Formed in Edmonton in 1983, Subtle Hints was the remnants of several other promising groups on the scene. After Slash & The Bleeding Hearts had run its course, frontman Barry Sainchuk (also ex of Dirty Pictures) and keyboardist RJ Smart hooked up with drummer Michael Sniatenchuk. The lineup was rounded out with guitarist Gord McCrostie, and brought in high school friend Curtis Ruptash on bass, who was still technically with Pretty Rough at the time.
Looking to do a recording project, they cut a four-song rough demo in the fall of ’82, which brought Gary Lloyd on sax into the fold. “I was still in Pretty Rough, but I was interested in working in broader genres. And this came out so well that we felt that there was definitely something good possible,” Ruptash explained.
So in early ’83 they hooked up with producer Clive Alcock and went to Damon Studios in Edmonton. Along the way, McCrostie was replaced on guitars with Brian Schultze, a friend of Ruptash who worked with him a few years earlier in a music store. “He was the non-conventional guitar player I thought would fit well into the eclectic direction the band was heading,” Ruptash said.
A five-track, mostly live off the floor demo (“Vital Signs,” “He Wants You,” “Lost in Action,” “Sunshades,” and “Nightclubbing”) was played for Holger Peterson of Stony Plain Records. Interested in expanding the label’s repertoire beyond blues/roots, he offered to release an LP, on the condition a few more tracks were added. Four more tracks were added, and their eponymous debut was in the stores in early ’84.
The record was well received in campus stations across the country, despite the fact there was very little formal promotion, particularly from capus radio stations across the country. Experimental electronica and new wave pop, the band was a cross between The Fixx and Split Enz. The lead-off “Lost in Action” b/w “Night Clubbing” was the first single, followed by “Vital Signs” before the end of the year. “Lost in Action” was re-released, this time with “He Wants You” as the new b-side the following spring. The two versions of “Lost In Action” were also released in Austria, and then Australia. Other tracks included “Moth to the Flame,” “Clark County,” and “Castaway.”
“Reviews were really positive and the band’s live shows were extremely tight,” Ruptash noted.Their live sound engineer, John Trace, was looking to start a video production, and even put up the money to produce two videos, for “Lost In Action” and “He Wants You.” Although he was happy with the results, Ruptash said he still can’t help but feel it was an opportunity lost. “Much Music was just launching and needed CanCon. The videos turned out nicely and John offered to let us use them if he got a point or two on record profits. He knew, as did I, that this wouldn’t amount ot much more of a gesture of good will. Unfortunately, some band members and Stony Plain balked at the idea, so they were never used,” he said.
But touring and musical differences caused an amicable split by the fall of ’85. Some of the members felt they needed to be touring in the major markets, where they were getting good response from the singles. In the summer of ’85, Stony Plain offered to release a second record, suggesting Claire Lawrence (formerly of Chilliwack) to produce. But by that point, and even though new material had been written, some of the band felt that there wasn’t much point in recording another record without a willingness to tour.
Following their demise, Schultze and Ruptash went on to form Guerilla Welfare, releasing three albums up to 1991. While working on a fourth album, Ruptash moved to Chicago where he became a highly sought-after studio player, and the band dissolved. Schultze started up Avenue Guitars in Edmonton, while Sniatenchuk, Lloyd, and Smart all remained in Edmonton in various groups, and Sainchuk got out of the business all together.