Throwback Thursday: Ottawa Gaga Compilation (2009)
Over two weekends in March, 2009, 15 bands got two hours each to lay down one track live off the floor. These songs would then go on to be part of one of the best local compilations of all time, Ottawa Gaga Volume 1.
Going Gaga Records was a local record label founded by Ian Manhire (White Wires, Sedatives, and Voicemail) and Ottawa Gaga Weekend was a three-day gathering of mostly local, and some out-of-town, rock, garage and punk bands in Ottawa for an unforgettable few days. This event, which dates back to 2008, was the precursor to what I call Ottawa’s punk and garage Christmas in June, more commonly known as Ottawa Explosion.
Poster for Ottawa Gaga Weekend in from 2009. Cool to note that Yogi’s is the original recording studio/venue by now owner of House of Targ, Yogi Granger.
Of the 15 bands to lay down tracks for the Gaga compilation, only three remain active (The Creeps, The White Wires and Mother’s Children). That isn’t to many of the people who locked themselves away during a frosty weekend in the capital aren’t still major players in the Ottawa music scene.
Earlier this year the compilation, Ottawa Gaga Volume 1, was finally put online for our listening pleasure…and oh have we listened. This compilation is a blast from the past to anyone who went to shows at the time. This is the era of the Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party and when garage rock was king in Ottawa. I have so many fond memories of many of these bands, and the Million Dollar Marxists will always be one that holds a special place in my heart.
We interviewed Jordy Bell, member of The Creeps and Crusades, who helped put the weekends together and mixed the compilation.
What was Ottawa like in 2009?
The Ottawa scene in 2009 was going through a pretty explosive period. It was around this time that Emmanuel Sayer, Luke Martin, and Brad McQuoat were running the Rock N’ Roll Pizza Party night, a weekly night that was hosted at various venues around town (the Bytown Tavern was its longest running spot, which is now a Comedy Club on Elgin St.). The night usually featured a few local bands and a touring band, so it brought a lot of different musicians and people into the same room. This subsequently led to the formation of quite a few bands, and even more new friendships.
Allie Hanlon (aka Peach Kelli Pop) recording tambourine for The Felines track. Photo: Jordy Bell
Who came up with this great idea?
It was definitely Ian Manhire who conceived the idea, and was responsible for curating the compilation. Ian was already active in the Ottawa scene, putting out records on the now defunct Going Gaga Records. The idea was to record a small snapshot of some of the bands in the scene, at the time. It was probably a discussion at a Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party that led myself (Jordy), and Ian Showalter (Suppositories, Dagger Eyes, and current House of Targ sound engineer) to volunteer our time and skills to record it.
We decided to not go the traditional compilation route, and thought it would be fun to try and record all of the bands ourselves in a couple of weekends. It sounded like a daunting task, but each band was scheduled in a 2 hour time slot, and we tracked each band one by one.
Where was the recording done?
The recording was all done at the old Capital Rehearsal space, run by Luke Martin. The old location was at 240 Bank St (Luke has since moved the business to the City Centre building), and was in the basement of a government building. He set aside one of his jam rooms for us, and we had our little ‘control room’, located in the lobby outside of that room.
Ian Showalter (Suppositories and sound at House of Targ) getting levels before recording. Photo: Jordy Bell
Who was the team that took on this task?
Ian Showalter and myself were responsible for the entire recording and mixing portion of the record. Ian handled all the on-site engineering, running the recording software, and I was responsible for getting the bands set up in the room, and making sure mics stayed in place in between takes.
I handled the mixing portion of the record, with Ian Manhire, and Ian Showalter sitting in on the mixes. Mixing was completed at my current workplace, Atomic Audio, located in the west end of Ottawa. Once the mixes were complete, they were sent to Bova Sound, a family run studio in the city, for mastering.
Can you shine a little light on the set up?
The idea was to record the compilation with all the same gear. There was two reasons for this. First, we wanted the record to have a cohesive feel to it, often compilations are pretty jarring with a wide range of recording sources. The second reason was just for simplicity. Trying to record that many bands, on all different gear would have taken much longer. So, we settled on using one drum kit, with each drummer bringing in their ‘breakables’ (industry speak for the kick pedal, cymbals, and snare drum). I believe the bass amp we used was a Fender Musicmaster Bass Amp, and the guitar amps were Marshall heads and cabs for the most part. A few people brought in their own heads, or small solid state amplifiers as well.
Using all the same gear actually simplified the mixing process as well, as in most cases I was able to apply the same kinds of processing (EQ’s, compression, etc) on each track, then just make minor adjustments to the individual performances of each band.
The Beach Blankets (featuring members of Mother’s Children, Zebrassieres, and Babble Goons) Photo: Jordy Bell
Can you share any stories about those two weekends, some memorable moments or silly little anecdotes?
It was just a lot of fun, and incredibly busy. Once we got everything set up, it was just a case of getting each band through their recording session. There was still a lot of time to hang out, and generally even once a band finished recording their song, they’d stick around and hang out, and have a beer.
