by Dan Brisebois
Only a handful of groups can claim the things Trooper can. They've sold a gazillion albums since the self-titled debut in 1975. They've toured with them all, been there and done that. As the lead singer, Ra McGuire has acquired an insight on Canadian music that very few others can equal. Along with Brian Smith, they formed a relationship that has endured for over 35 years, writing countless hits and being the sound of an entire generation.
In 2001 possibly the ultimate tribute was paid to the band when 31 independant groups collaberated for SHOT SPOTS putting their own spin on the music of one of Canada's greatest talents. They've won practically every Canadian music award possible and they've been dubbed 'Canada's Greatest Party Band' … and rightfully so.
DB: How has your songwriting partnership with Brian evolved over the years? When did it dawn on you that you two had something special together?
RM Smitty and I have been together for a VERY long time. Since 1965. Two of the first songs we ever wrote together were Raise a Little Hell and Pretty Lady … He was 16, I was 15 at the time. Writing songs is a mysterious process, and over the years we've tried lots of different approaches some more successful than others. I think it's fair to say that the process is often like pulling teeth. We've got 95 songs out there in the world and have written about the same amount that never made it to a record …
Something special together? Hmm … No, I don't think either of us have ever looked that closely at what we do. We've just done it over the years, and we keep doing it because it seems to be working.
DB: I love the new song "Cold Water" – 9 on a 10 scale. What was the motivation behind that one? When can I buy it?
RM: Thanks, Dan! I love it too which is a good thing, I guess. It's one of the few for which I wrote both the words and music (Two for the Show and Thin White Line are the others) … You might notice that all three of these songs are a bit darker than the average Trooper song. "Cold Water" is about a very personal moment where I really felt like I was being pulled in half. We haven't recorded it yet – although there is a bootleg live version floating around online.
DB: So I bought myself a sea-doo and haven't put my captain's hat on yet. Know any places in BC suitable for such activities? Wanna go chase Ogopogo with me?
RM: Hey, there's a lot of sea-doo action down on Semiahmoo Bay in White Rock where I live. We could start there and work our way up to the Okanogan …
DB: Tho they've been with you for awhile now, tell me about the new guys. Where'd you find them?
RM: This band has been together two or three years longer than the band that recorded "We're Here For a Good Time" and is an incredibly tight operation both musically and personally. I can't say enough about how cool, professional and fun to hang with these guys are. There's a lot of info on the site about each of the guys and the excellent musical projects they're working on. I really encourage people to take the time to check them out. Each of them is a serious musical force on their own.
DB: You didn't actually cheer for the Canucks in the 80's when they wore those God-awful jerseys without the crest did you?
RM: At the risk of alienating myself from a vast audience of hockey-loving Canadians ,,, I have never, uh, … I don't watch … Aw fuck it : good hockey is good hockey doesn't matter what they wear!
DB: What's the hold-up on releasing the rest of the catalogue? My tapes are getting pretty worn out Ra.
RM: Don't get me started. Universal Records owns the master recordings for all the old stuff from between '75 and 81. They have been promising a two disc compilation containing the best songs from all ten albums – since 1996. The reason it fell down initially, in my opinion, was that the guy who was in charge of the project was a fucking nut-case. He has since left the company and I had a few very promising phone conversations with his replacement. That was two or three years ago and still nothing. I put a lot of effort into organizing the package – picking the songs – writing liner notes, etc. At several points I was being promised that it was going to be released in a couple of months. The whole thing just wore me down and pissed me off. At this point I could give a shit what Universal does or doesn't do and I'm happy that I have the luxury of not having to care.
DB: I find it interesting that only once have you guys ever covered someone else's song on your albums ("All Day and All Night" from FLYING COLOURS). If you were do it again, what would it be?
RM: If I had to choose today it would be either "Crab" or "Girlfriend" from Weezer's GREEN album.
DB: I was fascinated reading your response to Randy Bachman's book on 'how he taught you how to write songs'. Exactly how does the process work – what are the steps?
RM: Well, Dan, first you take somebody else's hit song and you copy it … Just kidding. I honestly can't give you a useful answer. This is really embarrassing for me, considering I've written or co-written around a dozen hit songs. Some of them honestly just pop into your brain more or less full blown (Here For A Good Time was one of those) others you grovel around in the dirt for – never sure if you've got something real going on. Did you know that Hal David (Burt Bacharach's lyricist/writing partner) waited TWO YEARS for the bridge lyrics for "What The World Needs Now" .. Lord we don't need another mountain … Writing a song (and putting together an arrangement for it) is like building a house of cards – the collected ideas, lyrics, chord changes, musical parts are always threatening to collapse in on themselves. The process is intense for me, Always has been. I feel really … Lucky… When a song comes through and works.
DB: How much influence did you guys have in the making of SHOT SPOTS? Overall, what did you think of the finished product?
RM: Well, we knew Bob Dog before he came up with the idea. He asked us for a letter saying that the bands were allowed to cover the songs and that we wouldn't sue anyone if they punked them unrecognizable – which I happily wrote. After that they were on their own. Actually they asked some of us to do guest bits on a couple of songs – Lance, Gogo and I sang back-ups on the Day Glo Abortions' track – Smitty played a solo on Victorian Pork's "Two for the Show". I absolutely love the record. Thirty-one Trooper songs by thirty-one punk bands!!! How could you not love it?!!
