Songwriter Interviews

Our Lady Peace

by Trevor Morelli

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In 1992, a small classified "musicians wanted" ad in a local Toronto newspaper brought together the members of Our Lady Peace. After only a dozen or so live shows together, Sony Music took notice and signed the band to a record deal. When Robert Plant heard their single "Starseed" on the radio, everything changed. Plant invited OLP to open for him on tour and high-profile gigs with Van Halen and Alanis Morissette soon followed.

In less than two years, Our Lady Peace became one of the biggest rock bands in Canada. Their 1994 debut album Naveed sold over 100,000 copies, but it was their 1997 album Clumsy that is largely regarded as one of the landmark albums for alternative music in the '90s. Fueled by the hits "Superman's Dead," "Clumsy," and "4 AM," it went on to become one of the rare Canadian albums to reach diamond certification, with over 10 million copies sold worldwide.

More hits followed. Our Lady Peace's 1999 album Happiness… Is Not A Fish You Can Catch spawned edgy singles like "One Man Army," "Is Anybody Home?" and "Thief." In 2000, the band took a risk with Spiritual Machines, a concept album inspired by Ray Kurzweil's book The Age of Spiritual Machines. While the album wasn't as commercially successful as Our Lady Peace's previous ventures, many fans regard it as the band's masterpiece. It's also the last OLP album that featured original guitarist Mike Turner.

In 2002, guitarist Steve Mazur replaced Turner and Our Lady Peace changed their sound and direction. Instead of working with Arnold Lanni – who produced the band's previous four albums – OLP decided to go into the studio with legendary producer Bob Rock. Although the straight-ahead, punchy rock of 2002's Gravity polarized fans, the band continued to press on with their new vision. 2006's Healthy in Paranoid Times and 2009's Burn Burn were also met with mixed reviews, but the members of the band know that pushing themselves into new territory is the key to their longevity.

Our Lady Peace's album Curve hit stores in 2012, and it features some of the most impressive and interesting material the band has ever produced. Catchy songs like the first single "Heavyweight" and "As Fast As You Can" interplay with experimental cuts like "Window Seat" and "Find Our Way" to great effect.

Our Lady Peace insists that Curve is the album they've been trying to make for years and that finally getting it out there was very exciting. We spoke with lead singer Raine Maida and guitarist Steve Mazur in-depth about the new record and why their biggest hits are more relevant now than ever before.
Trevor Morelli (Songfacts): How are you guys?

Steve Mazur: We're great.

Raine Maida: Yeah. We're amazing.

Steve: We're excited about this record and we were so excited that we jumped right out on tour and played a bunch of small places just because we wanted to get out there.

Songfacts: Which songs on the new album Curve are you most excited about playing?

Steve: Well, we're playing a bunch of songs live off the record. It's hard to name just one. There are definitely some songs on the record where we're stretching into some very new ground, like "Window Seat." That's taken us to quite a different place.

The first song on the record, "Allowance," is a very different vibe for us, something that feels very fresh. And yet I'm just really proud of the record, it's cool. We really challenged ourselves a lot.

Curve was recorded at OLP lead singer Raine Maida's home studio in Los Angeles. In 2011, the band offered fans exclusive clips of the recording process via UStream. Upon its release in April 2012, Curve debuted at #9 on the Canadian Albums Chart. The album's first single "Heavyweight" also became a hit in the band's home country, landing at #1 on the Canadian Active Rock Chart.
Songfacts: "Window Seat" is based around these lush guitar parts and swells. How did you come up with those parts?

Steve: It's funny. When we started making this record, we recorded a few songs, and a fellow named Jason, who actually ended up producing the record with us, came in, heard what we were doing, and said, "Why are you guys making music like this? It's not the kind of music you listen to or love."

So we trashed what we were doing, decided to bring him on board to produce the record with us, and we had a big discussion about challenging ourselves and really moving into some new ground and how to do that specifically. One thing we said was that we've got to challenge it from the bottom up - rhythm parts, chord progressions, guitar parts - the sonics of the record.

For that song specifically, Raine kind of said, "Go write me a chord progression that's something that we would not normally use." So I went out and listened to a bunch of Bowie stuff and analyzed it. I had that progression and brought it in. It was something really new for us, so we kind of just built it around that in that song.

Songfacts: In the chorus of "Allowance," you're singing, "I'm only as good as you allow me to be." Are you talking to someone specific in that song or about something specific?

Raine: I'm talking about whatever relationship you're in. There's a give and take in a relationship and I think at the end of the day, you can only go as far in a relationship as the other person allows you to. You can't force something. You can't demand things of a person that they're not willing to give up.