One story that sticks out in my own mind, was the recording of the Beach Blankets song “Greatest Hit.” The Beach Blankets had a short and raucous existence in town. In that song you can hear the sounds of bottle clinks, claps, and general chaos. This was because after they were done recording the music and lead vocals for the song, they had between 20 and 30 of their friends fill the room and recorded a take of everyone partying and making noise. Ian decided it would open the record, and I think it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the record.
The Sedatives. Left to right: Emmanuel Sayer, Steve Adamyk, Ian Manhire and Dave Williams. Photo: Jordy Bell
What band from the Ottawa Gaga would you like to see get back together?
If I had to choose just one from that list that I’d like to see get back together, it would be Sedatives. I say this knowing that, in very recent days, the Sedatives have actually started to get back into the rehearsal room. I came to know the members of the band (Emmanuel Sayer, Dave Williams, Ian Manhire, and Steve Adamyk) from Rock and Roll Pizza Party first, and since those early days, they’ve become some of my closest friends (I currently play in Crusades with Dave and Emmanuel, and in Cheap Whine with Steve). I’m happy that they’ve decided to pick it back up, and am curious to see what comes of the reformation.
What is your favourite song on the compilation?
The Million Dollar Marxists song is my favourite. Listening back to it now, it makes me nostalgic about the early 2000’s in Ottawa. Before Rock and Roll Pizza Party, there was Bumper’s Pool Hall, which was located at 580 Bank St. (currently the home of the Works burger joint). This was my introduction to the punk scene in Ottawa. As someone who moved here in 1998, and formed a band (The Creeps) shortly after that, it was where I met a number of people in the scene (including Luke Martin of the Marxists, who was doing sound there at the time). When we recorded this compilation, the Marxists were essentially done, but Ian Manhire convinced them to record a song for the compilation.
Anything else you would like to share?
I’d be very interested in seeing what a compilation like this would look like today. It’s been six years since we recorded ‘Ottawa Gaga’, and the city, and music scene has changed so much in that time. If anything, the scene continues to expand and thrive at an exponential rate. While many of the musicians on this compilation continue to make music, there is also a wave of younger musicians and bands that continue to innovate and push the boundaries of music in Ottawa.
Throwback Thursday: The Weakerthans @ Babylon in 2001
Featured photo by: Brooks Reynolds
As many of you already know, on July 14, Winnipeg’s beloved band The Weakerthans called it quits. Now in all honesty, they haven’t released anything in a long time and haven’t toured for a while, but I am sure there were many fans out there like me hoping for another album. Especially after the treat that was John K. Samson‘s solo album, Provincial.
But enough about the sadness, The Weakerthans did that enough for all of us. They showed us all that sappy is punk even without power chords and they did so masterfully thanks to Samson’s amazing lyrics. I honestly hadn’t thought of this show for a long time, but as soon as I read the news of their breakup I had a flashback. Let’s go back together to that fateful night at Babylon in November 2001.
The Weakerthans’ set list from their November 2001 show at Babylon in Ottawa, ON.
There I am 14 years-old and standing in a packed Babylon with my dad, Steve, and mom, Lise, so excited for The Weakerthans. They were about to take the stage after an amazing set by this little, lesser-known band at the time. You may have heard of them… The Constantines.
The Weakerthans opened with a song I had never heard before, simply labeled “Elk’s” as you can see by the set list pictured (below/above) that my dad snagged and got signed. The song, “Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call”, would later find itself on Reconstruction Site in 2003, on their third album. Then without wasting any time they crowd favourite and high energy track “Aside.” I won’t give you a song by song breakdown, as the set list is posted, but it was really cool to hear new songs like “Psalm” and “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961),” almost two years before their release.
Before most shows that my dad and I attended together we would always ask each other what were our must hear songs. You know the one that you need to hear or almost no matter how good the show it can’t be amazing without. Well, young teenage Eric loved one Weakerthans song beyond all others, “Wellington Wednesday”. Steve had one song that also rose above the rest, “This Is a Fire Door, Never Leave Open”. The most vivid memory I have of this show is the look of pure joy and excitement on my dad’s face before he cheered louder than anyone else as they started “Fire Door”. Three songs later it was my turn for glee as Samson played “Wellington Wednesday” which might as well have been just for me. As he sang the chorus “Oh, you’ve got green eyes / Oh, you’ve got blue eyes / Oh, you’ve got grey eyes,” I could not be happier. I had no idea at the time that they were New Order lyrics, but it wouldn’t have changed a darn thing. I actually have eyes that change from blue to green to grey and always thought that was super cool as a kid. That song cemented it and my undying love for Winnipeg’s finest.
The autographed back of The Weakerthans’ set list from their November 2001 show at Babylon in Ottawa, ON.
The other fond memory was seeing The Weakerthans live and realizing there really are two sides to punk, and that it is way more than just a sound. This was a man who came from Propagandhi‘s angry and political fast-paced music, to this often more slow emotional songs in forming The Weakerthans. But they were in no way less punk, they were just showing us a different way of doing it. They had the energy and excitement of a punk show, but coupled it with some soft and emotional tracks that could pierce even the toughest armour. And to top it all off Samson is kind of a goofball on stage and a super nice guy in person.
