Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet
Although they only do instrumentals, Toronto's Shadowy Men are nobody's fucking surf band. Put away any misconceived notions about towheaded blondes in Pendleton plaids driving vans up and down Highway 101 lookin' for that one perfect bitchin' wave. These guys are more about contemplative pop, game shows, inside jokes and the all-inclusive world of 7-11 (Super Big Gulps, heat lamp food and existentialist dilemmas resolved).
They are as follows - Brian: Guitar, lantern jawed Clark Kent impersonator. Reid: Bass, quirky little animal sounds, possible resemblance to Mr. Mxyzptlk, the impish, other-dimensional nemesis of our Kryptonian hero. Don: Drums, strong quiet type about whom no easy Superman comparisons can be made.
They are also three of the nicest guys you'd ever hope to meet and were more than willing to go hang out in the North park blocks and talk to some goofy sycophant like myself.
So, you're obviously not mute, how come you only do instrumentals?
R - Why not? If we sung, we'd be like any other band. Besides, if you'd ever heard us try to sing, you wouldn't be asking us that.
B - Plus, this way we don't have to cut anybody else in on the take at the end of the night. Clever, huh?
Okay, so I have to ask, how'd you get to do the "Kids In The Hall" theme song (Another Average Weekend)
B - We knew the guys from the show because we'd play at the same clubs together in Toronto and started accompanying them between skits. When they got to the point of being on T.V. regularly it seemed natural to keep doing it. It's a good arrangement.
You guys score all the music, right?
R - Yeah. Not only the theme song but all the between-skit stuff, and we also write things for them to do in the skits.
B - For instance, there's a bit for next year's season that involves one of the guys jumping around and pretending to be playing a guitar and I had to write a song that would go along with his motions. It was challenging.
That must be pretty lucrative, considering the show's on like three times a day on the comedy cable channel here.
B - We just found out about that on the last trip out.
R - We're going to have to make a few phone calls when we get back home. What's that lawyer's number again? Just kidding.
D - It's a lot like piecework, the royalties and all. It's nice to get a check in the mail months after it's all done.
B - We'll be doing more stuff for the show when we get home, for the next season.
So, any troubles coming through American customs to do this tour?
R - Not at all. The only place we've ever had difficulty at customs has been in the U.K. when we did a week there.
B - I think the phrase they kept using was "Threat to the British economy", like we might be taking work that actual English people could be doing.
Well, their economy does seem to be based mainly on pop music and royal scandals, so maybe that's justified in some sense.Was it a nice trip otherwise?
R - Yeah, it was nice enough. We played at four places as big as Satyricon. They seemed to like us alright. We did a recording session for the John Peel BBC radio show.
How was that?
B - (in a voice like the Queen Mum) We don't wish to talk about that, than you veddy much.
R - It wasn't anything spectacular. He does like four bands a week, just sets up the microphones and lets the bands go at it.
B - Borrowed guitars.
R - We don't plan on releasing it, if you know what I mean.
At this point, I notice that my tape recorder has gone utterly dead and lacking pen or paper to take notes, I'm going to have to rely on memory to transcribe this later. They seem amused by this.
Well, I'll do my best to keep this accurate. I may not remember who said what but I won't make up anything that I don't think you would have said yourselves.
R - Good. Although you could hardly do worse than some of the misquotes we've had in other interviews.
R - Oh, let's see. One guy asked me if the Kids In The Hall thing fell through if I'd still be willing to sleep on people's floors, the whole rock, "Paying your dues" thing and I told him I was at an age now where I wouldn't be sleeping on floors but that music was still going to be my priority, 'cause it's what I do. When he wrote it up he made it sound like … as soon as the gravy train was over, I'm outta here, man! Thanks a lot, pal.
I'll try and be fair. So, what's next for this trip?
B - We're headed down south, California and all that, and then going through the Northern strech on our way back home. This is only like a two week deal, this trip.
Oh, so are you going through Calgary and all that?
R - Yeah, my home town, his too (points at Brian).
Is that nice? Calgary always seems like an oasis kind of city, all alone on the plains, etc.
R - I don't care for it much. It's kind of a boom town, an oil town. It grew so fast that anything old was ripped down to make way for new parking lots, car dealerships.
B - It's a very car-oriented place. It's really spread out so that everyone has their own little house set far back from the neighbors. God forbid anyone would have to live in an apartment building where they'd have to see anyone face to face. I'm glad to be out of it.
R - We started playing in bands there, like over ten years ago.
Was there much of a scene back then?
R - Um … no. The nightclubs are inside shopping malls, and you'd have to play crappy top forty to appease the cowboys. It paid well, though. This is pre-MTV, remember, and live entertainment was at something of a premium then. We'd get paid more doing one of those places in Calgary in 1978 than we'll be getting tonight in '93.
B - But playing our own material is what we'd rather be doing.
I think I ran out of music-type questions at this point and we just sit around and chat. The subject of ant farms comes up somehow.
R - So all you'd get in the kit is the frame and instructions? The dirt you could find yourself, I'm sure, but no ants?
No, you have to send away for them separately. Some kind of scam, I guess.
B - It's probably so the storekeepers don't have to worry about them escaping and getting to the other things on the shelves. And who knows how long the box sits there before some kid comes along and buys it. Ants gotta eat.
R - Yeah but what? Do the ants come with special food, or do they just eat other ants? What a creepy thought.
My dad would never let me have an ant farm. I just don't think he saw the purpose, because you can't pet them and they don't do any useful household chores like regular farm animals would. The ads always looked so cool. When I lived in Montana I'd watch Lethbridge T.V., and they'd show commercials between endless bouts of curling on Saturday afternoons.
R - Now, curling, that's a great sport. You don't do that down here, do you?
No, I think it's illegal here. And besides, it's just shuffleboard on ice.
R - No way! There's a lot more involved than that. It's very subtle.
B - A game of inches.
R - No, that's baseball. Curling is more scientific. And the spectacle! Men, brooms, ice and sweat!
The subtlety would be lost here, I s'pose. America tends to condescend to our cousins to the North, or simply forget that you exist at all. Does that bother you much?
B - I don't think we notice it at all. It's not like people come to see us play in the States and say "Oh, not bad for Canadians!". But they tend to see our country in these strange romantic terms, just the vastness of it all, the wealth of natural resources.
Yes, we want your trees, because we're running out. I guess we think of Canadians as, "Just like us, only polite."
B - That's not a bad way to put it.
R - (laughs) Although it's not necessarily true. We have the privlege of viewing your culture up close without having to participate in it. It's a good laugh, you know, "Look at what those crazy Americans are doing." That's why so many of your popular comedians are Canadian, we can explain the strangeness of what you're doing so you can laugh too. You have to be from somewhere else to notice how weird it all is.