Q&A: Duncan Coutts of Our Lady Peace
With each album, the Canadian rock band Our Lady Peace tries to reinvent itself. Bassist Duncan Coutts said OLP's forthcoming collection "Curve" is the closest the act has come to achieving its goal.
"When we first started making this record, we had a few songs written and in recording shape and our producer Jason Lader came in -- he's an old friend of [lead singer Raine Maida] -- and the context of what he said was, 'I think you guys are being too safe. Why don't you really think about what record you would want to have in your collection? What records are you listening to? What records inspire you? Does this sound anything like that at all, in terms of energy and daringness and those types of qualities?' We ended up throwing out all but one of the ideas from the first session and basically starting over. It's been difficult and it's been challenging and it's been incredibly rewarding at the end of the day."
That's not to say that past albums haven't been rewarding. Our Lady Peace has sold millions of albums worldwide, won four Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys) and earned 10 MuchMusic Video Awards. The hits include the soaring "Superman's Dead," the anthemic "Starseed" and the arena-ready "Innocent."
In a press release, Maida said "Curve," which is set for release April 3, is the record that Our Lady Peace has been trying to make for the past 10 years. The CD was recorded in Toronto and at Maida's Los Angeles home recording studio with Lader, who has been at the helm for records by Jay-Z, The Mars Volta, Julian Casablancas, Rilo Kiley, Elvis Costello and Noah and the Whale.
Coutts -- who is joined in the band by Maida, drummer Jeremy Taggart and guitarist Steve Mazur -- spoke to SoundSpike about "Curve's" journey, the band's support of the Occupy movement and why "Heavyweight" was chosen as the first single.
SoundSpike: What do you think was the most challenging part of making "Curve."
Duncan Coutts: I guess trusting the idea of making a record that you don't really care if anybody hears at the end of the day. Sure, we want people to hear it, but this is the first time we've really said, "OK, if radio doesn't hear this ever, we're OK with that." It's a very freeing experience, once you release that expectation. And it lets you go places creatively that perhaps you might have closed the door on because you might have thought it's not commercial enough or things like that in the past. We really didn't shy away from that this time.
I really like the song "Fight the Good Fight," which is on the "Occupy This Album" collection out this spring. Tell me about the filming of the accompanying video, which is available on your website.
Oh cool. On Oct. 15, which was the day of action, the day of occupying around the world, we all went to a different city. We talked about maybe doing a video, but it wasn't like we set out to do a video. We were talking and arguing about over what Occupy was all about and whether we should lend our name to it. I talked to Raine about it. I said, "I don't feel comfortable getting involved in this unless we really go down and breathe it and live it and smell it and see what's going on." I went down to Toronto gatherings a few days before that Oct. 15 day of protest. On that day we all went to a different city -- Jeremy was here in Toronto, Steve was in Detroit, Raine was in Los Angeles and I was in New York City -- and we all took our cameras with us.
Even though you've written "Fight the Good Fight," I think it's important to note that "Curve" is not a political album, nor does the song appear on the CD.
This record is 10 songs. Sure there are some politically motivated things, I would say. It's quite personal. The thing about Raine, he writes a lot of music, but he exclusively writes the lyrics. He's not one to sit down and talk to us about the meanings of songs. It's up to me to interpret it, the way it is up to you or anyone else to interpret it. So my interpretation of what he's talking about may not be anything close to the reality of what he's saying. We don't really talk about what they're about. He will get into discussions about it if we want. But it is something that's not sort of laid out on the table, if you will.
That's kind of fun, though.
How did you choose "Heavyweight" as the first single off "Curve"?
I guess it felt sort of there was an inherent energy to it, I would say. It felt honest and it felt like people would react to it.
What was the songwriting process like for "Curve"?
It depended on the song. There were a few songs that came out of sort of jam situations. There were lots of songs that either riffs or licks were created individually. Some songs were written entirely individually. Steve did a lot of demoing on his own. He's become quite the drummer, actually. I have good competition as to who's the second-best drummer in the band. [Laughs] At this point, I might actually be behind him. There was no set way that worked for every song. They came in varied way.
What did Jason Lader bring out in the band?
He's challenged every individual in this band -- creatively, conceptually and also individually on your instrument. He's one of those guys that you'd kind of hope he doesn't pick up the instrument in front of you because he's probably going to be better than you. He's such a musically gifted person it's ridiculous. He's really been a cheerleader and he's been a fifth guy in the room, whether it's the creation of a song or the creation of a sound. It was five guys in a room making music together and he also is a sick engineer and he gets great tones quickly. He's been a big part of this record. I think we made a couple records in the last little while -- I'm not dissing other records -- I don't know if they were quite as challenging as this one. But there were songs on those records that were good enough to be heard. We've made some changes on the business side of things that hopefully will allow us to get heard on a wider level this time around. I think this is a record that needs to be heard. Hopefully we've created a record that doesn't have a shelf life. So if someone discovers it in a while it will sound just like a collection of really interesting songs and doesn't date itself to a period.
That's one of the strong suits of Our Lady Peace. Listeners can hear one of these songs from throughout your career and they don't seem dated.
I think we're all just continually trying to get better at what we do. We could play in a style if you asked us to. Maybe that works out for us in a long run.
You're heading out on tour to support "Curve." What can we expect this time around?
I really I think we're trying to put more than we possibly could or should into smaller venues. What we're trying to do is bring a big show into a small place. Then in terms of connection, it sounds a bit corny, but to me a good show -- and I'm not speaking about me being in a band -- is when the artist is able to dissolve that wall that feels like it exists between a band and an audience. It becomes about a room of people making music together. So when we're on stage and you feel that inherent connection even to the person in the back of the room, you really feel like the songs aren't yours anymore. You're just one of the people who's lucky enough to be the conduit for the song to happen. It becomes about the ownership of everyone in the room. You're not always successful in that. When you are, that's when the truly magical shows happen.
29 - London, Ontario - London Concert Theatre
31 - Peterborough, Ontario - The Venue
2 - Montreal, Quebec - Corona Theatre
3 - Toronto, Ontario - Phoenix Concert Theatre
5 - New York City, NY - Bowery Ballroom
6 - Buffalo, NY - Williamsville
7 - Detroit, MI - St. Andrew's Hall
8 - Chicago, IL - Subterranean
10 - North Bay, Ontario - The Wall
12 - Thunder Bay, Ontario - Thunder Bay Community Auditorium
13 - Winnipeg, Manitoba - Garrick Centre
16 - Calgary, Alberta - Flames Central
17 - Edmonton, Alberta - The Starlite Room
19 - Vancouver, British Columbia - Commodore Ballroom
20 - Seattle, WA - The Crocodile