[23 December 2010]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Sitting in a chair on the second floor of the Riviera Theatre, an elegant, old-fashioned building minutes north of Buffalo, New York, Duncan Coutts, bass player for Canadian rock outfit Our Lady Peace, takes a few seconds to gather his thoughts before admitting to something even his band’s biggest fans may not know.
The topic of conversation doesn’t concern a run-of-the-mill matter. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Over 15 years of touring, nine records released (including a best of collection and a live release), and millions of units moved, to many listeners, only one moment in his band’s history overshadows all the others. That moment has nothing to do with arena tours, opening slots for Van Halen, award-winning music videos or how many times an act can go platinum. Nope. Nothing to do with the various charities the members of the band have been involved with, or the time working with one of rock music’s legendary producers, Bob Rock. It has nothing to do with any of that.
This time, the topic at hand is quite possibly the band’s most critically acclaimed effort, Spiritual Machines, and the time that surrounded the making of that record, 10 years ago. The album, the band’s fourth, will forever be linked with Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, a 1999 over-your-head text that tackles the notion of artificial intelligence from most every angle, if for no other reason than the six spoken word tracks that feature the author citing scriptures from his very own literature scattered in between songs. Most die-hard Our Lady Peace fans argue the album’s place not only in the band’s history, but in the history of post-grunge art-rock, citing the record as not only the band’s best to date, but without any doubt the most influential piece of art the quartet has ever undertaken.
And that’s why Coutts is taking his time. He knows what he’s about to say may come as a shock to most and a crime to some.
“Fifty percent of the record was based on the book, and 50 percent was really more human experience than anything,” the goateed bass player says, his long thinning hair spattering back and forth like it can’t decide which part of his head it wants to take up. “It ended up being a concept record, but it certainly didn’t start that way.”
So, how did it start? Until now, it has been widely reported very simply that then guitar player Mike Turner had begun reading Kurzweil’s book, loved it, brought it to the rest of the band, suggested writing a record around it, and before anyone could even utter the word “technology,” the project had been put into motion, destined to bring a wave of intelligence to the oftentimes juvenile world of rock and roll. While somewhat factual, that scenario, according to the band’s lead singer Raine Maida, wasn’t entirely how the legend of Spiritual Machines originated.
“Lyrically, it was what really tied the album together,” Maida says in regards to what significance the book played while figuring out the nucleus of the record. “We all agreed that the book was going to be the centerpiece of the record, and then it all kind of filtered down.”
“Some songs had definitely been written before the book became incorporated,” Coutts points out. “We had ‘Life’ before the book came along. ‘If You Believe.’ I think ‘Are You Sad?’ was one of those as well.”
Both Coutts and drummer Jeremy Taggart were admittedly apprehensive about tying the book into a record the band had already felt was completed. Noticing there was something changing within the intricacies of the group, Taggart now looks back on how the book became “frosting” on an already-finished project.
“The book came around the last two weeks, and definitely affected the lyrics,” Taggart says. “But with the songs, (the book) added a nice frosting to that record. The record was pretty much as it was. In the big picture, that record was still songs. For people to think that without the book it doesn’t make any sense, that’s crazy. If the book didn’t come in the last month, the record would have been very similar (to Happiness Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch, the band’s third release), but with a completely different idea. But it really conceptualized the mindset. It’s funny how people market a record, you know, with the book, but (in the end) the songs are really the songs.
“It was toward the end of the record, and I knew that it was going to really change the face of what we had,” Taggart continues. “Before the book, it was like we had all these songs and it was a record. Then, we add the book, and then it was like the record became the book.”
When asked about his initial resistance, the drummer quickly acknowledges the depth of the literature and the detachment he felt incorporating The Age of Spiritual Machines might create with the band’s fans. Half-jokingly, Taggart, the youngest member of the band, explains how difficult it was to fully grasp the meaning behind Kurzweil’s book, and the complicated nature of the arguments the author presented.