I found what I thought was the audio of the entire set of that amazing night in late November 2001 recorded from the live CBC Radio 2 broadcast. Unfortunately it turns out what I found is the audio for a show three months prior. Still really cool and worth a listen as the quality is amazing and the set list is very close to the one I saw almost 14 years ago. You can download it here.
RIP Weakerthans. Canada, and most specifically Winnipeg, mourns the loss of one of the best acts to grace this country for nearly two decades. So long to one great band.
Throwback Thursday: Growing Up Punk in Ottawa
By Matthew Gilmour
As an overly polite, 13-year-old, third-culture kid who had just spent his puberty in Singapore, I knew nothing about punk. I returned to Canada to spend my Grade 8 year at an urban priority school, where the teaching was poor and half the students were too. All of us lacked discipline, we had a lacklustre attitude and a grating sense of humour to prove it. I remember boarding the school bus with matching red shoes and a red baseball cap, oversized pants, a diminished disposition, and good manners that did not fit my image. Those good manners would serve me well later in some circumstances but certainly not on the vicious playground of this school, where “no fucks were given” and the middle finger was given regularly. Nevertheless, I blended in and immersed myself quickly. That year, I gained an enormous cultural competency, namely because I learned about three things: The Simpsons, slang, and punk rock.
I made a lot of friends that year but one such friend was particularly unique. Jimmy and I played hockey together and attended the same Christian youth group. We were, however, both interested in something more subversive–playing loud music for other people. We both had the same guitar teacher, who taught us jazz theory and modality before he taught us “Yankee Doodle.”
We had terrible equipment but Jimmy had an adventuresome and entrepreneurial spirit. He also had something that was just as valuable: an older friend in a local punk band called The Cobras. Later that year, we performed our first set with them at a show we had organized ourselves, for an audience of seven, in the basement of our local church. The Cobras all had leather jackets with dyed jet black hair, and had snuck in whisky in McDonalds cups. Performing for them without any approval from our families made us feel grown up, important, and like a bunch of badasses. We were clearly anything but.
However, playing our own punk compositions and being part of something was exhilarating as all hell and we were proud of it. Later in life, we would learn that being part of something meant belonging to a community.
At age 14, we would eventually record a single with a member of The Riptides. We had it released on a compilation, alongside other regional and local punk rock heroes. We then recorded a split CD with one of our favourite bands, Take One For The Team and sold out our CD release show with them at SAW Gallery. SAW frequently had all-ages shows where we could play with touring out-of-town favourites or local ringers that were looking to have fun and garner an audience. Things moved quickly for us, and we learned that there was an entire community of underaged kids just like us, who had all formed bands like ours, and who performed at SAW Gallery on a regular basis, exactly like we did. Those kids are still friends of ours today. Many of those friends are part of our local creative community. Some of them have pursued careers in photography, film, fashion, food & wine, and other facets of our local industry. It’s also safe to say that when I frequent amazing restaurants or bars in this city, I almost always run into friends working there that I know from that period in my life. In those instances, we can quote our favourite songs and sometimes each others’ songs verbatim. This is partly because we know each other well but mainly because we learned how to belong, how to be strong, and how to be supportive of each other.
I switched schools again the following year. This time to a gifted school that was more inclusive and pluralistic. It was also the kind of place where someone in Grade 9 would have a repertoire of Edgar Allan Poe jokes, so you can imagine how cultured some of those kids were.
To go with a new learning environment, we found new opportunities to play independently organized shows. The range of venues where a young person could perform expanded and diversified, along with our friends and social interests. I began performing or attending shows and concerts at neighbourhood community centres, Babylon Nightclub, and Bumpers (now The Works in The Glebe). My friends Martin and Adam introduced me to subculture, and I began to consume culture from local and independent sources. At the age of 16, the lens of punk introduced me to the concepts of activism and advocacy, media literacy, independent media, civic justice, animal rights, sustainability, and sober, straight-edge culture. As my understanding of the world became more complex, so too did the music I created.
Buried Inside at Club Saw in Ottawa – December 17th, 2004. Photo: Junked Camera
We began to play music influenced by artists that were much older than us. We adopted the tastes and turbulent behaviour of others for the same reason that we had started playing music in the first place. Being creative was incredibly fulfilling. Punk was awfully exhilarating. It felt important–that we belonged to a culture that was bigger than us. The grandeur of performing for local heroes, and having local heroes become peers was humbling and gratifying. We respected each others’ art, and by nature respected each other. I began performing at house parties with university students and full-blown adults, and shared both smiles and the stage with local acts like Buried Inside (affiliated with Invisible Cinema), Robot Kill City (Male Nurse), and Van Johnson (members of Big Dick).
Matt Gilmour slaying it as the guitarist of We The Accused at Club Saw in Ottawa – December 17th, 2004. Photo: Junked Camera
It was also around this time that I met my best friend Alex Maltby, who arrived at my high school from Belleville in Grade 11. I invited him to sit with my group of friends on his first day. He had been playing music in Belleville for quite some time, and from my understanding, was already a staple in the all-ages music community there. Upon arriving in Ottawa, he began collaborating with friends to form acts like This Soft Light, Coast, and Fire Heats Water. He recorded my math-hardcore band We, the Accused and played bass in my math-rock band The Curviture. Members of Coast and Fire Heats Water also played in HAMILTON. Through some act of unintentional interconnectedness, we all became bound together, and cooperatively and collaboratively brought each others’ vision to fruition. We actualized each others’ art. We contributed to our community.
