Virgin Festival Ontario 2009: Interview – Our Lady Peace

The biggest Canadian music festival wouldn’t be itself without one of the nation’s most dynamic bands. With the release of a new record, bassist Duncan Coutts explained how the creative process worked for Our Lady Peace this time around and what plans they have for the future.

Our Lady Peace

So, you’re from Toronto, right? This must have been pretty easy for you, just rolling out of bed and coming down to the festival.

Actually we were supposed to be in Syracuse last night so it was supposed to be less easy today, so yes it was easy for us.

What is the festival experience like for your band? Is it an amazing day where you get to meet and share the stage with people you normally wouldn’t, or is it a trying day where you’re pulling teeth with the audience to get them to listen?

It depends on the festival. It depends on the audience and it depends on the day. We did a festival a number of years ago called Summersault where we toured all across the country and we really got to know each other – like The Smashing Pumpkins the Foo Fighters and us. The Deftones were on one show, I wish they were on more. So when you’re travelling you get to know each other but on the one off days, it’s hard to meet the bands. But if you’re lucky you might get to bump into each other and as music fans it’s sort of a selfish day.

Whatever show, whether we’re opening or its our own show if we don’t musically turn each other on the crowd is not going to get it. The ultimate goal when you’re a performer on stage is to break down the wall between the audience and a band that sometimes exists. If you can do that it becomes more about everyone sharing a musical experience and that can’t happen unless you’re looking to turn each other on as a starting point. That’s how you gauge it.

What is your goal as a live band now? Is it to cater to your long standing fan base, or try and reel in a new crowd?

I think both. I think you can’t ignore your past but we don’t just want to remake the past. If you turn on new people that’s amazing thing. Hopefully enough people tune in so that you can keep making records and do this for the foreseeable future. There are some songs that we probably won’t play again because they don’t mean as much to us now as they did then but there are some we will never stop playing and I think should always be part of a set.
I’ve always thought it was interesting as an artist to have the courage to go back and visit your older work. I look at older work I’ve done and I don’t identify with it anymore. How is that experience for your band?

As a songwriter, especially with Raine as a lyricist, he doesn’t connect with those songs anymore and it’s really hard to go back and visit them. But whether you’re a writer, musician or painter – hopefully it comes from the soul. And you grow and you change and life effects you and you’re different. And you’re going to make different music. Hopefully we get to stay on this journey.
The new record, Burn Burn, is out now and it’s been four years since the last record. What has the band been doing in that down time?

The last record, Healthy in Paranoid Times, was difficult to make. For the first time ever, there was way too much record label involvement. We were signed through Canada, but America was calling all the shots. And they were going through a lot of change as the whole industry was and is and will continue to do so. We were not in a great head space as a band so after that was done, we just needed to get away from each other. And I don’t want to discredit that record – there are moments on that record that are amazing and will be special to all of us – but taken as a whole we had to make a lot of compromises to finish that record.

We basically needed a year away from each other to say ‘we’ll get back to it’. We didn’t leave hating each other. Just when something becomes a draining experience you have to go back and recharge and find again a sense of inspiration. So Raine was writing and producing, and I was writing and producing in town here with younger artists and Steve was writing for TV shows and movies. Jeremey was actually practicing comedy and was also helping out mentoring some bands. I think we all went away and got really energized about music in general. When we first got back together we started writing this record differently than we had any other.

We started out with Steve having little ideas and I had little ideas and he and I got together and showed each other our bits. Then Jeremey would come in and we’d work on those ideas – anywhere from two to 12. Then we’d go to Raine’s house and have a starting point from which to write. It just became a really organic way to make a record. There are some songs that came more from a seed that Raine made and that’s traditionally how we have written, but it was a really collaborative effort and a really easy record to make.

The problem was we didn’t have a label so we were indie for the first time. We wanted to self-produce and the only time you can gain perspective is if you have time away. So it took two and a half years to make the record but I think we only recorded for seven weeks. We’d do two songs or five songs, then we’d go away and Raine suggested not to take any music with us so when we did get back together, we’d listen to what we had done with totally fresh ears.

The danger is sometimes you record and you’re on such an emotional high thinking ‘this is the best thing I’ve ever done!’ but sometimes, it just sucks. So we’d record a few ideas, take three months or six months off and come back and do it again. It was a really cool way to make a record. Were we away too long? Yeah, probably, but it’s what we needed to do.
So was recording the new album a more natural process?

There was a freedom to the way we make a record and we wanted to capture what we did live. In the past we’d try to dress stuff up, and the danger of that is you don’t get done to the core of the song. Good bass, good guitar, good vocal – if you need a bit of piano to flush it out or a different instrument – we’ll visit that when we need to.

Would you say that you’re revisiting the sound of your older records like Naveed?

Sonically, I don’t think it sounds anything like Naveed or Clumsy, but the attitude and the energy in which those and the new record was made are similar. Those records were made by really young guys with no idea about the studio, just excited to be there and now again, it was like being kids in a candy store. Raine had an engineer that helped us out, but I know how to do things and Steve does, so we just recorded each other.
I was going to say, it seems like you’re really excited to be back doing this again.

It feels like a band of brothers, we’re back on stage as a four piece. We were touring with a fifth member to flush it out, but now we’re back to what we were. We haven’t been a four piece since the Clumsy days and it’s cool. It’s a liberating place to be. I’ve actually had to get a few more bass pedals to get the bass to not sound like a bass in some sections!
With the way the industry is changing the way it markets music, how will OLP distribute its music in the future?

We’re gonna have to be flexible. You have to get that cumbersome weight off your back of the traditional record company. It’s an interesting time. Do I like the fact that people don’t pay money for music? Well, it’s hurting the business. Some of those new bands I’m trying to break, people want to hear a definite radio hit right now or they’re not gonna put money on it. The danger is there needs to be a philosophical shift. Maybe that’s not twelve bucks a CD, or maybe it’s a few dollars. I don’t know what it is, but there needs to be that shift of thought that music needs to be paid for and protected or people are going to have to make music between flipping burgers or being a lawyer or whatever it is you do.

But we have to roll with the new models and hopefully we’ll be on the forefront of it. Nine Inch Nails is on that forefront, but they’re in an enviable position. So is Radiohead. Their fan base is so huge now. They couldn’t have done that with Pablo Honey.
What can we expect in the immediate future with Burn Burn?

Hopefully touring enough and we’re all proud enough of the record that we want people to hear it. Sometimes it doesn’t get heard. We were somewhere in America – Atlanta they said, “Didn’t even know you were in town or had a record, we just stumbled across it.” So we’re just trying to get the word out so that people come out and see the show because it’s never been better. We want to get back and record another record, well, hopefully before another four years.
How soon?

There are lots of viable ideas that we’d like to go back and finish and lots of little gems that will hopefully see the light of day.

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