Call for Book Reviewers and Bloggers

Music
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA


Toronto band Staggered Crossing has always been arriving. They’ve always been establishing themselves and sticking to their integrity and roots, even through uncertain futures and change. The band formed in 1997 and moved towards a finished line up with members Julian Taylor on vocals and guitar, Dan Black on bass, Bruce Adamson on guitar, Darrell O’Dea on keyboards and Jeremy Elliott on drums. They signed with Warner Bros.’ Canada affiliate in 1999 and released their self-titled debut in February 2001. Their album produced three singles, two of them minor hits on Canadian radio. But later in the year, Warner lost interest and they were dropped from their roster. In addition, Adamson and O’Dea left the band and former member Dave Marshall joined. Ironically, they didn’t give up and became their own boss, with their artistic integrity and sense of developing skills only improving.


The band’s second album and independent release, Last Summer When We Were Famous, is a much more solid work, with more focus and definition than their original.


The band later met multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, who at the time was considering his departure from Wilco. Bennett contacted the band and agreed to produce and help arrange the record during a 16 to 18 day period at Wellesly Sound. The final product could not have been timelier. It’s proven as a perfect display of a band’s optimism and self-sufficient strength shown in their music, an improvement over the band’s acceptable, but undistinguished first release. Bennett was what they needed-an expected resource of musical introspection and thorough skill with what he does.


I spoke to the lead singer and guitarist of the band, Julian Taylor, by phone to discuss the status of the band’s new independence.



PopMatters:

Let’s begin by talking about how you feel the new album is different from the debut.



Julian Taylor:

I think that the new record is a more cohesive effort. I think that it’s a faster and harder record. And I think that, generally speaking, because there were four people in the band this time around and there weren’t too many ideas flying all over the place, Jay Bennett was able to orchestrate us in a way where we did the best work we’ve done yet.



PM:

Jay Bennett is a very experimental musician…



JT:

A very experimental guy too, yeah.



PM:

Did you feel that he was what you needed for your next record as a producer?



JT:

Yeah, we are very big fans of Jay and his work. The ideas that he brought to the table were so cool, that it really opened up our minds to all sorts of cool possibilities in our music. I mean, on our first record, we just got up and it was like five to six years of playing those tunes, and this time we had to write all the songs and I had to do all the lyrics and we had to arrange them all, and we did that with Jay. That was just a really good growing process for the band. We were just having a lot of fun when we were doing it.



PM:

How did you meet Jay Bennett?



JT:

[Bennett] was introduced to us by Bob Egan.



PM:

He played banjo on some of the Wilco albums.



JT:

Yeah, and he plays on Being There too. That’s where he surfaced for the time where I saw him at least. Bob introduced us to Jay. We did the Stardust Picnic one year and we were just asking what Jay was up to and he was telling us that Jay had been thinking of leaving Wilco and was looking for other things to do and that he’d probably be into [producing and arranging the record]. So, he gave Jay our number and one day Jay Bennett called our house.



PM:

What were the development stages like for this album?



JT:

It was a very introspective record from my point of view, at least. I was really inside myself at the time. A lot of things happened in my life, that I just felt like I was in a shell for a little while and I just wanted to get a blurb out, you know? That was what it was really about, the process of writing the record. The process of trying to get Bennett up here was cool too. I mean, we talked to a bunch of other producers and when we were first embarking on the record, we were still signed to Warner Music Canada and with Bennett and the band, we talked and it turned out that we were no longer signed, and so he came up anyways and stayed here for 16-18 days and we did it in that time period. But, we were rehearsing these songs for months, and we’d do some unpublicized concert dates and just try to shake them off and then we just started developing that way. And then Bennett came in, he had all sorts of interesting ideas, like his main focus was not to squelch any ideas, even if it’s a bad one, it’s worth exploring for at least a half an hour. And we were totally good with that, because that’s the way we think about our music. We think that it’s pretty open and it’s not really a specific thing, like in a genre. We want to keep making music that we can’t necessarily define. I mean, it’s all rock ‘n’ roll, but if you really want to get picky with it…



PM:

I find that the record is much more distinct and established.



