The Soul in the Machine: An Interview with Raine Maida of
Our Lady Peace
The fourth album from Canadian alternative rockers Our Lady Peace, is called Spiritual Machines; a title that may ring a bell even if you’ve not heard the record. An interest in the book The Age of Spiritual Machines, a fascinating hypothesis on the future of artificial intelligence by inventor/ scientist/visionary Ray Kurzweil, lead to the album’s provocative moniker, but according to lead vocalist and songwriter Raine Maida, to label the record a concept album is, well, a misconception. “Some of the songs, lyrically, were inspired by the book,” says the singer, “[but] It’s not really based on that book. We had half the record done before the book even entered the equation. So even though it seems quite intrinsic to the record, really, it only represents about four or five songs.”
The album’s title actually started out as a joke, when Maida suggested they call the CD Kurzweil. While half the band members were less than enthusiastic, Maida and guitarist Mike Turner decided to pursue the idea. On a lark, they sent Kurzweil an e-mail after visiting the author’s Web site, which is listed on the book jacket. “We sent him this e-mail saying, ‘This is who we are and we’re singing about this. Is [using this title] cool?,’ not thinking that we’d get a reply back.” By the following morning, Maida had not only received a response from Kurzweil, but a friendly thumbs-up on the album title idea.
“We sent him some of our music and just developed this friendship,” says Maida. Kurzweil even makes an appearance on Spiritual Machines, reading several short passages taken from his book. “You know, you never think you’ll be able to get to someone like that,” he continues, obviously incredulous at his good fortune. “In Ray’s field, it’s kind of like getting to Bill Gates, you know?” Compared to the band’s previous three albums, Maida says Spiritual Machines differs in that, “it’s very organic sounding; It’s really live,” he explains. “We tried to do things really quickly. On Happiness is Not a Fish… we labored over every little thing and every little sound. This time, we tried to capture the moment and not over-analyze everything.”
Our Lady Peace has maintained a steady forward momentum over the past five or six years: touring the world, selling millions of albums, and dominating both Canada’s radio airwaves and their home country’s version of MTV, Much Music. Among the many signposts of success, Raine Maida doesn’t have to think too hard to single out a career highlight. “It would be easy to talk about touring with Page & Plant, or Van Halen, or playing Woodstock, but really, the last tour we just did has been unbelievable. I think all the hard work we put in has paid off. Even though we were just selling out theaters and big clubs — two or three thousand people a night — the shows were just great and the fans are unbelievable. They come and they sing every song. We’ve always said, we want to make good records, whether or not we’re writing hit singles. I think it’s kind of hit home [that we’re at the point] where we’ve got this fan base now that’s so passionate about the band. It’s pretty special.”
Ink 19 asked Raine to come up with a list of his ten favorite songs and this is what he said. “You know, it’s hard to do this kind of thing. There’s so many songs that I like, but I hopefully gave a good cross section. I think a lot of these songs are representative of really getting me excited about music. These are definitely a handful of the most important songs in my life.”
1. “A Sort of Homecoming” by U2
That’s off of The Unforgettable Fire. I just remember hearing that song and it made me think that the ’80s weren’t that bad. It just felt like, “This is really different and I get what he’s trying to say.” It got me into that record, and it really got me into music, which kind of propelled me into wanting to be a singer and wanting to make music of my own. It’s really the delivery that Bono has that’s so passionate and it’s not a like a “pop hit” song. There’s just something really intrinsic in the way he delivers it, from his heart. It’s pretty wild.
2. “Troy” by Sinead O’Connor
I saw her play that song at a little club in Toronto, just her and an acoustic guitar; on the record it’s got strings and it’s a big production piece. Man, it’s like everyone in the room almost had tears in their eyes when she played it. I think it’s about her first love, who she had a kid with.
3. “Everything’s Ruined” by Faith No More
That’s just a brilliant song off of Angel Dust. I like so many of their songs, but that’s just an awesome song. We played some festivals with them a few years ago, and I think Mike Patton is by far one of the best singers and best showmen in rock. He’s a guy that can go from screaming and intense, throaty singing to singing like an operatic singer. He’s just really versatile and that song kind of showcases him. It’s hard to describe that song — you’d have to hear it — but it’s pretty wild. I love Mr. Bungle, too. I have a record of Mike Patton, I think it’s called Theme Music for Eating. It’s a double CD and it’s just him eating different meals, with music behind it. You can hear him chewing and stuff. It’s pretty wild. It’s about ten steps left of what Mr. Bungle does, and Mr. Bungle’s pretty out there.
