Following the demise of Subtle Hints, Edmonton’s Brian Schultze and Curtis Ruptash (also ex of Pretty Rough) were looking to start a new recording project, one that expanded on the electronic beats of their last group, and further away from the pop songwriting conventions than what was on the airwaves at the time. “We definitely wanted to explore more rhythm driven and sonically textured sounds that we were hearing in artists like Eno, Shriekback, Talking Heads – that vein of things,” Ruptash explained.
Although they originally intended to find a drummer and vocalist with the right sensibilities for this type of project, it soon became evident they simply weren’t going to find suitable personnel, so they adopted Eno’s ‘studio as an instrument’ mindset. They recorded tracks from processed acoustic and electric instruments, utilizing spoken word and field recordings of acoustic “world” instruments and singing samples. The result was a pan-ethnic and more experimental sound with drum machines, although they handled some of the percussion themselves, including marimba, slit drums and bongos.
“In approaching the recording, we set out to avoid using chord changes to propel the pieces, but rather to use rhythmic variations and tonal textures instead. We also chose to avoid using synths, preferring heavy processing/modifying bass and guitar sounds, as well as injecting less conventional instrumentation like electric stick and fretless guitars,” Ruptash said.
They set up their own label, He Dead Records, and released their eponymous debut album in 1986. But times were tough, and self-promotion was difficult. The total budget for the concept album was a whopping $2,700, only 500 copies were printed, and the album jackets were even silk-screened by hand, all just to save a buck. Still, tracks like the lead-off “Aggression,” “Mistah Bo, He Dead,” and “Atom Bomb” were well-received, particularly by campus radio stations, especially in Toronto, and on the US west coast and northeastern seaboard. “Atom Bomb” was also used in an episode of MTV’s “The Real World.” Schultze and Ruptash managed to find independent record shops and distributors throughout Canada, the US, and the UK to carry the album, and although live dates were sparse, they included a performance at the ’86 Edmonton Fringe Festival, combining video and slides with live performances.
They took things a step further for the second LP, 1988’s RHESUS PIECES. Along with some spoken word found sounds, three guest vocalists were used – Patrick Higgins (a local actor that had been compared by some to David Byrne), Mandy Cousins, who later performed with The Sensualists and Titania, and classically trained Denise Spitzer. The result was an album that contained sounds that were denser and more abstract, the recording process was longer, more complicated, and intensive. Again, touring was limited, but with tracks like “Melting Pot,” “Is Everything OK?,” and “Mr Mighty (On The Floor),” the album did well on campus stations throughout Canada and the US.
That same year, they contributed the song “Growth?” to the DRIVEN ELEMENT compilation, curated by Marcel Dion of Edmonton-based campus radio station CJSR’s Departures program which featured experimental music. A year later, they pooled their talents with Alberta poet Mary Howes, participating in a multimedia event at the New Gallery in Calgary with film maker/artist, Jane Evans, and with Debra Shantz/Miles Zero Dance in a poetry/live music/dance performance.
Enjoying working with Howes, and looking to expand their project, they teamed up with her again to support her on readings of her book of poetry, “Vanity Shades.” “These were really well received, although I think we scared the hell out of some bookstores that hosted the readings,” Ruptash joked. It was this collaboration that led to their third album, 1991’s EVIDENCE I WAS HERE, which featured Howe’s recitations of her poems over music tracks, resulting in underground hits like “Rock-A-Bye,” “Easy Street,” “Cobalt,” and “Box Factory.” Her publisher, Red Deer College Press, licensed the album and released it on cassette only, as a companion to her book.
They continued to work on a new album and occupy themselves with outside projects, but in ’95, Schultze and Ruptash went their separate ways. Schultze recorded with Zand and The Walloons, and The Banals, among others – then all but got out of the business all together. He remained in Edmonton and opened Avenue Guitars. Ruptash meanwhile moved to Chicago, where he became a producer and session player.