JT:

I do too, it’s almost like there’s more confidence in this record.



PM:

I think it’s much more direct. I think the first record explored a lot of different things.



JT:

Stylistically it was really all over the place, wasn’t it?



PM:

Yeah. It didn’t mean it was a bad record, but I think the first record had the platform to find a voice.



JT:

Right.



PM:

And in the new record, you’re a little bit more certain of what it is or what it can be.



JT:

But it was a record where we all came together and we were all on the same page really.



PM:

Yeah. Have you spent a long time finding a distinct sound or have you wanted to try different things musically or stylistically?



JT:

I always wanted to sound like a band that was able to explore different types of music… So, here we are were playing songs where we wanted to explore a little bit with the melodies and we really wanted to try something that was different from our first record. We didn’t want to do the same thing, because even though we thought that it was a good record and when we listen to it now, it’s really cool, there were times when we thought, “Oh, maybe we shouldn’t have been so sporadic and scattered.”



PM:

What were some of the goals for this album? Did you want to find new listeners, or a new audience? Or were you trying to challenge the listeners you already had?



JT:

I think we were making a record that we wanted to hear. There are some people that were big fans of the first record that don’t necessarily like this one, and that’s totally cool. We were trying to put it out there and make sure that whoever heard it, had an objective opinion about it. With the first one, we were just trying to get the hell out of the studio really and get on the road.



PM:

What about the line-up change with the band? Dave Marshall (guitarist) is back in the group. You told me that he had previously gone to Montreal to go to McGill [University]?



JT:

He did. He got his degree in political science and came back to be in the band. Darrell [O’Dea’] and Bruce [Adamson] left because we all talked about it, it wasn’t really working. It felt like we were in two separate bands. Just being 15 years younger than the two of them had a big part to do with it, because here we are driving around in a van and sleeping on the floors, and the guys don’t want to do that, they’re married. It’s kind of weird, but Dave said the same thing. It’s one thing to be on a bus and be established and going for it as a rock band. I don’t know what it’s like for other artists, I mean for jazz artists it could be completely different, I don’t know.



PM:

Well, was that always an unusual thing to have older people in the band? Was that something that was always difficult?



JT:

At times, but not really, I think you don’t even notice it really, until you get on the road and you have to live together. When we were here in the city [of Toronto] we’d meet at the rehearsals and we’d be playing the gigs here, so problems never came up. We’ve never really driven across the country in a bus; we’ve always been in a 12-seater van. So it’s a very close way to live with people. That’s when it shows up, I’d say.


So, Dave came back and he was our good friend, and he was a founding member of the band, and his sound I think has really helped with this record, because if I can recall our sound before Bruce and Darrell joined, it was a little rustier. And I think we all really liked that, and that’s what worked about the first album. Then we got really, really polished when we went on the label, and when Bruce and Darrell were in the band, it was a totally different band, but all of the same songs. So, that’s kind of neat, when you can change members and change the sound, but not really, you know?



PM:

How would you explain your independent status? Do you feel that you’re starting back on the first level or do you feel that you have a lot more freedom?



JT:

I feel really good about it, because here we are, and we’re in control of what happens now. And that’s a really secure feeling to have, whereas at times, it’s really, really unforeseen out there. It’s like that stupid cliché, “If you want something done, do it yourself”. I think that rings true in this scenario, because we take all the messages and all our calls, and we work on the website and we’re just doing everything. I do radio promo, and Dan does press, Jeremy does production and Dave does finance. It’s kind of neat that we can meet and talk about these sort of things. It really affects our lives, because at one point in time, you feel like saying to people that are on the other hand, and our guys, our managers, or whatever you have, anybody, critics telling you that “This is wrong… or that’s wrong…you have to stop…or you should keep on going” but at the same time you’re never really realizing that’s it’s your life. Maybe there are record people who do that, but it just didn’t happen for us. The one person in our organization who did that was the first person who signed us and he was bought out and so he left the music business.