“I was like, ‘You guys read this book, right?’” Taggart says in a youthful manner, his face opening up as he begins to run his hands through his curly hair now pulled back into a ponytail. “It’s not exactly The Far Side. I remember saying that people were going to look at it, throw it on the ground, and go, what the hell is going on here, because it was like physics. That’s why I was slightly apprehensive. We liked the idea, but to me, it’s still a book about how this guy wants to live forever.”
All things considered, Taggart’s trepidation was the least of the band’s concerns.
As the beginning of Spiritual Machines came closer and the nucleus of songs that would later be cut for the album began originating, the band was feeling uneasy about where it was going. Utilizing touring member Jamie Edwards to the fullest, the band had seemingly expanded to a five-member act by default. Three full-length releases into their career and some members in Our Lady Peace felt as though the band was hitting a wall. Going into the studio to begin the recording process, there were many unsettling feelings circling within the group.
“We were figuring out that it was kind of the beginning of the end for Mike only because we were definitely going on divergent paths with what we expected from a guitar player and what Mike was bringing,” Maida explains. “Jamie was kind of filling in the blanks.”
Coutts credits the band getting through those sessions leading up to the Spiritual Machines album to the versatility of Edwards. Without the pseudo fifth member, the bass player points out, the band’s fourth album may have never been possible.
“It was a different time for us,” Coutts says about the days before going to record the album. “Jamie Edwards is a phenomenal musician. He was around during the recording of Clumsy, but he was around and definitely very active in the recording of Spiritual Machines. That was different. The songwriting process, I think, was a little more isolated, too.”
Taggart, on the other hand, opines a different tone toward those last few days before beginning the album-making process.
“People don’t realize that at that point, Jamie Edwards was a big part of this band,” Taggart recounts. “He’s an amazing guitar player, and he played on the record. People don’t know that he had a lot to do with that stuff. He was very influential. We had him in all our writing sessions. It was a very creative time that was cool because we were all in a room, kind of working together.”
After his dark eyes look away quickly to the right and back to left like ping pong balls, Taggart continues with a sense of levity so sincere, it becomes palpable.
“That record, for sure, was kind of hard to make,” he says, the volume of his now-monotone voice decreasing. “It was the hardest record in terms of with us and Arnold (Lanni, the band’s producer for the first four albums). They (Edwards and Lanni) were all kind of going their separate ways, and that was kind of the beginning of us having a situation between us and Mike. When that started – and I don’t even know when or how early it started, but definitely by the time of Spiritual Machines – the gap was clear. So it wasn’t the most fun making that record, but we got what we got.”
Quite possibly the most remarkable thing about the making of Spiritual Machines is the fact that the album was actually completed. During the recording process, two band members suffered near-death experiences, further dramatizing the story behind what would arguably become the most defining album of Our Lady Peace’s career. Both instances were admittedly frightening, and both put the future of the group in doubt.
It began with Taggart. During the album’s sessions, the drummer was walking his dog in Toronto when he was mugged, reportedly leaving him with injuries to his ankle, knee and hand.
“I got mugged and I couldn’t do the tracks,” Taggart now says in a quieter tone when asked about the recording sessions for Spiritual Machines. “I called a friend of mine, John Richardson, who was playing in a band called Change of Heart at the time, and I asked him about Matt Cameron because Pearl Jam was on tour at the time, and I just realized that Matt was coming through, so I asked John to help me out.”
Having already written the drum parts for the two songs left in question—“Right Behind You (Mafia)” and “Are You Sad?”—Taggart points out the difference between the two percussionists on record when listening back.
“I called Matt and said ‘Hey, man. If you’re around, what are you doing this afternoon and Thursday?’” the drummer recalls. “He came over, did both of those songs in three hours, and it was great to have him play. The way our songs are, especially for the drums, I know I like things lining up with the vocal. When the parts are lined up with the vocal, it’s kind of impossible not to play that. Matt’s obviously a great drummer, so I think the other guys didn’t have a problem. Matt really put his stamp on those songs. It sounds like him. He added his flavor for sure. To me, it sounds like Matt 100 percent.
“It was great to have him play because with having Elvin Jones play on the record before [1999’s Happiness …Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch], it was kind of cool to start having a collection of really cool drummers on your body of work,” Taggart says. “In the ‘60s, that’s kind of the way it was. Drummers would just go on to other dude’s records, and it was fine.”
