Home | News    Wednesday 7 September 2005

Darfur, sons inspire lead singer of a music band

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By JON COOK, JAM! Showbiz.

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OLP music band
An emissary for the War Child relief effort, 2005.

Sept 6, 2005 (Toronto) — While recording Our Lady Peace’s latest album, "Healthy In Paranoid Times," lead singer Raine Maida experienced some life-altering moments.

One was brought on by his trip to war-torn Sudan, as an emissary for the War Child relief effort.

The others came from the births of his sons Rowan and Lucca within an 18-month span.

The convergence of these seminal events in Maida’s life is the fodder for the song "Boy," whose lyrics convey the struggle of raising a child in such unsettling times. The song is a triumph for the band, as it displays a depth, subtlety and musical resonance lacking on OLP’s previous five studio albums.

It’s the offspring of a process of looking at yourself in the mirror and realizing you can’t do everything, so it’s best just to get one thing right. That is essentially the lesson of being a parent.

Like his sons, the new record represents an opportunity for Maida and the band to redefine themselves musically, artistically and thematically.

"That song was funny, because it was way out there and Bob (producer Bob Rock) said, ’This is such a beautiful song. You’ve just had a son so why don’t you let everyone in?’" recalled Maida, who was forced to find a subtler approach. "I usually start my songs off very politically-fuelled and over the top and then I work back. Everyone looks at me once I get in the studio and goes, ’You can’t say that.’"

There are still some in-your-face moments on HIPT, like the anti-Bush screamers "Wipe That Smile Off Your Face" and "Where Are You," but for the most part Maida has toned down the politics.

A perfect example of this is his treatment of the Darfur-inspired track "Al Genina (Leave the Light On)," where Maida’s hushed delivery fuses beautifully with the band’s stripped-down arrangements to give it a more personal, less political bent.

These are interesting times for OLP, as the intensity of Maida’s political views threaten to hijack the direction of the band. Not that the other three members - Duncan Coutts (bassist), Jeremy Taggart (drummer) and Steve Mazur (guitarist) - don’t share his beliefs, but there is a sense that Maida, a la Bono and Michael Stipe, is pulling the group into deeper, darker waters.

This has caused a backlash from some OLP fans, as it did with both U2 and R.E.M., who wish Maida would essentially just shut up and sing.

U2 fans will remember Bono’s brilliant moment of defiant self-mockery in the movie "Rattle and Hum," where during the anti-Apartheid song "Silver and Gold" he barks: "Am I bugging you? I don’t mean to BUG ya."

It’s appropriate that Bono is Maida’s artistic idol, after all it was a U2 concert protesting Britain’s Sellafield nuclear plant, that spurred Maida to enlist in Greenpeace.

"If that’s all it does, is get you slightly interested, it’s a step in the right direction," said Maida, well aware his politics annoy people. "I think the band has always walked that line between earnest and incredibly pretentious. I’ve definitely been guilty of both. On this record we tried to fall on the earnest side."

Maida’s art succeeds because it is so intensely personal. He’s not the kind of shallow personality that could visit places like Darfur or Iraq and come away unchanged.

"We’re all hypocrits to some extent. You do what you can," said Maida, who admits to getting just as wrapped up in the trappings of North American life as anyone. "After Sudan it took me about five weeks to readjust to living here, but you realize it’s better to just keep an awareness. I think we’ve become a very strong socially-conscious band."

In that light, it’s offputting to see OLP partner up with electronic giant Best Buy to promote their new album. They are playing a series of free in-store concerts across Canada, starting last week in Toronto and continuing this week in Vancouver and the following week in Montreal.

It’s a similar kind of promotion Maida and his wife, singer Chantal Kreviazuk, did with Starbucks for their War Child compilation.

It sounds even stranger after Maida admitted he "hates" the big corporations for killing the ’mom-and-pop’ shops.

"Sure they (Starbucks) destroy small farmers, but they have become a pretty good company," he sheepishly confessed. "At the same time an event, like the Best Buy thing, is just an opportunity for us to get a bunch of kids around the band and that’s a powerful thing. They hear the music, they hear what we talk about and they hear what we’re interested in. I think it offsets what Best Buy is. It’s kind of the lesser of two evils."

Another evil that Maida and the boys seem almost too eager to talk about on this press tour, is the degree of discord they experienced while working on HIPT in Hawaii.

According to Maida, who also talks about it on the accompanying ’Making of’ DVD, the band pulled the classic rock act of breaking up more than once and firing their producer all in the quest to make the perfect record. Only OLP and Rock know exactly how traumatic the process was, but it’s clear that HIPT is the band’s most far-reaching and conceptually sound album to date.

"I work best in conflict and it’s really hard to have conflict there, because it’s paradise," said Maida about recording at Rock’s Maui retreat off and on for 36 months. "It didn’t work. We went there once and recorded 10 songs. Went there again for another 10 songs and halfway through the second session I was just like I’ve got to get out of here - it’s too nice.

"We ended up with 45 songs, probably the band breaking up two or three times, Bob Rock being fired, Bob Rock quitting and lots of drama, but it was all in the search of really trying to start the next chapter for this band."

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