The origins of Our Lady Peace began in late 1991, when Michael Maida responsded to an ad Mike Turner had placed in Now Magazine, looking to put a band together. Maida was a criminology student at the University of Toronto, and thought it would be a good way to make an extra buck on the side. While the two began writing songs, Turner asked his friend Paul Martin to join on bass. While asking around about available drummers, Jim Newell’s name kept coming. He soon made the group a foursome and As If was born.
Mixing some of their own material with Zeppelin and other hard rock covers, they made their way around the Oshawa circuit, but before long Martin packed up his bass and left, and was replaced with Chris Eacrett, who was at Ryerson University studying business. Around the same time, Turner and Maida met producer Arnold Lanni (Frozen Ghost frontman and owner of Arnyard Studios) while at a musicians’ seminar. They struck a friendship and began writing some new material.
The band changed their name shortly thereafter to Our Lady Peace, penned after a Mark Van Doren poem of the same name, and Maida began going by the stage name Raine Maida. Lanni hooked the band up with his brother Rob and Eric Lawrence of Coalition Entertainment to manage them, who in turn got them some gigs around Ontario and in Montreal backing up The Tea Party.
Lanni arranged some time in his studio for some demos, and with some help from Sam Siciliano, a film student and friend of Turner’s, the band shot an independent video for the song “Out of Here.” The video received some airplay on MuchMusic. But shortly after returning to Arnyard, Newell left the band and was replaced with session drummer John Bouvette. After running out of money for recording time, Geffen and Interscope considered the tapes, and auditions were set up with reps from Warner, EMI, and Sony. It was Sony’s head of A&R Richard Zuckerman who took a chance on the band, signing them to a deal in April ’93. Around the same time, they recruited Jeremy Taggart, then only 17 years old, as their new drummer.
Comprised mostly of re-worked demos recorded over the last year and a half, they released their debut album, NAVEED, in March, 1994. Five singles made their way up the charts over the next year – “The Birdman,” “Starseed,” “Hope,” “Supersatellite,” and the title track. Sales were boosted by the rotation received for the videos on MuchMusic, and the album was certified platinum in Canada (100,000 units). But the response from the American market was less enthusiastic when it was released Stateside in early ’95, and only “Starseed” made the top 40. That song also found its way onto the “Armageddon” movie soundtrack.
They toured Canada, opening for 54-40, Alanis Morissette, and I Mother Earth, and for Van Halen and Page & Plant in the US, and started the process of their next project. But Eacrett left due to musical differences in mid-tour, replaced on bass by Duncan Coutts, a former classmate of Maida’s. The material was so strong in the band’s opinion that some even made the set lists. In the middle of the schedule they found themselves up for a pair of JUNOs. Although they lost out in the Best Alternative Album category, they did pick one up for the jacket design for NAVEED.
In a change in direction, their American distributor, Relativity Records, dropped the band from its roster. But the band wasn’t at a loss, with Columbia announcing shortly thereafter it would handle distribution in both Canada and the US. They released CLUMSY, their biggest selling album to date, in January, ’97. The lead-off “Superman’s Dead” and the title track both topped Canada’s singles chart, and both did well in the US as well, each taking their time in the top 10. “Automatic Flowers,” “4 AM,” and “Carnival” kept the band on the airwaves, and the videos for the first four singles kept them on the screens for the better part of a year and a half. Compared to its predecessor, most critics called it an evolution. The guitars were toned down, but Maida’s sheer mic presence was the same. The new formula worked, earning them their first platinum album in the US, and first diamond (1 million copies) at home.
As well as their three-leg tour that took them around the world in 21 months that included opening for Everclear, Third Eye Blind, Eve 6, and The Rolling Stones, they headlined their first American tour, with Headswim and Black Lab. They also set up its own cross-Canada travelling road show, dubbed Summersault Festival, with lineups that included The Foo Fighters, A Perfect Circle and The Smashing Pumpkins. Touring with them however didn’t come without pitfalls, when lead Pumpkin Billy Corgan accused the band of ripping off his band’s material. A highlight of that touring season however had them perform at the ’98 Summersault Festival and at Woodstock ’99. Only a few weeks before that show, the band played a set of gigs in Muskoka and Toronto under the pseudonym Belly Flop Communist, where they debuted much of the new record. In between trips on the road, they also recorded a cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” for “The Craft” film soundtrack.
