Article by: Chad Hutchings
Raine Maida's words on his latest release, on his history as an artist, and on a couple of minds that have moved him.
My mother introduced me to the most influential band of my formative years on my fifteenth birthday, when she returned from a trip to Sam The Record Man, beaming and holding a CD she wasn't sent for - Our Lady Peace's Clumsy. It wasn't the cd I'd wanted, but I hadn't yet reached the rude and obnoxious stage that my murky teenaged future had in store, so I accepted her fumble with fake excitement and secret disappointment and added it to my modest collection of discs. As you'd expect, though, the album had to find its way into regular rotation (it was an era when the size of a kid's music collection rested on the flexibility of his allowance and how often his neighbours needed their lawns mowed), and I quickly fell in love - a love that snowballed with the succession of releases to come from the band.
Even now, at 31 years old, I can still revisit those older OLP albums and inevitably always hear them with the cliched wide-eyed wonder that I had at half my age, when the intricacies of making music were still a mystery to me. So you can understand how it felt when I found myself talking with the band's front-man Raine Maida this past month and heard him talk with that same level of excitement and sincerity about music and his industry history, especially when sounding off on his latest solo release - an album whose title itself is a very big nod to a very influential figure for the artist.
Performing at a spoken word festival in the unlikely city of Calgary, the musician was on the bill with John Giorno, one of the original beat poets who stood alongside men like Burroughs and still stands as a legend to many - even to someone as accomplished as Raine Maida. And so, not unlike the countless fans that he himself has entertained, he couldn't hide his awe for the author and had him sign a copy of his collection “Subduing Demons in America” , receiving an inscription including the phrase “Everyone gets lighter” - words that struck a chord with the artist and influenced the direction of his work in no small way.
“The whole concept [of the piece by Giorno] is being able to understand that at some point we're all going to turn to dust and leave this planet, and especially coming from a man his age, he's got so much wisdom, and it was just a profound moment.”
So Maida put care into putting Giorno’s concept into the creation of We All Get Lighter, making an effort not to look too hard for the meaning of life (and for lofty ideals in every facet of his work), in fear that that very life will pass by during the search.
“That's really what ties the record together - not that there's a concept, but that inscription is what kept this record together for the last 4 years.”
With that four years committed to its creation, nobody can deny that We All Get Lighter has been a hell of a long time coming, but it wasn’t the only project on the 43 year old artist's plate. With commitments Our Lady Peace, his other producing efforts, his well-publicized political and social causes, and all of those routine parts of living that the famous and not-so-famous have in common, his solo efforts often weren’t able to be a priority. So, when all was said and done, the record was finally sealed in cellophane a whopping six years after his first solo effort, 2007’s The Hunter’s Lullaby (in the interim, Maida released two mix-tapes last summer, about which he voiced a certain clarity: “I think those for me were kind of like a cleansing thing; they allowed me to figure out what this record was trying to say.”).
Smaller installments aside, though, when asked to stand his two full-length solo works side by side, Maida believes there isn’t the kind of chasm between the pieces that time could have potentially caused, considering the latest “a good extension” of what he’d created before. Of course, he seems genuinely proudest of the latest effort, and with good reason.
“This sounds silly, but in the production of it... I think there's a lot of care taken. I really took care when I was mixing and making this record that you can hear the real timbre of the violin or you can hear what a horn is doing - how it just kind of descends and decays - and you could hear the real intricacies. Chantal [Kreviazuk], my wife, sings all over this record. There's never a wall of sound; in my head, I don't think anything's ever cluttered. You can, as a listener, really get inside each instrument. The opening song, "How to kill a man" is probably... I don't want to sound like an asshole, but I think it's my best work ever, just that song alone."
That best work sits at the top of the tenth full-length release from a musician whose pieces span more than two decades and resonate with fans worldwide, eight of which are under OLP's umbrella, where he takes the role of lead vocalist and the most identifiable member of the band. Through the course of the band's history, there is often a clear and collected testament to Maida's ongoing evolution as an artist, and there’s been a massive change between where he began with taking part in the creation of Naveed and where he’s come with We All Get Lighter. So, it makes you wonder, would 1993 Raine Maida like the artist he’s become?
