“Are you there? Is it comfortable? Did you want to escape, try to escape, the population? The pressure is deceiving. And for you particularly. Should we let a young man die? Let him die if he wants to, die if he wants to. But I can’t live here anymore…”
That dark passage can be found in front of a morose stream of instrumentation that comes together for the third song, and title track, on Our Lady Peace’s first major label release, 1994’s Naveed. Moody, isn’t it? Filled with humongous amounts of angst and disgust, the Canadian rock group fit in perfectly with the gritty, angry grunge period in the early to mid 1990s, when Naveed burst onto the Canadian rock scene and sold over 100,000 copies by year’s end.
Fast forward to 15 years later.
“If you believe in death, you’re certain to die. If you believe in love, you’re always alive. You’re always alive. You’re always alive.”
That comes from “The End Is Where We Begin,” a track off Our Lady Peace’s seventh and latest studio album, Burn, Burn. The full-length, named after a passage in Jack Kerouac’s classic, “On The Road,” is decidedly more optimistic than the band’s previous releases, moving forward a trend the group has seemed to be aiming for on much of its more recent work. And it isn’t just the verbiage that creates a lighter tone for the band, either. Lead singer Raine Maida’s delivery and singing ability have matured in a way that suggests those once angst-ridden vocals may be long gone.
According to the singer, though, the evolution of the band’s sound can be credited more to the 2002 addition of guitarist Steve Mazur.
“Steve’s guitar playing on this latest record is just incredible,” says Maida, claiming that “he’s a big reason why this album is as good as it is.”
It wasn’t always like this. The only other two albums Mazur’s playing has appeared on were 2002’s smash, Gravity, and 2005’s Healthy In Paranoid Times. Both records enlisted the legendary Bob Rock as producer and as a result, both records apparently underutilized the gifts of the band’s guitar player.
“Bob is great, he really is,” Maida explains. “He’s a legendary producer and he’s done so much with his career. But he can be a little intimidating at times and I don’t think he ever really let Steve open up. A big part of this record (Burn, Burn) was getting Steve in the right setting. Because we were able to do that, I think this is Steve’s best album.”
But what was the right setting, exactly? Rolling Stone reported in August of 2005 that Healthy In Paranoid Times nearly broke up the band. Madia pulled no punches in explaining that the group was nearly at its demise when he proclaimed that he was “done, done, done” to the magazine, adding that during the recordings for the album, “the shit wasn’t good enough,” and the band “had basically broken up, fired Bobby, (and) quit.”
Clearly, a change in setting was imperative if the band was ever to record again. So this time, they enlisted a producer they knew better than anyone else they have ever worked with in the past: Themselves. And according to Maida, the resulting work couldn’t have turned out any better, from both a musical and a continuity standpoint.
“We are a huge fan of collaborations, so we wouldn’t oppose trying it one more time,” Maida said about the possibility of enlisting a full-time producer on any upcoming records. “Maybe we could start that way, and see how it goes. But we were able to trust our instincts on this record and it was really good to do it on our own.”
According to Maida, songs like the classic O.L.P. ballad “Dreamland” and the in-your-face, musically aggressive “Monkey Brains” made it easier for the band to move forward with Burn, Burn.
“Those songs are two great Our Lady Peace songs,” he said. “And once you get songs like that down, it makes it a lot easier to press on. We recorded 14 songs (for the album) and only used 10. We wanted a concise color for the entire record. There was a track that we recorded, “Right Stuff,” that we felt just didn’t fit in the complete body of work we wanted this to be.”
Burn, Burn is a return to prominence for the Canadian quartet. If nothing else, the album gives the impression that Maida and his bandmates are in a much better place than they were with 2005’s Healthy. Songs like “All You Did Was Save My Life” and the aforementioned “Dreamland” walk the fine line Maida has always been so brilliant at treading, partly basked in the kind of warmth and light that makes you want to jump out of bed and greet the day, yet close enough to darkness and despair to let you know that if you couldn’t pick yourself up, he would understand why.
That unusual sense of relatability has always set the band apart from most other hard rock acts. Maida credits his songwriting ability to interactions he has had throughout his life, and when it’s suggested he inherits a trait so extraordinary, he’s sort of taken aback, responding in a tone that is both humble and a bit puzzled, making it seem as though he’s unaware of his unnatural talent.
“I am an advocate of reason,” he says. “I am not an idealist at heart and I have gained some cynicism from what I’ve seen. I’ve been to Darfur, and when you see that kind of unspeakable sadness, and those innocent kids, you always remain grounded.”
Staying grounded may be the key to Our Lady Peace’s success. Almost two decades into their career, Maida and his bandmates have been through it all, from a line-up change that many say affected the band gravely, to mega pop-rock success that many say came after the band saw its best days, to a near break-up that resulted in an album that ultimately saw the band divorce its relationship with major labels, forcing Maida to claim that his band will “never” go back to a partnership with such an entity should they lose ownership of their masters.
As for now, though, Maida knows that his band may be in the best place it has ever been. With a self-produced album under their belt, and the freedom of being liberated from the world of major labels, Maida is quick to point out the abundance of positive energy the members of his band have been lucky enough to gain so far into their career.
“This is a very creative time for us,” Maida enthuses. “It’s really exciting. The hardest thing to do after being in a band for so long is to stay together, and we aren’t worried about that anymore. It’s not going to be a long time until we get back into the studio and get a head start on another recording,” he continued, adding that between tours, the band plans to get to work on a follow-up to Burn, Burn in January.
“There’s just so much synergy with this band right now,” he adds, explaining why he feels as good as he does about the future of Our Lady Peace. “It’s a brotherhood again.”
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// Notes from the Road
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