Redemption for their earlier JUNO loss also came in ’99 when CLUMSY earned the band the award for Best Rock Album. That same night, they were also nominated for four other JUNOs, but failed to win for Best Selling Album (Foreign or Domestic), Single of the Year for “Clumsy,” Group of the Year, or Album of the Year.
Once the suitcases were unpacked, they began working on the new record, returning to Lanni’s Arnyard Studios. Following a live in-studio concert and Q&A session which was aired to 12 canadian radio stations simultaneously, and then a special listening party on their website, they released HAPPINESS IS NOT A FISH THAT YOU CAN CATCH in September 1999. Boston area multi-instrumentalist Jamie Edwards (formerly of Blue Man Group) had been brought in during the recording of the previous album, and was again used for the new album, and hung around for the subsequent tour schedule. Backed with the singles “One Man Army,” “Is Anybody Home?,” “Thief” (about a young girl stricken with cancer that the band had befriended while on tour), and a guest appearance by legendary jazz drummer Elvin Jones (John Coltrane) on “Stealing Babies, the record debut at #1 on the Canadian Albums Chart, and eventually went three times platinum, selling over 40,000 copies in its first week. This was despite some critics’ best efforts to play down the record, often calling it “over ambitious” and condemning Raida’s overly falsetto vocal stylings.
Constant touring for the next year and a half had them on the road with Oleander, Creed, Smashing Pumpkins, and Foo Fighters, and opening for The Stereophonics in Europe and in Canada, as well as several festivals, including their second travelling road show called The Summersault Festival, Pointfest Music Fest in St. Louis, and Springfest in Pensacola, Florida.
The Japanese version of the album also contained a cover of Neil Young‘s “Needle & The Damage Done.” The band also recorded the song “Whatever,” which was used by WWE superstar Chris Benoit as his theme music. Both of these were originally intended for the North American release, but didn’t make the cut. By this time, frontman Maida had also found time to marry Winnipeg songstress Chantal Kreviazuk.
With word of an impending new album, the first single, “In Repair” was released in November 2000. Although the song cracked the top 20, it quickly fell off the radar, and bombed in the US market, even though its video eventually won several awards. SPIRITUAL MACHINES was released in time for the Christmas rush, predominantly written while on tour earlier in the year. Veering from their normal approach to recording, the project eventually morphed into their first concept album, named after Raymond Kurzweil’s book a year earlier called “The Age of Spiritual Machines.” Kurzweil himself lent his voice to spoken parts throughout the record, and his modified K250 keyboard was used on a record for the first time. As recording wound down, Taggart suffered a serious ankle injury during a mugging while walking his dog. The band called on Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) to fill in behind the drumkit. In addition, Edwards and his guitar were also used for the record.
With more of a stripped down feel with noticeably less post production and overdubbing, the album eventually peaked at #5 in Canada. The second single, “Life” was on the airwaves while the band was on the road in early 2001, earning them a nomination at that year’s JUNO Award ceremony for Best Single, but lost to Nickelback‘s “How You Remind Me.” “Life” also made the soundtrack to the film “Men with Brooms.”
But by the time “Right Behind You” was released as the third single, label execs had become concerned with the less than expected response to the album, and relatively lacklustre sales. This is despite the album selling 100,000 copies in the first month, eventually reaching the double platinum plateau at home. The third single failed to crack the top 40, and the video, which was already done, was aborted. It was later finished and released on the band’s website a few years later.
Although they were on the road for nearly a full year, twice several shows had to be cancelled, once when Maida contracted a throat infection, and again when Coutts had a cancer scare. Although it turned out to be a false alarm, it kept him off the stage for nearly six weeks in early ’01. Rob Higgins of Change of Heart filled in for him on bass during that time, but Coutts was again sidelined that June when after breaking his wrist in a biking accident. Guitarist Mike Turner left the group during the dying days of the tour, and would later form Fair Ground with Harem Scarem guitarist Pete Lesperance and later joined Crash Karma.
Looking to breathe some fresh air into their music, they called on producer Bob Rock (Payolas, Aerosmith, Metallica) for their next project. GRAVITY was released in the spring of 2002, shortly before Detroit native Steve Mazur was added on guitars. They recorded outside of Ontario for the first time, parking themselves at Rock’s Plantation Studio in Maui, Hawaii for three months. Shortly after its release, Jamie Edwards, who was finally declared an official member of the group only months earlier, left.
