Indie-tastic: The Rheostatics

The strange thing about Canadian music is that most times we have no idea what to do with it. Perhaps it's just a marketing problem that we have, or perhaps we are just selfish and greedy and want to keep all of our brilliant music to ourselves. In the 1980s, when the Rheostatics emerged from the mess of southern Ontario 'burbs that cradle the T-dot, specifically Etobicoke, a good thing was on the go. A number of independent singles and demos later, they were popular among the university kids of the city, and quite popular on CNFY with one of their singles, an ode to a Maple Leaf great 'The Ballad of Wendel Clark, pts. 1 & 2'.  Things were looking up for this indie-pop-rock group of fellows: Dave Bidini, Tim Vesely, Dave Clark and Martin Tielli.

And then Canada got greedy.

In 1991 they signed to indie label Intrepid Records and released the album Melville. All hail Canadian music-makers. This album is a startling breakthrough of pure-bred Canadian brilliance, and includes a cover of the Gordon Lightfoot tune, nay hymn, 'Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald'. How's that for celebrating Canadian artistry? It's like... double amazing.

And down a golden paved Bruce Trail they went. Several more albums, including a film soundtrack, gave way to one of their only Top 40 tracks, 'Claire' (found on the Whale Music soundtrack as well as the album Introducing Happiness). After this dance with the charts, Clark left the band to focus on his new project, the dinner is ruined, and was replaced by Don Kerr. And the boys kept on rocking and kept on being Canadian. Their music is distinctly different. It's impossible to hear the music of the Rheostatics and not feel different. They built themselves and their music into icons, and the artistic community recognized this.

The National Gallery of Canada asked the Rheostatics to cut them a favour in 1995. Boarders don't exist in art, and the Rheos are definitely artists, so it seemed appropriate that they write some music to accompany the 75th anniversary celebration of Canadian art icons The Group of Seven. Many similarities can be drawn between the musicians in the Rheostatics and the visual artists of the Group of Seven. Both are incredibly distinctive, yet widely accessible. Amazing.  So, that year, the Rheos worked with pianist Keven Hearn (who would go on to be one of the Barenaked Ladies) and created the album Music Inspired by the Group of Seven. Art Rock, indeed!

And then the Tragically Hip called, and the Rheostatics opened for their tour. And then more albums flowed from their instruments, and subtle political criticisms flowed through their lyrics ('Bad Time to be Poor' in reference to the state of Ontario during the government of Mike Harris).  In 1997 the boys released an album based on a children's book written by guitarist Bidini. This album is quite the art piece, with narration between tracks and accomopanying illustrations.  Beautiful. These indie rockers care about their art, and nurture its frontiers, especially on a Canadian front where definitions are hard to come by. And what do they think about it? Well, Dave Bedini thinks "People have painted us as being iconoclasts although, more often than not lately, I hear us described as Canadian icons. I think it's great to be iconoclastic icons. It means that people acknowledge you as being this force that represents constant change and constant challenge. Canada is recognized for being a cavalier place, culturally, always trying to push it harder, certainly in the audacity of Canadian film and literature. There's no reason music can't have that same reputation." Cheers, I say.

Like all good Canadian bands, the Horseshoe Tavern is a special place for the Rheostatics. Their 2001 release Night of the Shoot Stars was promoted and celebrated by 11 consecutive shows on 11 consecutive nights at the notorious pub on Queen St. W in Toronto. And what an event it was! Dubbed the Fall Nationals, the event became a yearly occurance with the band playing 12 nights in 2002 and 13 nights in 2003. Phew! That's a lot of rock.

Since then, Kerr has left the band and Michael Phillip Wojewoda has joined. The album 2067 was released in 2004. And they still tour, they still work on solo projects, other artistic mediums (film, for one), and they still keep up their merits as influential Canadian musicians.

Dave Bidini has released another book since his first, On a Cold Road. The Best Game You Can Name, rightly titled in reference to a Stompin' Tom tune, describes a single game of his team in Toronto's musicians' league.

Time Vesely has released a solo album, The End of Party One, with his Vancouver-based band The Violent Archers.

And in April, the Rheostatics are playing a ten-day, eight show tour in China. A special compilation album to follow. Check them out.

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  • At 12:17 p.m., Blogger Mike said…

    As a hardcore Rheos fan it's nice to see them get some due. Thanks and looking forward to seeing more.


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