The second hurdle the group had to clear came when Coutts was dealt a serious health scare. During the latter stages of the Spiritual Machines process, doctors found a tumor in Coutts’ pancreas. Knowing that news of that magnitude usually means the worst, the bass player dropped off most of the initial touring schedule backing the album. “Tumors of the pancreas are usually 90 percent bad news, and results are never good,” Maida told Launch in 2001.
Looking back now, Coutts recalls the early stages of his illness while being in the studio during the recording process.
“I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it was during the recording of that record (that he became ill),” Coutts remembers. “I had to excuse myself for hours and lie on the couch for hours at a time because I just couldn’t move. We ended up shooting the video for ‘Life’ and ‘Mafia’ on the same night, and I had surgery the next morning at 6 a.m. So that was interesting.”
Fortunately for Coutts, the band, and the record, the Toronto resident’s surgery was deemed a success, and he was able to return to Our Lady Peace with his health intact. As a result of overcoming the near-cancer scare, Coutts believes the recording process surrounding Spiritual Machines may have been the time he has seen his band grow the most.
“I look back at it differently because of the growth of the band,” he says after a long pause when asked about his memories of the recording process. “That was the first time Raine had a co-production credit. I don’t know if the songwriting process was harder, but it was different. Raine was bringing in more complete ideas at that point.”
And chances are most of those ideas weren’t inspired by anything other than the life experiences Maida had called upon when writing lyrics to the record. When asked about a quote he gave when the album initially hit record stores—“I believe in a lot of what the book said, but I wanted to fight it because I felt there was a soul and a spirit to the human kind”—the lead singer responds with enough palpable enthusiasm to make you believe in his sincerity.
“I do (still think that),” he says even before the quote and subsequent question is fully recited. “It’s became more evident to me that I was on the right path because it just feels we were able to take that book and pull the humanness of it. For us, being a rock band, I’m just glad that we were able to tap into that part of the book. It would have been very pretentious to try and deal with what (Kurzweil) is talking about because it really goes over our head. It’s elevated material.
“There are ways to justify ‘Are You Sad?’ That’s an emotional experience. If you take it as far as Ray is taking it, with what he sees us turning into, we won’t be able to have that kind of experience. It’s kind of like taking breaks from what he’s talking about. It’s finding that middle ground and saying ‘Yeah, it’s great that we can have hip replacements, and who know how much further it will go, but beyond that, it gets a little scary.’”
Those lyrics and that emotional connection couldn’t be any further away from the approach Taggart takes to analyzing the recording process of Spiritual Machines. The drummer is reminded of the difference in sessions between his band’s fourth album and its debut, 1994’s Naveed. The entire first-album experience, he says, was something he’d rather forget.
“Naveed was really not the way it’s supposed to be done,” Taggart says, adding that he was a mere 18-years-old when the album was recorded. “Naveed was too hard, and I was being pushed too far. I had just turned 18, and it was a very clinical environment for me to make a record. When you’re playing 14 hours a day, the same song for three days, you’re not going to get it. I know that for a fact.”
By the time Our Lady Peace’s fourth album came around, the drummer points out that the amount of comfort he had in recording had increased tremendously. In fact, upon reminiscing on the Spiritual sessions, Taggart’s take concentrates more on the band’s maturity level than anything else, citing change as an important facet to any successful musician’s career.
“Everybody was maturing,” he says. “Duncan was maturing. Raine was maturing. All the musicians that I loved, they kept changing. I started listening to guys like Levon Helm and Zigaboo Modeliste from The Meters—the kind of guys who weren’t fill-type drummers, but were feel guys. I wanted to get closer to those kind of guys [with this album]. When I played a groove, I wanted it to feel like me.”
Taggart certainly put his stamp on songs throughout the album, the most evident of which came in the form in “In Repair,” a track featuring a polyrhythmic ghost note pattern on his snare drum that was done completely live, with no delay effect. And while listening to the song may suggest otherwise, the beat maker insists that the recording features only a kick drum, snare drum and hi-hats.
