Not Of This Earth
by Jennifer Boddy
Hey! Behind you! Watch out for that guy! Holy smokes, he's got a guitar! Bass! Drums! It's the Shadowy Men from a Shadowy Planet - three fellows from Toronto with nothing to say, but a plethora of musical ambiance.
Action! Adventure! Drama! Romance! It's all there, kids, in the fabulous soundtrack to the Shadowy Men - instrumental since 1985.
"We consciously try to create a mood," says drummer Don Pyle. "Because we're all instrumental, people can get a visual feel for it. Singers usually have such a strong presence, it's hard to get a feel of what it would look like."
"Look how Meatloaf took over that band," says bassist Reid Diamond, "See. All I can remember is Meatloaf."
It's true. When you listen to their crazy breakneck surfpunk you get such mental images. Never mind Beach Boys re-issues, these are the true gods of summer. And if you like one song, you'll like all of them. If you don't, then you're just no fun. Plenty to like, too. The combo has about a hundred original songs, and hundreds more too short to be called songs.
"And about 80 percent of those are stolen," says Reid.
"Well, not really stolen," says Pyle. "Music is like words…"
"And we just take out these rock words and make new sentences from them."
"We're influenced by everybody."
"But not Todd Rundgren."
Maybe you've heard their non-Rundgren-influenced music as aural backdrop. They recorded the soundtrack to Comic Book Confidential (Ron Mann's documentary tribute to graphic artists such as Sue Coe, Los Bros. Hernandez, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns and Robert Crumb). It won a Genie. They did the soundtrack to Colin Brunton's folk Mysterious Moon Men Of Canada. It won a Genie. They do the music for Canada's "Kids In The Hall" TV series. It won a Casby. Maybe you've seen it (do you get cable?) because HBO picked it up. Lorne Michaels produces it. He didn't want the Shadowy Men to do the music. They are not even studio musicians, he thinks. They sound like cheap strip music.
"We saw him once and all he said was, 'you'll find this show will give you a lot more exposure,'" Pyle sals.
"Actually, we've been warned not to say anything about him," Reid says. "Y'know, but he's reeeeally fat."
They don't make a ton of money from the show, but it's pretty good that thet get residuals for a song recorded years earlier, "Having An Average Weekend," the opening theme. They get weekly pay, too, for the new stuff they record each week played between sketches.
Recently the band addressed the needs of society by recording "Music For Pets" on Olympia's own K label, pet calendar included.
"Sometimes pets are addressed on children's records, but adults just don't take them seriously," explains Reid.
They're just the swingin' singles kind of guys, and each a gem of specialness. 1985 - "Love Without Words," all Simon and Garfunkel tunes; 1986 - "Wow Flutter and Hiss '86," containing the smash hit from TV; 1987 - "Schlagers!" containing a lunar tiddly winks board game; 1988 - "Explosion Of Taste" encased in a Jiffy Popcorn package, and "Reid Does Neil," all Neil Diamond songs.
See, all special. And it's not so easy, either, considering Canadians falter in the fine art of beautiful singles.
"There's no place in Canada that manufactures seven-inch records," says Pyle. "They just don't know how. One place took four times mastering it before it was pressed."
Geez, they try to do a singles giveaway at one show, and they've got to hand out coupons because the single was weeks late. But they're used to being unconventional. They've opened for themselves, played on a beach with a generator, played a boat cruise, published a papier mache recipe for the Boy Scouts of America, play lounge versions of Shadowy Men songs in their alter ego band Chateau Amen, carted their equipment around in shopping carts from gig to gig…
"We joined in the Santa Claus parade once," says Pyle. "We got a scolding for that one from the police."
"Actually, it was from elves with batons," explains Reid.
And they've had the honor of Johnny Ramone telling them, "I wanted to see your show, but I kept getting mobbed."
"And Joey said, 'Woof, Woof,'" says Reid.
"And Dee Dee said, 'Can you get me some valium?'" says Pyle.
"We never got a sentence out of the drummer."
Who knows if they'll have time to decorate for their upcoming tour. They like theme shows, like the time they had a girl in rollerskates come out holding signs of song names.
"We could do that this time, put an ad in the paper, 'Boy or girl in this neighborhood, you could earn big $$$," says Reid. "No, we're going to show up and play nothing but Ventures songs. That's a ghost we have yet to exorcise."
"I think our theme for the show will be selling records and t-shirts," Pyle says.
An album is due, too, sometime before we turn the clocks back, called Dim The Lights, Chill The Ham. (An album compiling some of their singles is also available.)
"It's an album full of songs," explains Reid.
So now's the time to shed that seasonal depression and go see the SMfaSP. They promote good values, like politeness.
"And we play real instruments," says Reid.
"But we sample everything," says Pyle.
"Come to see us as a curiosity."
"We have a motto, 'We don't care who you are, we like you.'"