Lately, it seems that to be somebody, someone should make a documentary about your band. Sure, there's inherent enlightenment to be found in relic-hunting docs featuring could've-been acts (Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Searching for Sugar Man), but when it comes to bands in more recent memory, or who are still fully active, it's not always compelling.
Two years ago, audiences saw the release of just such a film about Toronto's Meligrove Band. Ages and Stages tracked the ups and downs of the group's 15-plus-year career, from high school beginnings in Mississauga to a major label deal gone bust to a recent tour plagued by engine trouble. While it was generally well received, and possibly helped drum up some new interest in a band just under the radar since their 2006 breakthrough, Planets Conspire, there's actually more — and less — to the story.
"It was kind of a surreal experience," bassist Mike Small tells Exclaim! of seeing the film. "I didn't even feel like I was watching myself."
Part of that surrealism seems to come from the focus on the band itself. As Small admits, "I feel like we have such an unremarkable common band arc, that it's a little weird now to make a movie about it.
"I think there's this attractive narrative about us that's false: that we were a wrong place at the wrong time, bad-luck band kind of thing. A lot of bands had their bus break down, a lot of bands lost money, a lot of bands signed to a label that went out of business. It happens all the time. I think we had a lot of good luck and opportunity."
After all, the Meligrove Band's musical output has continued on an impressive trajectory: their fifth album, the newly released Bones of Things, finds the group working within a well-defined aesthetic that's evolved far beyond their initial '60s-influenced power pop. Over the course of 10 hook-filled tracks, the quartet mine an eccentric mix of sonic cues (from the Strokes to the Flaming Lips to Man Man) and condenses it all into exquisitely crafted songs that exist outside of any particular scene or genre.
While it's been four years since their previous album, the time lapse has less to do with any sort of external circumstances than simply a result of the members' enduring relationship. "We just work at music at our own pace," says Small. "Between every record that's made, we talk about [whether] we should break up this band. And then we keep hanging out, and then naturally we start making more music."
That casualness extends to their plans for supporting Bones of Things. They had to schedule a record release show a couple of weeks before the album came out, to ensure that guitarist Jay Nunes didn't have to rush to a maternity ward (when we talked, Small said Nunes' baby was due "any day now"). And rather than wade into the sometimes frustrating world of big label distribution, they've turned to longtime manager Eric Warner's We Are Busy Bodies imprint to handle the release.
So while Small jokes that the "local band makes nice music" angle might not be the biggest headline grabber, the lack of drama seems to be the key to the band's continuing creativity. "People ask: what's the secret? How do you stay together so long?" he says. "Why would I stop doing the thing that I love because I'm not a millionaire from it? I'm not going to tell you to stop playing tennis or whatever it is you like to do."