Canada's Indie Rock Foundation
Published May 29, 2011Our national music scene has enjoyed international superstar status for more than a decade, but Have Not Been the Same ― originally published in 2001 and recently reissued after years out of print ― describes the groundwork that made Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and so many others possible. Subtitled The CanRock Rensaissance 1985-1995, authors Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack and Jason Schneider (all one-time or current Exclaim! contributors) lay out the historic foundations that supported our not-at-all-sudden rise. Whether it's the Tragically Hip, Sloan, Sarah McLachlan or the Rheostatics, the struggles of indie artists to throw off the shackles of CanCon-imposed '80s crap and shed debates about a "Canadian sound" are thoughtfully chronicled in his crucial context provider. From pioneering labels (Murderecords, PF, Mint) to inspirational bands (the Nils, the Smugglers, Cub), Have Not Been the Same is even more crucial now in understanding where indie-minded Canadian musicians came from.
When you/the publisher decided to reissue it, did you consider publishing it as it was, without revisions?
Michael Barclay: Not really. Along with the stuff that's naturally going to embarrass you ten years later as a more mature writer and editor, some contexts had changed. For example, no one thinks punk rockers playing country music is novel anymore. No one expects their big break to come from MuchMusic. Some people had died, some bands had broken up, some had split up acrimoniously and kissed and made up ― that stuff certainly had to be included. I was hoping to land some big interviews that eluded us last time, but that didn't end up happening. I was also happy to discover how proud I was of 80 percent of the original book.
Ian Jack: Personally I struggled with wanting major updates. My vision was to update the major acts to include a lot more of the recent decade. That's my geek side. I'm a completist. I love the whole story. Michael and Jason always cited [Michael Azzerad's 1980s American underground chronicle] Our Band Could Be Your Life as a point of understanding that we didn't necessarily have to take that approach because most of the stories are the same. If you look at Sloan, Blue Rodeo or the Hip ― all three bands have the same trajectory. They produced consistent material, but there isn't the same level of drama or impact of their first decade or so. We all wanted to cut things from chapters or reword things, and I wanted to add more in the Montreal chapter about the Nils. The Alex Soria story was one we all felt was important to tell in detail because we love his music, and it's truly one of the most fascinating and tragic accounts in the entire book.
What were the rules on the revisions? Were you tempted to change opinions or recontextualize any of it?
Jack: There was the crippling rule of the one:one revision to cuts ratio. We did some recontextualizing in terms of finding stronger quotations for certain parts or having another voice. In terms of the Nettwerk chapter, we were unable to secure a Daryl Neudorf interview in the original publication. His presence in the 2011 edition brings a louder voice from his point of view. The same goes for the Nils section in Montreal. Some bands were cut down because they didn't really add to the narrative. The Watchmen have already voiced their dismay that most of their story was cut from the Hip chapter. The rationale was that it had more to do with the Hip's management company [Management Trust] and took away from the narrative of the Tragically Hip.
Personally, I had a lot of trouble getting my head in gear to revisit this project because I haven't thought about in years. I also hadn't written anything, except songs, school newsletters and report cards since 2001. So it was a challenge for me to really get on board with Jason and Michael. I didn't really understand the main focus of the revision until a few weeks of restarting the project. Then I felt the current of the project, and things started to move again. I think we all had our own personal reasons for writing the project in the first place. That didn't change with the revision.
Barclay: Some of my opinions have certainly changed over the last ten years, but that's more stuff about the industry and Canadian culture than my opinion of the artists in the book. Some stuff most certainly was recontextualized. It's amazing how archaic a lot of the events in this book will sound to a generation who's only ever discovered music through the internet.
Do you feel the social/musical context for the book has changed since it was originally published 10 years ago?
Jack: It most certainly did. This was most evident in the media chapter. Where MuchMusic and certain radio stations were instrumental in developing band's careers during the time period of our book, we're in a different universe now. MuchMusic doesn't mean nearly as much to a band as it did then. It's an internet-based system now. If you get a good review in Pitchfork, or you're beloved by music blogs or you score a viral video ― that means a lot more nowadays. I also feel that people don't necessarily have the same attachment to artists nowadays. I know that it does exist, but I really believe that the record collecting, band obsessive behaviour is rooted in an older demographic. You just need to look at the years of dropping record sales and the gradual extinction of record stores to reinforce that. The kids I teach are a singles-based, iPod-based culture. It's a different generation. So yes, a lot has changed culturally and musically.
Do you think the next ten years ― 1995 to 2005 ― were equally momentous for Canadian music or is this period of greater significance?
Jack: I think the next ten years benefited from the groundwork laid in 1985 to 1995. I think we reached an international scale that bands in this book did not enjoy. Besides Sarah McLachlan, if you look at the bands that all received a full chapter ― Sloan, the Hip, Blue Rodeo ― none of them reached the same international fame or audience that bands in the next wave (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Metric, Feist) enjoyed. But I think many of those later bands learned from the period covered in our book. Some of them even cross over ― especially, the New Pornographers, Feist and Broken Social Scene who toiled in various under the radar, but celebrated bands during our period (Zumpano, By Divine Right, Cub). So it really depends on whether we're celebrating the music or who achieved more fame. I personally feel both decades are equally significant, but for the aforementioned different reasons.
Barclay: I think the main difference, in addition to what Ian said, is that Canadian bands stopped looking at Canadian business models to achieve success. They sought international distribution or deals immediately, and played Europe before they played Regina.
For readers who read the original edition, is there a guide for what changes have been made?
Jack: The book was tightened and expanded. We trimmed fat in all chapters, but added things to make the book more current, or expanded areas that we felt needed expanding. The discography has been expanded, there were approximately 25 new interviews. From the top of my head I can say that Chris, Patrick and Jay of Sloan were interviewed again as well as [Sloan road manager] Mike Nelson. Daryl Neudorf's voice is prevalent in the Nettwerk chapter. In Montreal, John Kastner (Doughboys) and Ivan of Men Without Hats were interviewed again and provided some updated context to both Montreal, Men Without Hats and the Nils. A number of people around the Nils camp who did not appear in the original appear in this edition: Carlos Soria plus friends of Alex and Carlos helped bring perspective to the story. Which I think is probably the biggest addition. Jason added interviews with Martha and the Muffins to his Lanois chapter and updated interviews with Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness. There is a great interview with Joel Plaskett that seeps through Halifax and the epilogue. The Jellyfishbabies ― Peter Arsenault and Scott Kendall's voices are in the Halifax chapter. I'm sure there are others, but it's escaping me right now.
Barclay: I think if you want to cheat, read the beginnings and endings of each chapter (or artist section, like k.d. lang). The first three chapters and epilogue were significantly overhauled. Other than that, it was a lot of nip and tucking throughout. But I'm especially proud of the Nils addition.