I would hate for people to think it's a negative way to look at it; it's really not meant to be that. It's just supposed to be more of an honest coming to terms with how relationships really function when you break them down.

Songfacts: The song "Fire in the Henhouse" seems to be a call to action of sorts in an ever-changing world. Would that be fair to say?

Raine: Yeah. I mean, that whole line about "recalculate what we got wrong"... I'm a big global collapse guy, and I think that's what's happening, and I think that's what we're in the middle of. I'm not a denier of climate change; the whole Occupy thing for me was profound in the sense that the idea itself is still gestating. There's the initial movement, but it was more about the idea. I think it's still happening and hopefully we'll start to see some change with the new election starting in the States, for sure.

Songfacts: That song also has one of my favorite lines on the record where you're calling the world "Shangri-la in reverse." How did you come up with that imagery?

Raine: Well, if you were to look at the world before we really took advantage of it, you go back to when just the Natives inhabited North America. You look at the way they used to live off the land and give back to the land, and there was this tranquility and peacefulness. If you're talking about some sort of soma, that's probably as close as you would get to where there was that sort of environmental balance. So I view that as Shangri-La and now we've lost it. We've gone completely the opposite direction. I guess it's trying to get back to that in a sense. I think part of it is, like you said, it is a bit of a call to action. It's not political. It's just more human, I guess.

Songfacts: Cool. The first single on the record is called "Heavyweight" and it's centered on a punchy, distorted riff. Can you explain how you wrote that riff?

Steve: It's funny. I remember that riff was different. I remember I brought it to Raine and showed it to him and it wasn't quite there yet. He said, "No, I think we're on to something here. Go try to make it cooler."

So I went back and put some other notes in there and when I sent it to him, we kind of felt like we had something there. I think we're all really proud of that song, because with this record, we were definitely not thinking about things like radio and hits when we were writing songs. That song has got a lot of depth to it and it's a pretty dark song. But then there's also this chorus that's very uplifting and you can sing along to. We're pretty proud of that tune.

Songfacts: On "Find Our Way," you're ripping into a burning solo near the end of the song. Do you feel like you just need to break out and do those different things once in a while?

Steve: That song was funny. We go along with it and I remember Raine said we just need to do something else at the end there, so it kind of goes off into a whole other territory. We haven't really done much of that in the past where all of a sudden it's like in a completely different key; the chords are really different to what we normally do. But when we recorded it, it was very exciting. We didn't know if it was going to be a vocal thing at the end or what. And Raine said, "Why don't you try putting some guitar stuff over it." That just seemed to be what fit the mood of that part of the song.

Songfacts: Well, it sounds awesome. Raine, in a recent interview with The National Post, you said that you thought maybe some of Our Lady Peace's radio songs misrepresented the band a little bit. Can you elaborate on that and which songs you were talking about?

Raine: "Misrepresent" is probably the wrong word. But I think the problem with a band like us is the singles that are out there don't represent the record as a complete piece. And in Canada, we get so much radio play it seems that those singles are driven into people's minds. And people that don't have the records maybe don't understand the depth of the band. So for me there are songs that we play that were never singles that have more meaning and value to us than some of the stuff that's been on the radio.

For us, it's always supposed to have been about the complete picture. Some of those more experimental moments aren't the ones that ever get on the radio, but they're really what define this band. I think if you ask anyone why we're still doing it, it's because of those types of moments - those moments that people don't hear on the radio and maybe only see at shows or hear if you own the record. That's why Curve is such a triumph for us, because it was honing into those moments and trying to make a record full of those. And this is the closest we've come.

Steve: I think that "Heavyweight" would maybe not fall into that category. That song very much represents the record, I would say.

Raine: Yeah. I think Curve is the first record - maybe besides Spiritual Machines - where if someone were just to randomly pick a song and put it on the radio, I think we'd all be fine with it. We feel like they're all indicative of what the journey was in making Curve.

Songfacts: "As Fast As You Can" also features some upbeat experimentation. Is it the first OLP song with handclaps in it?

Raine: Yeah, maybe. I don't know. I don't know if that's true.

Steve: We've done handclaps before, but maybe not as prominently. I think the handclaps just go along with that beat. The way the drums were recorded in that song was really interesting. They're all done separately. We really wanted to get a kind of bombastic live, almost distorted, drum sound on that. So even though it's not "Window Seat," it still has a lot of experimentation, in its own way.

