When I first visited Toronto as part of the Oh! Canada roadtrip, I was keen to find books about the development of the Canadian scene- some background reading so to speak to fill in the gap between those acts that left Canada to find a fortune (the likes of The Band, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell) and those bands that had first sparked my interest in the nations music in the mid to late nineties (Godspeed, Do Make Say Think, Propagandhi, The Weakerthans and Julie Doiron). “You really ought to try and get hold of “Have Not Been The Same” was the usual response when asked for recommendations, accompanied with a thumb and fore-finger indication of the books size, and the useful extra piece of information that it was out of print.
However, earlier this year, to mark the tenth anniversary of the book a second edition was produced-updated and re-edited, with additional interviews and photos added. It’s still not exactly holiday reading. What it is, however, is an extremely thorough look at the Canadian scene between 1985 and 1995 – dubbed here as The CanRock Renaissance. A time of energy and development of a spirit that it was no longer necessary to seek acceptance outside of Canada to be successful, nor was it taboo to write about and reference life in Canada. It is a tale of independent ideals and alternative communities emerging and supporting one another. From the punk scene and new wave of DOA, Rational Youth and Martha and The Muffins, via the Rheostatics, The Lanois’, Blue Rodeo, Sloan, to The Halifax Pop Explosion and The Tragically Hip, the story is told through a series of interviews that reveal much as much about the artists in question as the cultural atmosphere they helped to create. While chapters are given to the ‘big players’, there’s also plenty of time for those who played equally important parts without getting the attention they deserved. Triumphs and disasters, all are played out to form an engaging social history of Canada’s music scene at a time when the foundations were being laid for the successes that followed. Taken as a whole or dipped into, the book is a welcome introduction for the uninitiated, and a great jump off point for those looking to delve a little deeper.
We caught up with Michael Barclay, one of the books authors, to talk a little about the book:
Ten years on from the original publication has you opinion changed much of that period? Did you feel there was something that needed to be changed, or re-addressed?
When the book was written, Canadian music was in dire straits: labels had folded, clubs had closed, the underground had gone way underground, and the mainstream was horrific. Just as the book was released in 2001, there were suddenly shards of light illuminating the darkness, and as it turned out that was the beginning of a phenomenal period in this country’s cultural history. Bands like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, New Pornographers and dozens of others redefined Canadian music both creatively and in terms of international recognition. And it wasn’t just indie rock: every genre was doing really well, as well as genre-breakers like Owen Pallett and Caribou. (And we can have this kind of conversation without ever bringing up Nickelback or Justin Bieber.) So if anything changed, it’s that I’m even more proud of music coming out of this country.
That meant that some of the tone of the original text had to change. I no longer feel 1985-1995 was the greatest period ever, but it was still amazing, and it’s obvious what lessons the current generation absorbed from the last one. Also, it’s sadly necessary to explain to a younger generation what life was like before the Internet. You can’t take things like campus and community radio for granted.
The Rheostatics- Shaved Head
What was the biggest challenge you faced putting the book together?
Deciding on how to tell the story, and who would be included. It’s a long book. It could have been longer. Many people have strong opinions about who’s in and who’s out, but the book was not meant to be an encyclopedia, and it really comes down to the taste of the three co-authors. The other challenge was just doing it: it was a huge undertaking, and at the time Jason Schneider and I were underemployed freelancers and single, which made it somewhat easier; Ian Jack took a year’s sabbatical from his teaching job and his wife was very supportive. We didn’t do this for the money, that’s for sure. No one who writes about music does. It’s a real labour of love.
Looking back, what did you find most rewarding about the book?
Knowing that we were telling stories that would never be told otherwise, mainly because the artists weren’t successful internationally and no one here cared enough to write in depth about them. People like Handsome Ned (a Toronto alt-country pioneer), Deja Voodoo (a Montreal sludgeabilly duo), the Nils (tragic but brilliant Montreal punk band), Change of Heart (influential Toronto prog punk band), and others. And then people like Mary Margaret O’Hara, whose one album is well known around the world and yet so much mystery surrounds her.
The Tragically Hip – Grace, Too
Have you considered a sequel to the book ? Some of the artists from that period have reinvented themselves with great success, as well as new growth and successes overseas, a growth in Hip Hop and Electronic scenes.There seems to be plenty to write about?
Absolutely. I’d argue there’s too much to write about: any book about the last ten years is inevitably going to give short shrift to something important. It’s almost impossible to cram all that amazing stuff into one book. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it, though.
A lot of this groundwork was done pre- internet. Do you think that Canadians looking for outside recognition in order to accept the talent at home has come full circle ?
Yes and no. Canadians will always be impressed when a London or New York magazine writes about a Canadian artist–and these days that usually happens before even our national media get a hold of something, just because there’s so much international interest in Canadian music (and music coverage here is generally dismal). But the difference now is that it doesn’t really matter; Canadians don’t feel insecure if their favourite artists never leave our borders. Whereas between 1985-1995, even the biggest fans of The Tragically Hip–the biggest Canadian rock band of that time–spent inordinate amounts of time fretting about why the band hadn’t cracked the U.S.
The Inbreds – North Window
You just put together a compilation of current acts covering material by bands featured in the book. How did that come about?
I wanted the music in this book to feel alive, not just a bunch of geezers writing about the good old days. I also wanted to acknowledge the strength of Canadian music in the last decade, and I knew that a lot of musicians were fans of the book and the artists in it. A tribute album made perfect sense. I asked people I knew would do a great job, but I have to say I’m a little shocked at how good the whole album is. Even the best compilation albums are a bit of a letdown, but the critic in me assures you that this one is not!
Volume 2 will collect some amazing out-of-print material featured in the book, including the title track by Vancouver band Slow. My co-author Jason Schneider has been spearheading that one, and he has about half the album ready to go. For obvious reasons, there’s a bit more paperwork and wrangling involved with a project like that, so there’s no definite timeline.
Have Not Been The Same (The Compilation) can be downloaded exclusively via Zunior.com All proceeds fo to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health In Toronto. It features Great Lake Swimmers, Snailhouse, Bry Webb, Forest City Lovers amongst others covering the likes of The Tragically Hip, Al Tuck, Eric’s Trip and more. To whet your appetite here’s The Hidden Cameras covering Mecca Normal, Kevin Drew Covering Bob Wiseman and Little Scream teaming up with Arcade Fire/ Bell Orchestre’s Richard Reed Parry to take on Mary Margaret O’Hara.