Because the song was called “In Repair,” Taggart explains that he wanted to make a beat that felt as though it was never going to get into a groove so it would fit the title. The bells, chimes and other percussive instruments you hear on the take are all prominent fixtures that Taggart acknowledges the band has been guilty of over-using at times.
“We’ve always been crazy about adding interesting sounds, and not ridiculous sounds. It’s just live percussion stuff,” the drummer says in a clinic-like tone. “It’s just us in there banging on everything from pots and pans to trash metal. Sometimes, we go way over. For instance, on Clumsy, there’s way too much of that stuff, if you ask me.”
Regardless of the added instruments, Taggart is happy with what the end result became. He notes that, in spite of being mugged during the recording sessions, he’s proud his band was able to persevere through the hard times and come away the type of album that came as a result.
“There’s a lot of really good stuff in there,” he says in a sober tone of reflection. “A lot of those songs are fun to play. Although there seems like a lot is going on, there are a lot of really similar kinds of feels that happen on Spiritual Machines. There are only three different feels, with the exception of ‘Wonderful Future,’ that are pretty continuous, and the bridges and the shots are kind of familiar. Once you dig into it, it kind of gets the same thing, and it’s easier to get into.”
Maida echoes Taggart’s words of praise, adding that the popularity of the record is a bit of a surprise when looking back on the release of it.
“I like every song,” the singer says, as he brings a plastic cup of ice to his mouth. “‘All My Friends’ is pretty heavy. ‘If You Believe’ is amazing, and we lost ‘Life’ for a while, but now it’s a pretty powerful song to me. I like the whole concept of it and that it actually worked. The songs are very joined, and I think those types of records just work better. I don’t know if we appreciated it at the time, but now, when we play it back, it’s amazing, and I’m very proud of it.”
Coutts agrees with Maida, pointing out that though the band was going through an incredible amount of obstacles, highlighting quite possibly their most tumultuous era ever, he can now accept the album for what it is.
“Spiritual Machines definitely works as a whole piece,” he says before taking some time to collect his thoughts. “But I’d be hesitant to say it 100 percent is my favorite record because there are so many other great things about our other records. Spiritual definitely has a through-line thematically with the Ray Kurzweil audio clips.”
Then, as though looking back on the time surrounding his band’s most influential release brings back moments of question, fear, insecurity and reluctance, and after taking another, even longer break in between words, he picks his head up from looking away, subtly shakes the thinning blond hair that lies on his head lazily away from his eyes, and continues.
“I’ve been in this band for 15 years now,” he says sternly. “And until now, we’ve never let ourselves look back at something. We’ve never wanted to make Spiritual part two, or Clumsy part two. There were some great moments on that record. And despite all the setbacks or obstacles, there are some really wonderful moments. It’s weird to look back, but it’s certainly up there. Spiritual Machines is a pretty complete work.”
Though it may indeed have been a complete work and though there is clearly a faction of the group’s fans that believe it’s the band’s best, that wasn’t enough to impact record sales. In addition to it being the album that debuted the lowest the band had ever seen on Billboard’s charts, Spiritual Machines also sold the least amount of copies in both Canada and the United States in the group’s history to that point, gaining Platinum status only twice in Canada while not even breaking the Gold barrier in America.
As if that wasn’t enough, the album was the band’s first to not provide a song that appeared in the singles charts north of the border, while featuring only one that cracked America’s charts when “Life” found its way to the Alt Rock list, peaking at No. 27. These numbers are particularly important because of the success the band was enjoying prior to the release of Spiritual Machines. Both 1999’s Happiness…Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch and 1997’s Clumsy eventually wound up as the No. 1 record in Canada, with Happiness topping out at No. 69 in the U.S. and Clumsy peaking at No. 76 in America.