Without an inkling of doubt, the music community and punk subculture have had a huge influence on my life. They have given me rare life experiences, changed my consumptive patterns, fostered my creative interests, effectively been a determinant in my identity, and allowed me to connect with many more people and ideas than I would have normally. For those reasons, I am deeply grateful and indebted to my friends, many of whom I still see and smile with today.
I am also even more grateful to the people who saw passion, potential, or part of themselves in my art. It is through their voices, all singing in unison, that I found my own.
Throwback Thursday: Fireweed (aka The Fireweed Company) – Drinking Man (1994)
By Zachary Houle
It has been said that Ottawa is the city that fun forgot – a cliché if there was one. However, if you suppose that that statement is true, then consider the state of the Ottawa Valley. I grew up in the small town of Barry’s Bay, Ontario, which is literally right next door to the middle of nowhere – Algonquin Provincial Park. As a youth growing up there, I can tell you that there wasn’t all that much happening. There was a ski hill, which obviously meant that if you wanted something to do during the winters, you skied. If you were a jock, you played in one of the after-school sports at Madawaska Valley District High School (MVDHS). But if you weren’t a jock, there wasn’t all that much you could gravitate towards. Sure, there were house parties to go to every now and then, but I was pretty straight-edge: I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol until my 19th birthday. So those parties, for me, were often rather middling at best.
However, music geeks such as me did have an underground network of friends and acquaintances that provided mixtapes or CDs for you to record on your own. And, in the final year of my studies at MVDHS, something happened. A local country-rock band emerged: Fireweed. And they had a CD to shill! Drinking Man was a source of salvation. It gave you concerts to go to, and a reason to be proud of the area you grew up in. Fireweed – which has since changed their name to The Fireweed Company – remains an incredibly popular band in the Madawaska Valley. Their concerts routinely pull in 800 people in an area where only a few thousand live. Consider that for a moment if you’re an Ottawa band. Wouldn’t you love to have 800 people show up to your gigs? In that sense, Fireweed was and is one of the most enduring and well-liked groups in the Ottawa region.
Not everything was all wine and roses, though. As is the case with many Valley bands, the group had its issues cracking the Ottawa market. I interviewed the band extensively during the mid-90s and, on one occasion, while sitting down with the outfit for a feature in Carleton University’s student newspaper, the Charlatan, in September 1995, guitarist and backing vocalist Steve Gutoskie lamented the fact that Fireweed just wasn’t getting any respect in O-town.
“Ottawa has slammed the door in our face,” he said. “Everyone’s heard of us, and CHEZ and the university stations occasionally play our stuff, but stations like the Bear and the CBC just won’t support us. They won’t even return our phone calls.” However, Fireweed did have a streak of supportiveness for their peers. Bassist Bob Coulas said in the same interview that, “Music isn’t a competition. We want to listen to other (local) bands and like them, and we just want to play.”
And play the group has throughout nearly 25 years. Formed in 1992 in Killaloe, Ontario, Fireweed centers around the slice-of-life lyrics of singer and rhythm guitarist Jayson Bradshaw and the fiery lead guitar attack of Gutoskie. I had the pleasure of seeing Fireweed live on many occasions, and I can tell you that they are an incendiary group: Gutoskie has been known to burn the barn doors down on a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”.
If you haven’t heard of Fireweed, musically they are a cross between the Canadiana blues rock of the Tragically Hip and more country rock stylings. Listening to the Drinking Man now, I hear a certain debt to Hootie and the Blowfish. However, that comparison might be a delusory one. It shouldn’t be, as Fireweed certainly are a more serious and honed band than Hootie ever was, but a touch of that
The key to appreciating Drinking Man, which was made in a marathon 36-hour recording session at Toronto’s Metalworks studio and mastered by Peter Moore, who had produced the Cowboy Junkies, is entering the album through the lyrics. Bradshaw has an uncanny eye for detail in portraying the lives of characters that live in small villages. “Well, I can’t stand this town no more / Time to run from my conscience, in the morning it’s no more / Time to run and hide – leave this town behind,” Bradshaw sings on “Sore Conscience”.
Drinking Man, indeed, is choc-a-bloc with stories about people who populate the villages of the Valley: “Three Shots” is a harrowing story of domestic assault that ends in murder, and the title track is about a man with “no education, no skills or trade.” “Box of Beer”, a rocking punky number, is a sarcastic look at the drinking and drug culture of the Valley. (I wound up calling in and requesting the song to be played at 4 a.m. one morning on CKCU when I apparently couldn’t sleep, and they actually honoured my request.)