The album received mixed reviews, with some critics and die-hard fans contending it was too radical a shift from what they’d come to expect, adopting a more mainstream sound and lacking any great creativity. Still, the lead single “Somewhere Out There” topped Canada’s singles chart, and eventually became the band’s biggest international hit. “Innocent” followed it up the charts, peaking at #2 in Canada and even making it to #12 in New Zealand, the band’s first charting in that country. The album debuted and peaked at #2 and #9 on the charts in Canada and the US, respectively.
During the early days of the tour, shows were taped, with the intent of releasing a live album. But executive decision from head office panned the idea, and instead the tracks selected found their way onto international releases of the album, a practice that had been done since the CLUMSY album in 1997. Their first live album, a project they’d wanted to do for years, finally saw the light of day in the summer of 2003, when the univentively titled LIVE album was finally released. A DVD version of their ‘fear of the trailer park’ cross-Canada tour was released that November. Of the six extra songs, it also included a cover of The Cars’ “Drive.”
But despite relative success in the US, the suits at Columbia wanted a bona-fide smash album, and insisted the band supply an excess of material to choose from for the next project. As a result, over 40 songs were recorded, and slimmed down to 12 when HEALTHY IN PARANOID TIMES came out in 2005. They again turned to Bob Rock for production, and recording actually took place in 10 studios across North America over nearly two years, although it was initially intended to be released over a year earlier, and the process and delays had actually caused great tension within their ranks, and they narrowly avoided breaking up on several occasions. The long delay between records didn’t help matters any. Only the die-hard fans welcomed it, as it seemed everyone else, including the critics, had forgotten about the band.
Musically, the simplified sound was still polished, lighter and easier to digest. And as was common practice for the band, much of the material was written on the road, and several songs were actually premiered live long before the album’s release. The first single, “Where Are You?” was on the radio before the album’s August ’05 release, peaking at #28 on Billboard after a nine week run. “Angels Losing Sleep” and “Will The Future Blame Us?” followed it into the top 40 in Canada over the next eight months, but a breakthrough single Stateside still eluded them.
But lyrically, the songs were in many cases some of the most intense the band had written, fuelled in part by Maida’s trip to Sudan and Dafur to shoot a documentary about the plight of children caught up in war. “Wipe That Smile Off Your Face” was one of the most political songs they’d written, about George W Bush. Other noteable cuts included “Walking In Circles” and “No Warning.” The album peaked at #2 in Canada and was certified platinum (100,000 units), but stalled at #45 in the US.
Following a year-long tour schedule that saw them open for The Rolling Stones, but for the most part playing smaller venues, brass at Columbia were disgruntled, and dropped the band. The label released the compilation A DECADE in 2006, which featured a summation of the band’s six studio albums, as well as two new tracks, “Kiss On The Mouth” and “Better Than Here,” as well as a live version of “Angels Losing Sleep.” The collection also included a bonus DVD containing live concert footage and exclusive interviews at Toronto’s Massey Hall.
Taking some time off while looking for direction, Maida released his first solo album in 2007, THE HUNTER’S LULLABY. The rest of the band also took some time off for outside projects. In the meantime, Columbia’s subsidiary Legacy Records released a compilation in their Playlist series in early 2009. THE VERY BEST OF OUR LADY PEACE contained nothing new, and were tracks selected for the most part by the band, not necessarily the label. Hence it contained some of the band members’ favourite tracks, and not necessarily the biggest hits. “One Man Army,” “Life,” and “In Repair” were excluded, and in their place were “Stealing Babies” and “The Wonderful Future.”
The band meanwhile had been working on new material, both collaboratively and individually, and got back together after signing with Coalition Entertainment. BURN BURN was released later that year, and was heralded by the most diehard of fans, thanks in part to the return of the band’s raw roots, although a little more mature. “All You Did Was Save My Life” made it to #12, and found its way to #36 in the US. With things looking optimistic, ” “The End Is Where We Begin” was released before year’s end, but failed to make any impression at home and barely cracked the top 40 Stateside. This was despite videos being shot for both tracks, and receiving decent airplay on the video stations. Still, the band spent the better part of a year on the road across the contintent, including a number of shows that saw the CLUMSY and SPIRITUAL MACHINES albums played in their entirety.
Our Lady Peace was one of the originators of groups who try to use the Internet to its fullest advantage, often releasing unreleased gems and previews of upcoming singles long before they’re available to the masses. In 2010, that list of tracks included the new ones – “The Wolf,” “Window Seat,” and in 2011 “Fight The Good Fight” was written and released in rsponse to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ events taking place across North America.