That said, the release was not always deemed a failure by music critics at the time. In March of 2001, Eden Miller of PopMatters wrote that “The spoken word excerpts from author/inventor Ray Kurzweil give Spiritual Machines an air of arrogance, as if Our Lady Peace wants everyone to know just how significant this recording is. All of this would be irritating if Our Lady Peace didn’t manage to be so good,” adding that the album’s lyrics are “still custom made for mainstream modern rock listeners,” and “even in their weaker moments, they’re pushing themselves farther than most.” Mackenzie Wilson of the All Music Guide noted that with Spiritual Machines, the group proved it “can still deliver pinch-hitting licks and the brash attitude they did when they first formed in 1993, but they are a little older and a little wiser,” going on to call the effort “a bold move.”
A bold move, indeed. So bold, in fact, that as a result of all the work put into the release, it left the band at a crossroads with its guitarist, its future, its sound, and its fans. Now, with the damage done, and the dust settled after what would prove to be one of the most difficult times the group would ever see, one would have to ask if such a bold move was worth it. And unfortunately for the four members of Our Lady Peace, the answer to that question would only be found in due time.
The impact the release of Spiritual Machines had on the legacy of Our Lady Peace is simply immeasurable. Not only was it the final album to feature art model Saul Fox on the cover, but it marked the end of Turner’s tenure in the group. The release, in and of itself, has proven to be at the epicenter of the sentiment amongst uber-fans that splits the faction into two groups: The fans who liked the band before Spiritual Machines, and the fans who liked the band after Gravity, Our Lady Peace’s 2002 follow-up to Spiritual Machines.
Perhaps complicating things even more is the reality that Gravity produced quite possibly the band’s most popular hit, “Somewhere Out There.” A ballad-like seemingly sentimental song, the track broke the band in America once again, allowing the group to play to crowds they were more accustomed to seeing north of the United States. “Innocent,” the single succeeding “Somewhere Out There,” did unexpectedly well on the Modern Rock charts as well, later being covered by eventual American Idol winner David Cook during a season of the popular television show.
One group of fans scoffed at the harder, heavier sound of Gravity, dismissing the record as a sell-out tactic, especially considering the success and softness of its lead single. At a time when watered-down, copy cat acts such as Three Doors Down and Nickelback were burning up the charts, long-standing OLP fans were convinced the band was doing its best to cash in on what had become the new modern rock standard: Crunchy, layered guitars; warm, sparkly production; and simplistic, uninteresting chord progressions. A clear and sudden change from the experimental, art-rock vibe of Spiritual Machines, Gravity not only disappointed a section of Our Lady Peace’s fans, but it drove them away from the group altogether, disappointed and unhappy.
The change in sound was a conscious decision made by the band, heavily influenced by super producer Bob Rock, who lent a hand in the Gravity sessions. Maida remembers the sessions for Gravity and the idea behind the follow-up to what some consider his band’s best effort.
“We were definitely going on divergent paths with what we expected and what Mike was bringing,” Maida says about initially going in to the studio to record Gravity. “And everything was a little distorted that way. That really came to ahead when went to Maui to record the next record with Bob. In the middle of that record, we sat down and said, ‘You know what—we are starting to rehash a lot of the same ideas that we’ve done in the past, and that’s usually a signal to move on.’ So even though I think the record [Spiritual Machines] is really great and experimental, I think creatively, we were starting to hit that wall in the format that we were working with.
“We needed to make a change emotionally, with where we were at,” Maida continues. “Steve was one of them, and Bob was another. None of us were huge Metallica fans, but we liked Bob. We met with a bunch of producers and liked Bob. We flew to Maui and spent three or four days with Bob and had a great time. It was a very natural, organic experience with him and we thought, ‘Let’s try this with him.’ We definitely went with him and went down his road, and his road is definitely a little bit tougher and more polished. His thing is the big guitar sound. The whole point in making the change was to have someone who was going to essentially take this band to a higher level.”
Insert Steve Mazur, the band’s current guitar player who joined Our Lady Peace during the Gravity sessions, replacing Turner. Coming into the group, the Detroit native admits that he didn’t want to emulate Turner’s playing exactly. He knew he was brought in to put his stamp on the group, and he was more than willing to take the task head on, even if that meant a change in direction for the group was imperative.
But even though he acknowledges that change is more visible in the gap between Spiritual Machines and Gravity, the guitarist is quick to point out that Rock had more to do with the heavier sound than anyone else.