There are deviations from the country-rock tinged sounds on the album, though. “Stone Jammin’” is very much a nod to the alterna-rock scene of the time, owing a great deal to Pearl Jam, and the album ends with a spoken word piece, “Home Tattoo”. While there might be obvious influences and touches of styles of music that were popular at the time, the band was trying to do its own thing. “Writing-wise, I don’t have another band as an influence,” Bradshaw told me in an interview for the Eganville Leader in August 1994. “I like other bands but I don’t ever look at them and say, ‘I want to write like that or sound like that.’ I try to stay away from sounding like other bands because originality is the bottom line.”
As to his lyrical genesis, Bradshaw also explained, “If you watch the news, you can find a story anywhere really. Or watch your next door neighbours sometimes … .” Drinking Man remains a key album of the Ottawa Valley, just as important as anything recorded by folk group the Wilno Express. It was a successful album for the band: a year after its release, it had gone on to sell 850 copies (again, local bands may salivate at that sales figure). While the record is now sadly out of print, the band members still get asked about it on the streets of their respective towns (the group is now based in Combermere, Pembroke and Wilno). However, you can listen to the record for free on the CBC Radio 3 website.
The group, which has undergone some personnel changes and the slight name change (though Bradshaw and Gutoskie still remain), has since gone on to release a sophomore record, 2007’s As long as you know … , which is arguably tighter and more focused. The Fireweed Company has also released a video for a tune that has yet to show up on an album for “The Philosophical Song”. Definitely, the Fireweed Company is still going strong, and Drinking Man remains a testament to forging one’s own path in a region where there isn’t all that much to do, so you might as well make your own entertainment. That the album still sounds fresh and fundamental, some 20 years later, shows just how essential a record it is.
The next time you’re in the Valley, and these guys are playing a show, certainly do try to check them out. You’ll be in for a very, very good time. Until then, we thankfully have their recorded output to tide us over, especially for those of us simply looking for a good time to be had in the comfort of your own home.
Zachary Houle is the Canadian Music Editor for PopMatters.com, a Chicago-based webzine that attract 1.3 million unique visitors globally each month. He also reviews books for bookwookie.ca. In addition to his music and book writing, he has had freelance journalism published in SPIN, the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and Canadian Business. He also dabbles in fiction and poetry, and his work here has been published in literary magazines in Canada, the US and the UK. He was a recipient of an emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa, and was nominated for a US Pushcart Prize for his work.
Throwback Thursday: Paperjack – The Effort I’ll Never Get Back (2001)
By Zachary Houle
It was the summer of 2000. I frequented the Second Cup on the corner of Bank and Somerset, as it was a favourite coffee joint, and still is. However, anyone visiting during that time got a bit of a treat while getting java. You got a preview of Paperjack’s sophomore (and final) album, 2001’s The Effort I’ll Never Get Back. My memory is foggy, but one or two of the guys worked there. Anyhow, over the store’s PA system, a rough mix without vocals would be frequently playing, simply because the dudes who worked there were in the band and they naturally wanted to show off their latest creation.
If that says anything, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back had a fairly long gestation period – recorded in scraps at various studios and put together meticulously. When the goods finally dropped, courtesy of Kelp Records, one thing was clear, and is even much clearer in retrospect: this was a band giving its all. In 2014, listening to the album again, it’s apparent about how much of a concept album this is about being in a band, knowing full well that this might be the group’s last shot at the big time –whatever that big time was. Their hearts were on their sleeve and they poured whatever finances they had into the project. Indeed, the photo on the insert of the disc coyly is shot from the inside of a vehicle – a homage to Double Nickels On the Dime? – as the driver is passing by a Scotiabank branch on the 417 as he reaches for the radio controls.
My first encounter with Paperjack, sort of, wasn’t a positive one. In the mid-90s, I was writing music reviews for the Ottawa Citizen’s High Priority page for teenagers (back when the paper tried to cater to a young audience) and I said something in a review about the latest Furnaceface album being overproduced. Ben Wilson, who would become the frontman for Paperjack and was, at the time, a graduate of Glebe Collegiate, wrote a letter to the page on June 26, 1995, telling me that “Furnaceface’s release is not a ‘mess’. Rather, it’s a display of what the band can achieve musically. After all, who wants a CD that does not give a full picture of the band’s abilities?”
Little did I know at the time that Paperjack, so named after a book by local fantasy writer Charles de Lint, would become one of my favourite bands, after seeing them perform at Carleton University, where the band members were studying, and buying their 1997 disc Ross, which only hinted at the promise of the group. I think I eventually realized that Wilson, the singer/guitarist, was the dude who wrote to me in High Priority (I have a long memory), and we talked about it and buried the hatchet.
But Wilson’s words reverberate with me as I write this piece. Clearly, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is indeed a full display of what the band could achieve musically. It paints a full picture of the band’s abilities, a shot at going completely for broke. And, yes, it’s a record about being in a group. Opening song “You Guys Are Awesome” is about the other bands that peppered the scene: “Did you have a good time? / Did you have fun? / You guys are awesome / Did you have space? / To pack in the van? / You guys are awesome.”
Later on, on the haunting “Let’s Be Super-Nice to Each Other”, Wilson, who channels Stephen Malkmus, sings, “I never kissed a musician until I kissed Sarah,” who becomes a “sister” when he joins, presumably, the musician’s union. “All of these plans / And working for the man / With all my sisters and brothers.” So, yes, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is about the trials and tribulations of being in a group with the foreshadowing that this could be it, this is one shot at reaching glory and the need and reliance on other people to help attain that.