DB: Since practically everyone in Canada owns HOT SHOTS anyway, what say we start a petition to have immigrants buy a copy before they're given their citizenship?
RM: Since Universal only pays us pennies per copy anyway, why don't we just have them GIVE the immigrants their copy when they arrive?
DB: So you liked Snatch – GREAT MOVIE! One of the best I've seen in years – twisted but hysterical, (tho it's unlikely a dog would actually swallow a squeeky toy – let alone a humongous diamond) … what other sort of movies are you into?
RM: I just finished a10-movie personal film-festival in Kingston. We had two days off and there was a great DVD rental place a block away. My favourite from that run was: The Princess and the Warrior by the same guy that did Run Lola Run (which I also liked a lot.). I loved Amores Peres (is that how you spell it?) which I just saw again recently. Grey Gardens is an astonishing documentary that I bought in Halifax and have watched three times since. Sling Blade is an all-time fave – we've been watching scenes from it in the van on this trip – as is The Matrix … and hundreds of others, really. I've loved movies all my life. Our accumulated late charges for the year at the local Rogers store are higher than most people's total rentals to date.
DB: Overall, how would you rate the current Canadian music scene? How do you think it's evolved or changed since when you guys were starting out, before you became the Meca-Gods you are today?
RM: I think the current Canadian Music scene is strong, vibrant and very impressive. The world now looks to Canada expecting good music. I think that's the biggest change since back in our day.
DB: I love Gogo's road stories. What's he doing with all that video he takes at the shows? Are we going to see out-takes on the website? This would be a really good opportunity to kiss ass with your webmaster. First rate website you got there.
RM: I love Gogo's road stories too. Right now we've got Gogo, Lance and me doing our versions of Road Reports. It's very interesting to see the differences. Gogo's tend to contain more information about … Food. Have you noticed that?
editor's note: Yes, I have noticed that. He could probably make an extra buck on the road writing restaurant reviews … and tell him the food at that Chinese place in High Prairie DIDN'T JUST LOOK GROSS!
Gogo is a Renaissance man of the highest order. He honestly does do all those things I say he does in his stage introduction. I've seen lots of the video stuff he's shot in the videos he's created for the songs for his soon-to-be-released Super Groovy Band album. The 2nd SGB disk shouldn't be long after that since it's already basically done. Out-takes on the website is a good idea (although … Doncha think that website is already BIG ENOUGH!!!).
Now then – turn to your comments about our Webmaster – ISN'T SHE AMAZING??!! She has turned the Trooper site into such an incredible trip. If you have any interest at all in the band – you will find something on that site that will grab and hold your attention. I also really like the culture that she has created there. She's also an amazing human. I'd mention her name, but she's funny about that. She signs everything as: H. Trooper Webmeister.
DB: Tell me all about Parents for The Arts in Education. How'd you get started with that? What are the objectives and how's it coming along?
RM: PAE was started by my wife and I in an effort to find a place where our son could go to school and not catch shit all the time for being an eleven year old, right-brained performer/singer/comedian/song-and-dance-man in an environment that generally prefers quiet respect of authority. As time passed, PAE became a group of about eight very cool, very committed, hard working parents. The plan was to replicate the Langley Fine Arts School in our local school district (the second largest in Western Canada). The LFAS curriculum is based on the belief that the Arts and Academics should have equal value in a child's education. That's something I also believe.
I'm happy to say that after three years of pretty ruthless politics, public meetings and backroom haggling the school was successfully launched in 1998. It lurched to life, that first year, despite the best efforts of the BC Teachers Federation to gag any parent who felt they should have a part to play in their children's education. I'm proud to have been involved in it's creation and it's continued success. The moral of that story is that you CAN fight city hall (and should, at least once in your life!). I enjoyed my three-year career as an educational activist but I would never involve myself in the ugly world of politics again. Connor is now out of the program, which served him well, and in high school – where he often performs with his three piece punk band The Authority.
DB: There's a million stories in the naked dominion … care to share one that didn't make it to song yet?
RM: k' – well there was that night last fall in High Prairie, Alberta when that Dan Brisebois guy showed up at the hotel afterwards wearing a dress …
editor's note: This didn't happen. I could sit here and defend myself, or say 'must've been Smitty'. But he's not here to defend himself – so here's a breakdown of a road tech's life:
- Show up at the right town at whatever time
- Bust your ass to get everything working in time for the show
- Blame technical difficulties as to why you're NOT ready to go on time
- Sit back and enjoy the show, but not too much, you still have to eat supper during the show and pay attention in case something goes wrong
- Be on stage before the band is off the stage 'cuz it's going to take all night to strip the gear down
- Finish tearing down – wishing you had time for breakfast.
- Get up just as you fall asleep because you have to be in the next town in half a day and it takes 2/3 a day to get there.
Therefore – couldn't possibly have been me – didn't have time to crash that party. But there's always next time …