Since its emergence during the mid-'90s, the hard-rocking Canadian quartet Our Lady Peace has built one of rock and roll's quietest success stories. OK, so it's not so quiet in the Great White North, where the group singer Raine Maida, guitarist Mike Turner, bassist Duncan Coutts, and drummer Jeremy Taggart is a regular platinum, multiplatinum, and even, thanks to 1997's Clumsy, diamond seller. But the rest of the world has gradually been getting in on the secret. Clumsy, powered by the hit radio track "Superman's Dead," has sold more than 2.5 million copies around the world and given Our Lady Peace a broad and international audience for its driving, passionate anthems and intelligent, insightful lyricism. It also helps that the group periodically puts on one of the coolest tours on the planet, Summersault, which crisscrossed Canada in 2000 with bills that included Smashing Pumpkins, the Foo Fighters, A Perfect Circle, and the Deftones. Now OLP brings Spiritual Machines, its fourth album and one of its most fully realized efforts. Loosely thematic, it draws its title and some of its subject matter from The Age of Spiritual Machines When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by inventor Ray Kurzweil. In the book, Kurzweil predicts a future in which technology could well master the race that creates it, a prospect that, frontman Maida tells Wall of Sound, is both harrowing and exciting and, in the hands of OLP, yields another provocative, sharply rendered album.
Did you have any sort of goal in mind for the kind of album you wanted to make this time out?
We just to do something really organically. This album was done very quickly and sporadically. It was the first time we didn't say, "All right, let's go into pre-production, do 15 songs and on this date go in for four months and make a record." Two years ago, I finally bought a house to have a basement studio, so I started just demoing stuff and by virtue of doing demos on my own, I ended up producing them, right? It just happens. It's very organic. I would bring those songs to the band while we were touring, and say, "Why don't we go into a studio, record them quickly, and call them demos. So we did that, and even though we did it in a week, they sounded so good we said, "Let's call 'em songs" and just kept going like that.
Where did the Ray Kurzweil influence come in?
Somewhere during Summersault 2000. I told Mike [that] the book, which he'd showed me awhile back, had influenced some of the new songs, like "Right Behind You (Mafia)" and "In Repair." So it took on the kind of Spiritual Machines vibe; it's not really a big concept record, but there really is a tie-in to the book.
The whole album isn't based on Kurzweil's writings, though.
Oh, no. It's a book that's pretty inspiring, and it inspired some music. I was also watching Buffalo 66 and was thinking about how I'd love to be this little prophet, the one to come back and say, "It's OK; we have a soul." There are so many stresses in that movie, so much tension (about how) everyone needs something to believe in. For whatever reason, I wished I could have that kind of experience, close enough to death to see what's next and come back and say with some assurance, "Don't worry. It's going to be all right." It all comes down to [the fact that] you're going to have to think for yourself.
What were some of the more interesting songwriting experiences on Spiritual Machines?
We were in New York recording "In Repair" at the old Hit Factory, which is now called Avatar. After one of those sessions, I was in my hotel room trying to call my brother, and I couldn't get through. When you're making a record, you kind of go into hiding, especially when I'm
writing lyrics or writing music; I tend not to keep in touch with any friends or family or stuff. But my brother and I have a good relationship, and I want to keep it good. I couldn't get a hold of him for, like, a week, and I knew he was going through a shitty time typical young-20s, no job, having a tough life. I wanted to talk to him desperately, and this song just came out
of me, "Are You Sad?" It came out really quickly on a shitty travel guitar. It's not shitty, really; that thing has saved my life. I took it to Europe when we were opening for Stereophonic and wrote most of these songs on it. You can play that thing in a bathroom stall, man.
Matt Cameron plays on two tracks on the album. What happened to Jeremy?
We had two songs left to do and had already booked Brendan O'Brien to do the mixing on a Wednesday. On the Thursday, Jeremy got mugged in Toronto; they pushed him around a bit with his dog, and something happened in his knee, his kick-drum knee, and he was unable to bend it. But we had to record the songs on Friday at least the drums, right away. It looked like we couldn't do it, but Matt is a friend of Jeremy's and offered his services. He saved our asses.
The packaging for this album is pretty interesting and sophisticated. How did you come up with it?
These days, I don't know if a CD can just be a CD anymore. With Napster, it's a good challenge for artists to really give their fans a little more. We went off on the "In Repair" theme. We got to do our own artwork, and we were reading the book as well, so it was kind of serendipitous. The idea was that human beings can be like machines; they need an oil change once in awhile. Life's not ideal. Nobody smiles every day. That's fine; that's part of life. The artwork hinges around that. If you buy the CD, you see that everything ties together; it's not like we gave the artwork to Sony or Columbia and said, "Here's what we're talking about, you do what you want." You've got to take control, make sure you put your energy into it. You can't just give stuff to the graphic arts department at the label and expect them to put the same kind of care and detail into it that you do.
Since you brought it up, what's your perspective on Napster?
I think it's good. Everyone is talking about music. Whatever happens, if it gets shut down or we end up paying a fee, it's really healthy because there's excitement about music. We might not end up selling as many records overall, but I'll tell you we recently did a show in San Antonio and then played in Chicago, both sold-out shows, 2,000-plus people singing all the lyrics to the new record. Now, I know some of the mom-and-pop shops in America had the album as an import, and you could order it online, but not that many people did. So if Napster lets us have 2,300 people singing all the songs, I'm all for that. I dig that more. If it gives access to more of the songs, it makes the shows better. So there's a tangible payoff.
You recently turned 30. How does that feel?
I feel on fire now, musically and everything. Having a studio at home and just where music is right now, it's amazing. I feel like we just signed a new record deal or something. It's also the fact that we didn't wait for two years in between records. That's a product of the business of music and record companies and stuff; if you can avoid it, it's so much healthier to not pay attention to it. If you're writing music, just do it, record it and put it out. When we opened for [Jimmy Page and Robert Plant] six years ago, we heard about their career. Like The Beatles; you put the two of them together and see how much stuff they did in so little time. Now it seems like you get records every two, three, four years, and that's not unusual. We just said, "Forget it. We have these songs; let's record them." That's the way it should always be.