But what makes The Effort I’ll Never Get Back a special album is that it is a human album. The vaguely post-rock instrumental “Cloak & Dagger” is notable in that it includes a very noticeable flub that stops the song briefly. For all that the disc is about doing your best and trying to reach out to as many people as possible, it is also an acknowledgement that perhaps your best isn’t all you’ve got, and, indeed, this might just be pessimistically the effort you’ll truly never get back.
However, even though the record is certainly meaty and gives you grist for the mill in what it takes to be a successful band, the record is, in a word, fun. It flat rocks out gleefully. This is embarrassing, but, to this day, I’ve been known to practice air guitar to “F* Off” in the company of my cat in the downtown Ottawa apartment I share. Congratulations, Paperjack. I think you’re the only local band I’ve done that to.
Aside from that song, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is studded with gems. “Break Things” is a nod to Replacements-style alt-punk. “Blist”, which was something of the “single” from the album, considering that it showed up on a compilation from Fine Records of Ottawa acts, also hums with vital energy. “Nod of Satisfaction” has a melancholic riff that slithers into your cranium and never lets go. And “Stranger Means Danger” is a strum of a song that also makes a memorable mark with its acoustic and electric guitars stabbing at each other with a remarkable melody.
What’s more, though, this LP also shows off the musician’s musicianship. “Grain of Salt” is notable for its polyrhythmic drum pattern that makes the tune sound somehow foreign, as though it gestated in a dark continent. “The Alpine Swiss” is a slacker of a song that, yes, recalls Pavement, but a version of Pavement that wasn’t interested in sloppiness or playing as though they’d spent too much time at the beer taps. “Master Card” – another nod to the debt these guys went into to make this record? – chugs and churns with the guitars pointing a counter-attack to the rhythm section.
All in all, The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is among the very finest records that this city has given birth to. And, truthfully, Paperjack never really got the respect they deserved. I recall seeing the band play at an outdoor festival in Confederation Park sometime after the album’s release, and the outfit was in the middle of playing “Blist”, I believe, before they got the power pulled on them mid-song – they’d gone over their allocated time limit, no matter how good of a time those in the audience were having, forcing the group to quietly leave the stage with a meek “thanks.” Typical Ottawa bureaucracy at work.
Although Paperjack is no longer, remnants of the band still linger. Wilson works at a job in the federal government as a speechwriter, and I believe he has a family. He and Brennan Pilkington have formed a “hypnotic space folk” band called Orienteers that have been active in Ottawa since 2008. The other guys? Who knows? Still, if I ever need a fond memory of a seemingly simpler time, a time before 9/11, a time before the war on terror, and a time before the Great Recession (which has impacted writers like me), The Effort I’ll Never Get Back is what I turn to.
In that letter to High Priority, Wilson concluded, “Critics of anything tend to say too much – try just paying attention and respecting things for what they are.” I couldn’t come up with a better statement to describe Paperjack’s final album. Just pay attention and respect it, because, when all is said and done, it still holds up as a damn fine statement of the very best that the Ottawa music scene has had to offer. It’s durable and an excellent effort that rewards the listener, even if Paperjack never truly got the accolades that they so clearly and dearly deserved. A “Nod of Satisfaction”, indeed.
Zachary Houle is the Canadian Music Editor for PopMatters.com, a Chicago-based webzine that attracts 1.3 million unique visitors globally each month. He also reviews books for bookwookie.ca. In addition to his music and book writing, he has had freelance journalism published in SPIN, the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and Canadian Business. He also dabbles in fiction and poetry, and his work here has been published in literary magazines in Canada, the US and the UK. He was a recipient for an emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa, and was nominated for a US Pushcart Prize for his work.
Throwback Thursday: Heartbreakers by Brights
By Pierce McKennirey of Those Gulls
I love the Heartbreakers EP by former Ottawa band, Brights. Though short in length, it packs in a ton of great melodies that brought me back to many of the bands that first got me into music.
In particular, the tracks “Home” and “Five Year Plan” really stuck out to me. Every time I heard Home,” I could picture a crowd of friends, family and fans gathering around the band to sing along in those memorable “Whoa-oh-oh’s!” that dominate the chorus and outro. It was feel-good music with lyrics that resonated with me. To be honest, the lyrics hold true today, for anybody searching for a bit more meaning in their mid-20s and beyond.
“Five Year Plan” also hit home with a super-catchy, singalong chorus. It touched on the issues faced by those commencing adulthood, and to me, sounded like it focused on the responsibilities and challenges associated with “growing up.” After a beautiful guitar solo, gang vocals round out the song at the 3:25 mark.
The three other tracks (“Operate Me,” We Are Getting Restless,” and “Heartbreakers“) were also strong pop-punk songs that hit an emotional note with honest lyrics and catchy guitar hooks.