4. “Mountain Song” by Jane’s Addiction
When I first heard that song, I was like, “Fuck! Who are these guys?” I went and saw them, actually, at the same club where I saw Sinead O’Connor, it’s just a tiny club in Toronto. It completely blew me away. No one really knew the band [at that time] but it was just such an intense vibe and that song is just so powerful. It sounded so different and original. It feels like a real band song, because the drums and the bass are so much a part of it.
5. “The Day I Tried to Live” by Soundgarden
You know what? That song got me out of a huge depression. When we were first on the road, we were touring in a little school bus going across Canada. We were doing these bars and we’d walk into these places and — especially this one place in Winnipeg – at, like, 4:00 PM and they’d be kicking all the regulars out. The Native American population in Winnipeg is really depressed and very poor. They’d go in there and start drinking and fill these tables up with these little glasses of draft beer. When we walked in there, they were just cleaning off the tables and all these Indians were just so drunk, they’d basically pick them up and throw them out into the alley. I saw this happen like three times over the course of this first tour and that was my introduction to being on the road and in a band. I was like. “Fuck, this is bullshit.” So that record and that song was pretty instrumental in keeping me going. Soundgarden has always been one of my favorite bands in terms of rock music, because they were like the Led Zeppelin of our time. And actually, Matt Cameron played drums on our last record. He is truly one of the best drummers around. He’s so unbelievable. I mean, you listen to Soundgarden stuff and the guy never played the same thing twice in the course of a song.
6. “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” by Stevie Wonder
That’s the last song on Innervisions, and to me, it makes that record almost perfect. It’s such a beautiful song. It’s the first song I tried to learn on piano, too, and it’s a really difficult piece. Stevie Wonder produced that record, arranged it, played, I think, almost all the instruments. To me it just sums up how awesome of a musician he was. It’s really inspiring. His last four records I haven’t really gotten into. It’s kind of the same thing with Elton John. The ’70s and early ’80s were really hot, and then he kind of got too schmaltzy.
7. “Shame” by Brad
That’s Stone Gossard’s side project. Sean Smith, the guy who sings in that band, he has his own stuff going on now, but he’s just an incredible singer. I mean, talk about Stevie Wonder; he’s kind of like the white Stevie Wonder, I think. He’s got that soul. That whole record was just totally amazing and no one ever heard of it or knew them. I talk about Brad a lot because I was such a fan that record, and I love Sean Smith’s solo record he put out about a year ago. That’s brilliant as well. And no on ever hears about it. I think, with Brad, it probably just got buried because it was on Epic and they also had Pearl Jam on the label and they didn’t want it to distract from Pearl Jam. It was probably political, but it’s too bad, because that record should have been heard.
8. “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails
It’s the same thing as with “Mountain Song” and that U2 song, for me. As soon as I heard that song, I had to find out who it was and what was going on, because it was so different. I saw Nine Inch Nails at the first Lollapalooza. They played at, like, 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It was pretty intense.
9. “Across The Universe” by The Beatles
It’s like any Beatles song, I could pick forty of them. But that’s just such a beautiful song. Honestly, they all rate the same to me, so I don’t know why that one came up, but they’re all incredible. When I first started to write songs, there was this big white book called The Beatles Anthology that has all the tabs for every song they ever wrote. I think for musicians, it should be like the Bible, because it’s just amazing to learn their songs, and see how they put chords and melody together. It’s so pure and they were the inventors of a lot of those melodies. I mean, I love their music on a visceral level, and then all of a sudden you realize how they do it and you just fall in love with it even more. I’m much more of a [John] Lennon fan, I think, just in terms of that I gravitate more to his stuff. But I appreciate everything they do.
10. “Teardrop” by Massive Attack
That’s one of the best verse melodies I’ve ever heard in my life. And I love The Cocteau Twins — Liz Fraser sings on that song — so to have those two together is pretty wild. Massive Attack, they always get different singers, so they got her to sing that song and it’s just completely beautiful.