George Chuvalo is a retired Canadian professional boxer. In 93 fights between 1956 and 1979, he was only knocked down twice, with both falls ruled as accidents. Chuvalo took Muhummad Ali the distance in two separate fights - once in 1966 and then again in 1972. Ali called Chuvalo "the toughest guy I ever fought"
Songfacts: On "Mettle," Canadian boxer George Chuvalo - who appears on the cover of the album - is doing some spoken word parts. How did that collaboration come about?

Raine: As we developed a relationship with George, he kind of let us a little bit more into his life. We learned more and got to know him and it was just one of those things where we added that in. Steve brought that piece of music in and I'd written the melodies and lyrics to it. It was a song, and I think it was a good song, but it just felt like with the weight of George being a part of this record - having our work done, already talking about him -it just felt like we needed just something special to kind of end the record with.

So Duncan, Jeremy, and I - Steve was stuck in L.A. - went up to his house just outside of Toronto and sat with my iPhone and recorded him speaking for an hour. We just pulled some really what I thought were profound moments, his wisdom. He's 74 years old, he's been through some very tragic times and hardships in his life outside of the ring. He had a very storied career in what was probably the heyday of boxing. He took Ali the distance twice and Ali stopped fighting him because he knew he'd never be able to knock him out. So it's just a real testament to George's will and determination and humanity. And he's a really loving guy. Even the quote that ends the record, "Without love you wouldn't be here." I just think that's such a special, magical moment for him to say that.

Songfacts: It's very profound.

Raine: We had had these interactions with George when we had the boxing theme. He was just such a great guy, it was almost like if he's just going to be on the cover of the record, other people aren't going to experience what we've experienced with him. So getting him to speak on the record was a way to share some of the interactions we'd had and the experiences we had with him.

Songfacts: It's definitely a neat idea. Let's talk about some of your older songs and whether or not you feel like they're relevant today. You wrote "Superman's Dead" about how hard it is to be a kid growing up surrounded by the media. Do you still feel that way? Do you think it's worse?

Raine: Yeah. I mean that's probably the genius of that song, not by any part on me, but just the fact that I think the trend has gotten even tougher for kids these days. It seems that if you talk about the world going faster, my analogy back then was the subway. Now it's just... I don't know what it is. It's like we've hit light speed with ADD and the technology. I mean, just to stay focused for 20 minutes, I can hardly do it. You're just inundated. Our senses are on overload, for sure.

Songfacts: How about "Clumsy?" You once said that it's about those weird situations where you just take things at face value and can be completely wrong because you didn't question yourself or other people. Do you still think that's important today?

Raine: Yeah, I do. I have to say, for whatever reason, most of the stuff that I've written about seems to still have a lot of relevance to me. I've had this question asked many times, you know, "am I sick of playing those songs?" And to be honest, I'm not. There are songs that we'll never play just because they don't feel relevant, they don't feel authentic to us, which is fine, because I think every band probably has some of those songs. But we're not one of those bands that aren't going to play one of our hit singles just to spite people or whatever. That's just not in our thinking. We don't operate that way, so we're lucky, I guess.

Songfacts: Are there particular songs you're thinking of right now that aren't really in your heart any more?

Raine: Well, doing the Clumsy and the Spiritual Machines tour last time. Spiritual Machines, for the most part, was a pleasure to play. It was a challenge. It really had this color that surrounded that whole record, and it continued when we took it on stage. I just felt like we were in this really interesting place for those 40 or 42 minutes.

Clumsy seemed a little bit more scattered to me, where there are some really great moments, but then there was a few songs that I felt like, "Okay, you know what, we missed the mark." But, hey, that's life, you know.

Songfacts: Steve, in the 10-plus years you've been in the band, which songs are you the most proud of writing?

Steve: A lot of the ones on the new record, for sure. "Escape Artist," off Burn Burn, was one that I was really proud of because it was a real band effort. I thought it had a great mood and all four of us on that one were swinging and coming up with stuff. That's one we play live and we still very much feel and love.

On the new record, "Find Our Way" and "If This Is It" are a couple I'm really proud of, because they're very dynamic. I think for the last few years we've been trying to get more and more dynamic. And you take a chance when you do that.

Raine: If I could speak for Steve, I think anyone that listens to this record understands what our mentality has been for the last 12 years in trying to get to this place. I think as a guitar player, this is a very guitar-laden record. There are a ton of textures and keyboards and stuff, but at the crux of it, if you see the show live and hear the new songs live, you realize how much the guitar influenced this record. So it's brought Our Lady Peace back to being a proper rock band mixed with that experimental side that we've always kind of loved. I think that combination is where we exist best and it's where we're the most relevant. So this record is a big testament to Steve getting to that next level and helping us get there as well.

We spoke with Raine and Steve on April 16, 2012. Get more at ourladypeace.com
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