New Orleans is known to music lovers everywhere as the cradle of jazz and the birthplace of Louis Armstrong. But it is also a hard-rock town and the home of End Fest, an annual, daylong event featuring the top names in alternative music. This years festival, held on Oct. 23, featured a lineup including Marcy Playground, Collective Soul, Days of the New and Canadas Our Lady Peace. But it was not music that Our Lady Peace front man Raine Maida had on his mind when his bands tour bus pulled into the Big Easy. Instead, the Canadian musician was thinking about firearms. “New Orleans is not a safe city,” Maida said grimly in an interview with Macleans. “Everyone here has guns, and that frightens the hell out of me. It’s the same thing in St. Louis and every other major American city.”
Maida should know: the 28year-old singer has seen his fair share of the U.S. urban landscape. Since its formation in 1993, the Toronto band— which includes guitarist Mike Turner, bassist Duncan Coutts and drummer Jeremy Taggart—has crisscrossed America repeatedly. In fact, the recent stop at End Fest was the group’s 10th visit to New Orleans alone. But all that touring has paid off. Our Lady Peace is now the second most popular Canadian band south of the border, after Toronto’s Barenaked Ladies. Nearly half of the two million sales of the group’s first two albums, Naveedand Clumsy, have come from American consumers. And now, with the release of its third album, Happiness... Is Not a Fish that You Can Catch, the band has been embraced by
U.S. critics as well. “Brash, angry, yet gloriously melodic,” raved The Boston Globe, while Rolling Stone credited the group for its willingness to “flirt with the big issues.” But The Washington Post’s Mark Jenkins paid Our Lady Peace the highest compliment when he wrote that its new album “sparkles at a
time when so much rock sounds flat.” On their home and native soil, the group’s members are accustomed to awards and accolades, having won 1998 Junos for group and album of the year while being hailed for songs of brooding introspection. Maida, however, eschews celebrity—even though the darkly handsome singer and his striking fiancée, singer Chantal Kreviazuk, easily qualify as Canadian pop’s most glamorous couple (page 136). “There are no rock stars in this band,”
says Maida adamandy, “just real people, no different than anyone else. We try not to get caught up in all the superficial stuff.” Adds bassist Coutts: “If we don’t sell like the Backstreet Boys, we’re fine with that. We just want to make music that we like.”
That music on Happiness zigzags from taut rockers like Blister to such off-kilter numbers as the tempo-shifting Potato Girl, all delivered in Maida’s intense Jekyll-and-Hyde style—raging baritone one moment, soothing falsetto the next. A former criminology student at the University of Toronto, Maida is also the lyricist and is therefore responsible for the group’s outlook, which he describes as “dark optimism.” He tackles issues of conformity and alienation on One Man Army, while Annie —about a high-school outcast who has violent fantasies— seems to draw on the highschool massacre in Littleton, Colo. But Maida insists that the song came to him before that recent tragedy. “It’s really about people who get picked on that aren’t helpless anymore,” says Maida, who worries that some Internet chat rooms feed the antisocial impulses of loners. “There are connections made where who knows what’s real, but it’s enough to turn into a kind of reality for these people. It can get pretty dangerous.”
So can travelling through parts of America. Meanwhile, Maida is looking forward to a few British dates in December and then a New Year’s Eve appearance in Ottawa, followed by a cross-country tour. Until then, the group will wind its way from San Antonio, Tex., to San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles to Las Vegas, playing large venues and seeking out the finest eateries. “We can name the best sushi restaurants in every major U.S. city,” says Maida. For down-to-earth rockers Our Lady Peace, that’s a true measure of success.
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