From what I understand, members of this band are still playing and writing in bands such as The Gallop, Stay Classy, Sound of Lions and more. If I’m lucky, maybe we’ll see a 10-year Brights reunion show in 2018 (fingers crossed!). Whenever I want to have a nostalgia trip, I throw on Heartbreakers. Solid, all-around!
Heartbreakers EP from Square Up Records.
Throwback Thursday: Buck 65 at Bluesfest 2011
Photo by Blair Smith (Byward of Mouth)
One of my favourite Canadian talents, no matter the genre, will be gracing the NAC stage on Nov. 22nd. Yes the legendary Buck 65 will be in Ottawa in late November, tickets here. I thought it would be fun to resurrect an old article of mine about the time he competed with John Fogerty, a cold and swarms of bugs to deliver a most excellent performance. So here it is.
An ailing Buck 65 took to the Hard Rock stage in a grey suit, July 12th, 2011 at Bluesfest, ready to deliver.
Accompanied by the lovely Marnie Herald, he opened with “Sweet Baby.” Herald blended her beautiful voice and energy several more times on other tracks, as you can see in the video below.
Just in case you did not know who you were seeing, he let you know. “I’m the legendary Buck 65 from Mt. Uniacke, Nova Scotia,” he said with a grin before launching into “Superstars Don’t Love.”
After that he took some time to talk with the crowd. “I knew I was in trouble when I got here today. I was doing my sound check and all of a sudden clear as a bell I start hearing the familiar catalogue of Credence Clearwater Revival from over the hill. Then they tell me that Fogerty over there is going on at the same time I’m going on, so I’m thinking to myself no one is going to come see me when they can see Fogerty.”
The crowd reacted with boos and then cheers for Buck 65, and so he replied, “Hear me out, I wouldn’t be here if I were you. So I want to show you how much I appreciate that you are here when you could be over there…I can hear him real good, I wonder if he can hear us, let’s find out. I’m just asking for it now.”
This was the beginning of one of the highlights of the set, playing “Wicked and Weird” over “Run through the Jungle” by CCR. It was epic, and the crowd lost their mind when he began to scratch on the track as well.
Following up with “Dang,” and saying after, “Don’t worry, I talked to Fogerty earlier and he’ll be doing a Buck 65 song.” Afterwards he played “All There is to Say About Love”, a Bike for Three song, which is a cross continental collaboration with Belgium producer Joëlle Phuong Minh Lê.
“The doctor said I could not go to Ottawa, but to quote Ray Charles, ‘I don’t need no doctor.’ I got rained out last time and come hell or high water I was playing,” he said. “This is Bluesfest for crying out loud!” And everyone in attendance was extremely grateful he toughed it out.
Buck 65 scratching up a storm at Ottawa Bluesfest 2011. Photo: Blair Smith, Byward of Mouth
He scattered two great new songs throughout the set. One of them he wrote with fellow East-Coaster Jenn Grant, leaving this writer looking very much forward to the new album. Another one of the wonders of a Buck 65 show are his excellent scratching skills and his “amazing” dance moves, where he appears to be dancing like the inflatable Skydancers (better known as wacky waving inflatable arm flaling tube men).
Buck 65 has quite the extensive catalogue and he did not shy away from any of it on this night. He played, “Gee Whiz,” “BBC,” “Cold Steel Drum,” “Paper Airplane,” “Small Town Boy,” “Surrender to Strangeness” and “Zombie Delight.”
After “Zombie Delight” he took more time to talk to the crowd. “It’s good to see a lot of people here, some familiar faces… I don’t know if I get a cut of the gate tonight or what, I need a few extra bucks, because I did something I sorta regret earlier tonight at the hotel. I smashed the television in the room.” He then explained, “There was that commercial that came on for Miracle Whip, you know that hipster Miracle Whip, do you know these commercials. The hipster style Miracle Whip, the sandwich spread… they are trying to make this cool, of all things, so I smashed my television set tonight.”
People began throwing money up on stage for him, one overzealous fan hit him in the head. Buck 65 took back to the mic, “How do I protect myself from that? I’m going to change tactics real quick,” and he began playing “Indestructible Sam.”
He dedicated “Pants on Fire” to those who have been listening to him for more than 10 years, the fans he dubbed “the lifers.” And Buck 65 rewarded them with a mind-blowing scratch outro to his classic track. He then added, “Thanks for coming and I promise ya I gave you 100 per cent of what I had tonight which is about 75 per cent of what I normally have because I have had some sort of flu. Second of all let us skip the pretence of the encore, if you insist let’s pretend it is over now… because that whole thing is embarrassing for both of us frankly.”
The encore consisted of “The Niceness” and “Blood of a Young Wolf.” But as he left the stage the crowd continued to chant and clap. They wanted more… and even though he was sick as a dog, he took back to the stage. “Is Fogerty done over ther? I feel like it would be wrong if he wasn’t… How old is he? He can’t outlast me,” and so he played one more track as he collected the money from the stage, closing with “465.”
Call for Submissions: What’s your throwback story from the Ottawa music scene?
We here at Ottawa Showbox are officially putting out a call for submissions for Throwback Thursdays. We want to hear from you with your stories from days gone by. It’s our belief that these stories help to put together a cultural history of the music scene, and even more, build a collection of stories and perspectives from a diverse group of people. Maybe there’s some lost footage or photos out there that most of us have never seen before, or perhaps a favourite band or show from decades ago that may stand the test of time.
