if the music is being channeled through you – as stupid as that sounds. That’s why it took so long to make “Healthy in Paranoid Times.” We wrote about 40 songs, but were only able to record 12 of them.

Q: As a band that values “artistic creation,” what are your thoughts on today’s pop music?

RM: That depends on what you consider to be pop music. Kanye West is probably the biggest pop musician in the world, and I think what he’s doing is great. Then there are celebrities like Ashlee Simpson who like to think that they are musicians … so, it really depends on who you consider to be pop musicians.

Jeremy Taggart: Yeah, the media culture of pop music is really cheesy. The same thing occurs in film when you see bad actors being nominated for Oscars.

RM: Still, I think some pop songs – like that Fall Out Boy song – are really catchy. It may not be changing the world, but it’s become a popular song and you have to respect that. I think it was actually Britney Spears who said that it’s easy to write a dark, depressive song. But, she’s right; it’s hard to write a good, pop song.

JT: It’s just hard to write any kind of song.

Q: Over the past three years, OLP has been actively involved in various charities including War Child. You have even traveled to Third World countries like Iraq and Sudan. After checking out your website, I discovered links for Greenpeace, Amnesty, CorpWatch and others. I just can’t help but think of Bono and U2 – you even have a song titled “Boy,” the name of a U2 album. Are you at all insulted by this comparison?

RM: Honestly, U2 got me into Greenpeace. I went to one of their concerts, and it was right after a nuclear reactor went off in Ireland. “Boy” is our tip-of-hat to U2.

JT: The song has a U2 flavor. As we were writing it, it went off in about five different directions but we chose this one. It has that U2 mood and arrangement – a similar, simple chord progression.

RM: We didn’t want to just do “Streets” again. We wanted to make it sound like a U2 song, but we didn’t want to rip one of their songs off completely. It’s like that Pearl Jam song that sounds like Zeppelin but it’s not it exactly.

Q: OLP takes advantage of its international celebrity in order to make a difference in the world. How can ordinary people – non-celebrities like Villanova students – help out?

RM: It’s easy to get involved. Join Amnesty. It’s better to do something than to do nothing these days. Learn about these organizations on their websites (check out OLP’s website). The internet is an amazing resource that we are lucky to have. I know two kids who are in Ghana right now with War Child. And I know a kid from Connecticut who is in Congo for a month. You just have to learn about these opportunities.

Q: After listening to your music, it’s obvious that OLP has found spirituality outside of organized religion. However, as a student at a Catholic university, I was wondering if you could explain the band’s name, Our Lady Peace?

RM: Well, I was raised Catholic. But, the name actually comes from a Mark van Doren poem. He was a professor at Columbia and was friends with Ginsburg and those guys.

JT: He was part of what I guess you could call the “first generation” of Beatniks.

Q: What’s next for the band, post-“Healthy in Paranoid Times?”

RM: We had some songs that we were in the process of making but didn’t get to put them on the new record, and we don’t want to put any good ideas to waste. So, we hope to get a new record out by summer. The more you sit on stuff, the quicker you get bored of it. But we don’t really like to make definite plans. It’s better not to make plans.

JT: We just want to be honest to our music in the end.

Q: If you could revive any genre of music, what would it be?

JT: John Coltrane, the be-bop from the Ed Sullivan Show – it would be great to see that again, but it will never happen; it would be like two worlds colliding. We [the music industry] can’t really go back to that. Today, there are so many sponsors for music that you can’t say a thing. I would like to see Hendrix come back, but he can really only come back in spurts. Only parts of him can be revived.

Q: What was it like to open for the Rolling Stones in Canada? How would you describe your experiences with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards? That must have been literally awesome.

JT: It was cool – like being in a movie. It was inspirational, but at the same time it was very bizarre and surreal.

RM: They had a defibrillator backstage for Keith Richards – or just for whoever was feeling it at the time. I’m serious.

Q: What advice would you give to all of the struggling musicians at Villanova?

JT: Just listen to as many records as you can. Build a huge vocabulary of inspirations.

RM: You’ve got to do it yourself. Today, you can own all the recording gear yourself. And don’t ever sign a publishing deal, unless you desperately need the money. It’s amazing how bands fall into cracks and all of a sudden record companies want a new record. But, music wasn’t always like this. There used to be more freedom: if you had something to say, you could just get it out there. As soon as you give your music away to record companies, it’s like giving away part of yourself.

JT: Yeah, don’t go with the Joneses. Do something unique. Scratch your music deep, or it doesn’t work. But why wouldn’t you want to dig in, anyway?