"No, but I don't think any of us are the way we were 20 years ago, for better or for worse,” is Maida's response to what is probably a pretty obvious question. “My whole mantra on Naveed, I remember telling the rest of the guys, ‘I don't want any fucking keyboards on this record.’ It had to be as raw and as rock and roll as possible. But that only lasted a record, then all of a sudden Clumsy came and we were experimenting with pianos and synths, then that just kept going further and further with Spiritual Machines and Happiness... But, I mean, that's the joy of being an artist. For whatever reason, as OLP right now, it kinda feels like we're getting closer back to Naveed, which is great. I love that. It's almost like you have to get far enough away from yourself to realize what the most authentic part of yourself was. So, you know, it's a work in progress. We're all so proud of Curve [the band's recent release] and playing that record live ...it’s just a massive record for us; It was really another benchmark.”
Lying somewhere in the middle of that evolving discography sits one of OLP's most critically-acclaimed works (and likely the most influential album of this writer's youth) - the 2000 release, Spiritual Machines, a collection of songs spurred on by the work "The Age of Spiritual Machines" by author and futurist Ray Kurzweil, a man arguably considered one of the great minds of our time. The monumental bestseller is an analysis of the potential for computers to exceed human intelligence, a study so lending to spiraling imagination that the band created the concept album in the wake of reading the book, even bringing in the writer himself for intros and key quotes from the book after getting to know him and finding out he was a fan of their take on his ideas, to their surprise.
"I think a guy like that is always somewhat humbled when you get a bunch of dumb musicians taking to a pretty heavy concept. That record was so important to us, because of Ray and because anyone that may be listening dug into that record and, even if they didn't read the book, they had an idea of what Ray was talking about. Look what's happened over the last 15 years - that's just all coming true. You're talking about a guy that really... I mean, he's a giant. His thoughts are gigantic, but it's reality and I think it is so fulfilling as an artist to be a part of that and to attach ourselves to a man like that and having the chance to get to know him. That record was so important and, in a weird way, we feel like fans as well with that record, you know? It was important to us.”
Lucky for anyone asking the questions, Maida doesn't mind musing on his work with Our Lady Peace, even at a time when his solo projects are at the forefront.
“They're all happening at the same time. It's not a separate thing anymore and we're always making music. I played a show in Saskatoon with OLP last Saturday, and that helps the way I think of my stuff, but I love how they've been able to co-exist.”
Of course, as a solo artist, there are certain liberties taken that just wouldn't work when OLP is in the mix, and he's always careful not to get the wires crossed when writing music with the band.
“It's a respect thing for OLP. I make things just a little bit more universal and make it so it's about the band rather than me on the solo stuff, where I just say what I want to say and I don't have to filter and I don't have to change things to make them feel more universal. I guess it's a selfish thing - I can be a little more selfish and just not worry about it. I'm a little bit more aware when it's OLP stuff.”
Just because he can take those liberties with his own work, though, it doesn't mean he's happier to stand alone in the recording studio and on-stage; Maida doesn’t see his solo work as something he’s more happy creating, but instead more as two separate parts of his identity as a musician.
“I'm just really trying to enjoy them both. I don't want to have to choose, and I think they're separate enough that they're just different sides of me. I think it's a worthwhile thing as an artist. They're both very authentic. Obviously, my solo stuff is one hundred percent me, so I can stand behind it more. I write a lot of the songs [for OLP] and the lyrics, but there's a compromise always, and not in a bad way - just in the way that it's a collaboration. I totally love that and respect it and love the guys for that, but I think it's a great thing that I can do both. I'm pretty fortunate.”
With both efforts combining to result in nearly a dozen albums that have brought him success beyond question, fortunate is a very modest way of putting it. And now, with We All Get Lighter freshly released and with the artist still reaching millions of listeners after twenty years of making music, Raine Maida has no doubt made countless people look at him just as he has looked at the startling genius of Kurzweil or the poetic stylings of Giorno. As a fan and a recipient of the kind of influence that an artist like Maida can have, it's grounding to be reminded that wide-eyed wonderment isn't exclusive, and that someone who has spent his life earning admiration can be moved by greatness in the very same way. It seems that everybody is somebody’s fan.
Check out the links below to see more of what Raine Maida has been doing to keep himself out of trouble, including the first single from We All Become Lighter, "Montreal".