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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Back On A Roll

Craig Silliphant
Published Wednesday November 26, 01:42 am
‘90s rock roars back after years in the wilderness


Thursday 27




Thursday 4



In 1993, I tossed back my shoulder-length Kurt Cobain hair, threw on a flannel shirt and headed down to TCU Place (or should I say Centennial Auditorium?) to see The Tea Party, Blind Melon and 13 Engines. Metal was fading for the time being, as grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam rose to prominence, and Canadian bands began to dig into what I guess you could call post-grunge rock music. Mainstream-ish bands like Moist and The Tea Party or more underground acts like Sloan or The Smalls were beaming out to hungry music fans via MuchMusic (in Saskatoon at least — because not a lot of local radio played any of these bands back in the day).

Those tides eventually changed as well, and different kinds of music came forth to replace ‘90s Can-rock. However, if you look at Pollstar today to see who’s touring through town, or turn on a radio, you’ll notice that there’s a resurgence of this music. A lot of these bands are reforming and taking it back out on the road — in fact (I feel a tie-in coming!), both Moist and The Tea Party will be playing in Saskatoon within a week of each other.

The nature of popular culture is often cyclical, which is why people were wearing flared out ‘60s bell-bottom pants in the ‘90s and appropriating ‘80s culture around the early 2000s. So, is the newfound popularity of veteran bands like Moist and The Tea Party just simply because the ‘90s are coming back around in Canadian rock music?

I’m not really sure why now, but it’s been happening over the past few years,” says Kevin Young, the keyboardist for Moist, which officially ended their hiatus a year or so ago and has released a new album, Glory Under Dangerous Skies. “You have new bands like Crash Karma getting together and going out with members of various bands from the ‘90s. I Mother Earth got back together. I don’t know if there’s any specific reason; maybe people are hungering for that kind of music again.”

From an outside perspective,” says The Tea Party drummer Jeff Burrows, “I think people just miss bands who go on stage, who aren’t married to a click track or [pre-recorded] backing tracks, and just go out and do what they do. I suppose there might be some nostalgia factor to it.”

The Tea Party has gotten back together after a moderately acrimonious split almost a decade ago in 2005, when singer Jeff Martin abruptly announced the band was done. But time heals all wounds, and in 2011, they put their differences aside to write and release a new album, The Ocean at the End.

We were getting offers from a couple of festivals,” says Burrows, “but we still really weren’t talking. But then we decided, you know, time is passing us by. We’re all getting older and this is ridiculous. Put your big boy pants on and mend this fence. So we did that, and it worked out really well. The friendship started getting stronger and stronger again and before we knew it, everything was water under the bridge.”

Of course, any act that hits the road again after significant time away from the pop-culture radar is bound to get slapped with the “nostalgia” label, and usually not in a nice way. The stigma attached to that word by those who use it as a sneer, perhaps (although certainly not always) unfairly, conjures up the image of sad, paunchy old skullet-haired rockers playing the fairgrounds crowd in a desperate attempt to recapture their glory days. But there’s a distinction between being a nostalgia act and being a band that’s actively still playing the game, says Young.

One of the reasons it took us so long to get back together is because we didn’t want to do a so-called reunion/nostalgia tour,” he says. “We don’t work very well as a band simply fueled by doing the old tunes — we had to move forward. There had to be something to make this satisfying creatively, something that wasn’t purely nostalgic: a new record.”

New material seems to be one of the magic keys for bands looking to escape out of the nostalgia box; you’re still building your legacy if you’re still creating, as opposed to trading on that history by just trotting out old songs.

If we were really going to do a new chapter, then we needed to write new music,” agrees Burrows. “If we could do that, without compromise, without worrying whether radio was going to play it, not worrying about going over eight minutes long on the title track of the record, then we’ve accomplished that. Then, no longer can you be held up as that nostalgia act.”

There’s honestly nothing wrong with Trooper rolling into town and putting some smiles on faces by playing “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car” for the bajillionth time, for example, but it’s obvious that there isn’t much real risk involved in looking backwards rather than forwards. A heritage band releasing a new record, however, is a whole different thing.

[When we released the new record] we had no idea how things were going to turn out,” Burrows says. “But that was part of the excitement for us. We didn’t know how they were going to turn out when we started out either. That not-knowing drives the creativity a little bit.”

In addition to the old fans who are coming out to these types of tours, there are new, young fans that are responding to the music as well. Rock 102 afternoon announcer Seth Armstrong, for example, is all of 25 years old — meaning he was about four years old while I was watching The Tea Party in my flannel. (Sigh.) He wasn’t old enough to be aware when metal became uncool, nor when the ‘90s rock scene became passé. But he heard the music over the years, on albums like the Big Shiny Tunes series. And because Internet access is a wonderful thing, he was able to explore more of the rock music he enjoys. Now, this resurgence of the ‘90s means he can actually see some of his favourite bands, many of whom had disbanded before he even realized they existed.

It was great getting to see [The Headstones] for the first time,” says Armstrong, “ and the Tea Party as well — I got to see them for the first time a couple of years ago. Growing up with that music and then all of a sudden you’re old enough to go to the concert, but then it’s like, ‘Oh, wait, these bands don’t exist anymore.’ It’s great that they’re all coming back now.”

While I moved on from a lot of ‘90s rock bands as they faded from the zeitgeist, there are still tons of rock fans that seek it out. Burrows’ assertions about people wanting bands that aren’t married to click tracks might be somewhat rockist, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong about those people being out there. And he hopes the time is nigh for a resurrection of live playing with real instruments by practiced musicians.

I’m hoping this is the beginning of a nice thing,” he says. “You know, where young bands that are doing it honestly and truly and aren’t fake about anything are going to get that opportunity. Bands like Monster Truck and The Sheepdogs. It’s the kind of thing that should be embraced. It’s almost cyclical, so I hope we’re approaching that again.” 

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