“Honestly, I met up with these guys when the Gravity record was at least three quarters done,” Mazur says when reflecting on the time he came into the band. “That’s when I met these guys. I played on a few songs on that record, and I’d say that’s the biggest shift style wise—from Spiritual Machines to Gravity. But how much I had to do with that change wasn’t a ton. That huge shift was more of what came from these guys working with Bob.”
As it turned out, that change wasn’t all the band hoped it would be. After the release of Gravity, Our Lady Peace turned back to Rock for help on Healthy in Paranoid Times, Our Lady Peace’s sixth record, and, without any doubt, the group’s most tumultuous. Showing resistance toward the heavier sound that the super producer added to Gravity, Maida now explains the conflict that occurred between the band and the producer as something that nearly tore the band to pieces. And if you don’t believe him, the rest of the band is quick to back that up.
“There wasn’t any intentional conflict,” Coutts now says when asked about the Healthy in Paranoid Times sessions. “It was just that at some point, I think we got lost. We were all in slightly unfamiliar territory.”
“Everybody was getting blamed for everything,” Taggart recalls. “It’s like if a fire starts and everybody had matches. Everybody knows they had a part in it. Now, let’s just forget about it and move on. It wasn’t that everyone wasn’t doing their job—it was just that the focus was off.”
“There were a lot of different things going on,” Mazur points out. “Everybody made that record possible, but everybody created problems in that record. It was no one person. It was just a hard time. You don’t ever want to make the same record over and over again, but we learned from it. There were still great moments on Healthy in Paranoid Times. Bob helped me as much as he may have frustrated me. That’s what a good producer does, though.”
Persevering through those sessions a mere five years after having to endure the troubles the Spiritual Machines sessions brought about only made the band stronger. Now, with the band’s latest release, Burn Burn, behind them, the sentiment throughout the group is much lighter than ever before. Each member agrees that getting back in the studio is something they can’t wait to do, and even though Madia plans a solo release sometime later this year, the singer also adds that a new Our Lady Peace album should be written and recorded by the end of this year as well.
According to Taggart, a big reason for the turnaround is the group’s departure from major labels. Last year’s Burn Burn was released on Coalition Entertainment, a management company that helps bands release their material independently. The band’s shortest album [it clocks in around 38 minutes], Burn Burn is what Mazur calls his first true “stamp on the band,” and showcases the group in a much more organized state, a state that Taggart claims is indicative of where the band as a whole is these days.
“We like the way we do business now,” Taggart explains when asked about the future of the band. “The same idea goes for making our last record and the way we are going to do our next one. We inspire each other by writing riffs and songs. It’s like we’ve never been this happy. We look a year in advance and think, ‘OK, we are going to do this,’ and have an actual cycle while knowing we have fans and can play these venues. It’s just very organized and there’s just no reason why we can’t keep making music forever this way because everybody’s enjoying it still. The only reason we wouldn’t keep making music together would be if we don’t get along anymore, and we’ve always respected each other and done this because we like playing music with each other. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything else.”
“It sounds kind of cliché, but it’s been like a rebirth for us,” Maida says about where the band is at currently. “We’ve already worked on stuff and we have total freedom to do what we want. It’s really great.”
“All of us on our own examined what made Healthy in Paranoid Times difficult, and the way we made Burn Burn,” Mazur adds. “The way we made Healthy In Paranoid Times wasn’t a bad way. The way we made Burn Burn, it was a different way – we had a great and inspiring time with the writing and recording of Burn Burn. We want to make the next record the same way.”
And speaking of that new record, would it be possible for the band to ever try and delve back into the world of concept albums to try and tackle yet another piece of high-brow literature? Well, that depends on who you ask, really.
“To make an album like Spiritual Machines in 2010 might be a bit of a death sentence,” Mazur says. “But it would be great to take a stab at another thing like that. It’s hard enough to get the idea across to kids these days to buy a whole record. Who knows, though? Maybe the album thing will come back and be supported a little more.”