– Which Ottawa band was your favourite back in the day? Why?
– Is there a particularly memorable show that you went to? Tell us about it!
– Was there a popular (or underground) club that used to put on great shows regularly?
– Is there an album from the past by a local band that is close to you? Tell us why!
– If you were/are in a local band, got any ridiculous tour stories for us?
– Is there a person that is/was an integral part of the scene that deserves an honourable mention?
Lots of choices! Now rack your brains and send us your write up to music [at] ottawashowbox [dot] com. We’ll publish it soon in one of our Throwback Thursday features.
Throwback Thursday: Billy Talent @ The Tulip Festival 2004
Benjamin Kowalewicz, lead singer of Billy Talent, rocking out at the Tulip Festival in Ottawa in 2004. Photo: Brian Garson (Junked Camera)
With the Ottawa summer festival season now behind us I thought it might be fun to look back to one of the festivals that used to really kick ass musically, the Tulip Festival. The Tulip Festival used to bring in some heavy hitters, for example Billy Talent, Glass Tiger, Reverend Horton Heat, Trooper and many more in 2004. Sadly the festival no longer brings in those types of musical acts, but on the plus side Ottawa does have a plethora of music festivals now compared to then.
Unfortunately for me, I missed out on most of the bands listed not named Billy Talent, but this bothered me very little at the time as I was really into the band from Mississauga, ON. Billy Talent rolled into town riding their hugely successful debut self-titled album. I am pretty sure this was one of the first times I had seen them live and could not get over how much lead singer, Benjamin Kowalewicz, danced and posed like my beloved rock god Iggy Pop. However the comparison ended there, Kowalewicz had a very different sound, he was more of a screamer.
The show was very high energy, enetertaining and filled with all my favourite songs from the debut. Songs like the hit single “Try Honesty,” the super punk rock track “Voices of Violence,” the darker “Nothing to Lose” and one of my all time favourites by the band “This is How It Goes.” Other than the dance moves, the most memorable moment was when Kowalewicz grabbed a fake tulip close to four times his size and ripped it to shred. The staff standing in the side stage area looked horrified and while the crowd erupted and loved every minute of it.
Interesting facts about the self-titled album, in 2005 it was ranked number 453 in Rock Hard magazine’s book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time and in 2007 it was certified three times Platinum in Canada. Feel nostalgic like me and relive Billy Talent’s debut album, streaming below for your listening pleasure.
Throwback Thursday: The Flatliners @ Maverick’s in 2010
With life being so busy right now, I thought it might be fun to throwback to the article I sent to Matias when applying to write for Showbox. I sent in a few of my clippings, and later found out that The Flatliners piece was the one that excited him the most as he is a big fan. So check out this throwback to 2010 when the Flatliners rocked Ottawa!
The Flatliners hit the stage Friday night December 10th with their skate-punk style and a little ska-flare, as snow fell in the capital.
The boys from Richmond Hill, Ontario pulled out the big guns early, playing their new single “Carry the Banner,” as their second song. The crowd got into it right away, the pit never stopped and the patrons at Mavericks chanted along for the whole set. When the band launched into “Eulogy,” lead singer, Chris Cresswell, had a hard time getting in a word as almost every person crammed into the venue was belting out the chorus.
The Flatliners played a good mix of new and old, allowing for moshing or skanking depending on what you fancied. They played “Christ Punchers” off of their new EP, Monumental 7″. Chris introduced the song by saying, “I don’t care what you believe in … but I believe in reality, I don’t believe in any of that other shit because some of it leads people to do terrible things.”
One of the highlights of the show was the band’s merch guy, who, dressed in full gym attire, sweat bands and all, performed jumping jacks and push-ups randomly during the set from the side of the stage.
Opening for The Flatliners was Naples, Florida, four-piece dance party, Fake Problems. The band never took breaks between songs and provided countless sing alongs and clapping opportunities getting the crowd quite involved. The one time the band did slow down to breathe, they started freestyling Will Smith’s classic made-for-movie song, “Wild Wild West.”
The Menzingers, the pride of Philadelphia, tore up the stage with their old school 90s punk rock sound. They opened with “I Was Born,” as they sang the chorus with passion, “Oh my God it’s been far too long, send my thoughts to the firing squad.” The crowd was so into the band you would have thought they were the headlining act. There are just not enough bands still kicking around playing this upbeat and real sound of the punk rock I grew up on.
It was not all punk rock at this show, Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck brought a more rock’n’roll edge with their set. They reminded me of what Attack in Black would have sounded like had they listened to more Replacements before recording their follow-up to Marriage (and one of the guitarist looks a little like a young Tommy Stinson). During the first song one of the guitars broke, but they hammered through on a back up and closed out their set with a stellar track called “Brooklyn, NY.”
The local entertainment was provided by Currents, a three-piece growing in popularity in Ottawa. The bass player told the crowd not to buy their album but to download it and to spend your money on the touring bands that really need it. It was a nice touch by the opening act.