PM:

What kind of support have you been getting for your independence as a band?



JT:

People are very happy that we haven’t gone anywhere and that we’re back on the scene. I mean generally, I don’t really know what people think about it, but people have said, “Good for you guys!”



PM:

Last year you mentioned going to court to try and get access to some of the music publishing that you lost.



JT:

And we won that.



PM:

You did?



JT:

Yes we did, under The Canadian Bankruptcy Law. We did do that, yeah.



PM:

I believe that was something involving The Song Corporation, whom you were with?



JT:

Yes. What happened was our publisher was bought out by The Song Corporation, and as a result of The Song Corporation spending too much money, they went bankrupt. And our publishing and a whole bunch of other bands’ and artists’ publishing was all wrapped up in that, a few masters, all sorts of crap. It was pretty messy. And so, we went to court.



PM:

In terms of what some critics have been saying, that you should be more ambitious and experimental with the music and lyrics, do you agree with that notion? that you should be a little more experimental, or do you feel that you’re already doing that?



JT:

I feel that we’re doing it, but I also feel that we can be a little more experimental with everything that we’re doing. It’s art, you know? Those kinds of things don’t really bother me, because absolutely I agree with those people, and that’s what I want for myself. Thank you for pointing that out.



PM:

Yeah. I think with some bands they’re so experimental, that’s what you define them as.



JT:

I agree.



PM:

And there are some bands that aren’t being experimental enough or need to be.



JT:

I think the purpose of being an artist is to set goals for yourself and try to achieve them, right? So, as long as people are setting goals that are higher than the plateau that they’re already on, then it’s good, whether it’s an experiment or not. I mean, that’s a positive thing for an artist to do and that’s what an artist strives to do. I’m pretty sure that’s what our band does.



PM:

Do you feel that you have a lot more work on your hands as being your own boss?



JT:

(laughs) Yeah. All day! Just working all day.



PM:

You must find it fairly rewarding.



JT:

I do. It’s very cool, it is a lot of work, but it’s very, very rewarding.



PM:

Do you feel that you gain a lot of respect and down the road you can gain some notoriety?



JT:

Absolutely.



PM:

Because I do think that it is quite admirable. How exactly were you dropped from Warner? Was that something that just happened quickly?



JT:

Well, we believe that it was because we were sent into the studio just before Christmas of 2001 and we recorded 16 songs and sent them into the record company; we recorded them as a three piece-myself, Dan and Jeremy. Dave hadn’t been added to the band yet. And Bruce and Darrell in the end turn had left. We sent those in and our manager got back to us and said, “You know, they really didn’t hear it on the new demos, and they’d like to end this thing as quickly as possible for year-end so that they can write it off.” So, it was pretty quick. I mean it had happened in two weeks and we were like, “Holy smokes! That’s amazing!” and at the same time we were very crushed because of the personal blow. The rejection will do that to you.



PM:

Did you decide right there that you have to continue on independently?



JT:

The odd thing was that, yes, we were very adamant about staying independent, unless something very, very, very good popped up. Unless we got released in another territory, then we’d discuss anything, because we’ve been here for so long. Some of the way the critics regard us has to do with the fact that we’ve saturated a lot of this country; maybe to the point where, yeah, of course people have heard of us and they know what the songs are, some people really like the band, some people don’t like the band and some people don’t like the band at all, and that’s really cool, because we figure that we’ve done a good job of at least getting our music out there. So, we’d probably talk to any other distributor or any other territory just to get the music released and go tour.



PM:

You feel that the time spent with Warner’s was spent productively?



JT:

Absolutely. I think all the time has been productive. Everything had to happen the way it did, because otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are now. If we hadn’t decided to stay on our own, as an independent, we would be wrapped up in a deal with our manager now, who is not our manager anymore. And we didn’t want that, we wanted to get something that was outside of the country. And we figured that Canada knows us well enough that we can work in Canada on our own.

Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
Win a 15-CD Pack of Brazilian Music CDs from Six Degrees Records! in PopMatters Contests on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.