“Right now, it’s kind of a scary time for records. A lot of bands aren’t making them right now,” Taggart quips. “It’s hard to get kids to listen to 11 songs in a row without losing their minds. There’s an identity crisis now with bands. They’re going by the iPod so fast. To think that you’re going to stick around for more than three songs is insane. Even the Beatles get rushed by.
“But there’s no reason why a concept idea can’t come across,” the drummer asserts. “Weather it be short or whatever, I think, hopefully the album comes back at some point because with performance, people come in and they don’t want to leave after five minutes. People are still enjoying an hour or two of music. So I think it will probably come back in some way because people who watch movies, their attention span isn’t that cracked. But right now, the way you get music, and you hear it, it’s almost impossible to think that people will get it. They don’t market albums anymore. It’s just like, iTunes, good luck. I kind of like the idea of a concept EP. Instead of a double album, have it be like five songs. I mean, why not?”
Madia, on the other hand, doesn’t see the future as being as bleak as Mazur and Taggart.
“I totally disagree with that,” he says when told about how impossible his band’s drummer and guitarist believe it would be to make an album like Spiritual Machines in today’s fickle music world. “I think that’s what makes it more inviting to do something like that. Because if your record is just a collection of songs, it’s really easy just to pick and pull what you want. If you view a record more as a conceptual piece, and that it should be heard as one, then, you know, for a casual music listener, that’s when you might get that chance to sit down for 45 minutes and listen to the whole piece. I think that’s maybe some of the inventiveness that’s been lost in music within the last little while. And it’s helped turn the music business into just a singles business.”
“(You can do it) If your idea is strong enough,” Coutts adds. “If some of your songs are individually strong enough and can stand outside the concept record. I mean, you can listen to something like The Wall as a concept record or not.”
Regardless of whether Our Lady Peace decides to make another concept album sometime in the future or not, one thing still remains certain about the time they already did: It changed the face of the band forever. And whether you fall into the category of fans who loved the band before and during the Spiritual Machines era, or the category of fans who merely found them as a result of the success of “Somewhere Out There” and Gravity, you can’t deny that Spiritual Machines marks the biggest turning point in one of Canada’s biggest rock bands of the last two decades.
Though to look forward, one must always look back. And looking back for each member who was involved in the Spiritual Machines sessions means something different for everyone involved.
“It’s eye opening,” Maida says about listening back to the record as a whole. “Some of the vocals I did, it seems like I never stop singing. I like the whole concept of it all and that it actually worked. I know we didn’t appreciate it at the time, but now, playing it back in full, it’s amazing and I’m very proud of it.”
“We couldn’t play any of it now if we didn’t have Steve,” Coutts notes. “Spiritual Machines was made with five members and it was played with five members. Without Steve, we’d have to add an extra guy.”
The importance of Mazur, Coutts adds, doesn’t diminish the importance of Turner and his influence on the album.
“I don’t wish Mike any ill-will at all,” the bass player says with a tone of sincerity that is tempered with a bit of defensiveness. “I wish the best for him, and I hope he’s happy. But I’m glad about where we are today.”
Even Mazur, who wasn’t associated with the band until after Spiritual Machines was written, recorded and toured, has been able to notice the importance and significance the record has within the band’s cult of fans.
“It’s interesting with Clumsy and Spiritual Machines because the audience is split in two,” he explains. “With Clumsy, there are a lot of people who grew up on that record. And whenever we play songs from Spiritual Machines, those nights have a lot of diehard OLP fans. Like that‘s their record.”
All of that said, it may be Taggart who sums up the band’s landmark album the best.
“We’re playing better as a band obviously than 12 years ago,” he begins with a bit of apprehension. “It’s light years in terms of communication and how to explain dynamics without having to fight for your space on stage. All of those things are just the most important things about performance and being a performing artist. Spiritual Machines is nostalgic.”
Then, with a smile beaming off his skinny, weathered face, he adds one more line as though he is finally struck by the gravity of how important Spiritual Machines is to the legacy of his band. And it’s a line that couldn’t have summed up the entire process any better, a line with only a miniscule amount of words. A line as poignant as ever.
“It’s our underdog,” he says smiling. “That’s our underdog, for sure.”