Photo by Amanda Fotes.
In Essential Albums our favourite artists dig up a collection of music that they consider “Essential” by any definition they like. This week, Shehzaad Jiwani of Toronto's latest great punk hope Greys takes us down vintage Wedge lane with 15 essential CanRock music videos of the '90s.
The proliferation of bands like METZ and PUP and Greys has sent American critics wondering if this generation of Toronto musicians were born listening to Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard. Well, no, their parents weren't that cool; they just grew up with MuchMusic, Big Shiny Tunes and, hey, Chart Magazine. That's the case for Greys lead singer Shehzaad Jiwani, whose formative years were spent watching Video Flow, working in record stores, and, as a teenager, interning at Chart.
"We grew up in a place and time where we had everything America had, basically," says Jiwani. "All of those bands were popular here. You couldn’t escape Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana. And then if you watched The Wedge you’d see Beck and Bjork, Pavement, PJ Harvey and all these things, which are great. But then you also had all these great Canadian bands, this whole other cache of bands and songs that were great, at least at the time. And that was pop music here! You know, Summersault fest, all that kind of shit. We really held on to rock & roll well into the ‘90s."
Bands like Our Lady Peace and I Mother Earth aren't what you'd jump to after hearing the "loud-rock" firecracker that is Greys' debut album, If Anything, but they lit the spark. Just take the "Would you be my Sook-Yin Lee?" line in "Brain Dead," or the glory-days evoking Greys videos by Amanda Fotes. It all comes from those halcyon days of Much, when you knew everything you'd need to know about a band just by flipping across their clip.
So, with their great new debut record streaming above, Jiwani fulfilled his secret lifelong dream and played '90s VJ for an hour. Read his picks below.
Sloan, “500 Up”
Shehzaad Jiwani: Just as much as the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana were constants in my adolescence, I would say Sloan were just as much part of it. I think they're the best Canadian band of the ‘90s, if not one of the best of all time. Those first five records are untouchable. And even their newer stuff is good.
It was hard to decide on this versus the “The Good In Everyone” video. They’re both great. But “500 Up” has the little duck driving the car, and they just look like kids, so precocious and innocent. It’s great. And also Audrey from The Beverleys forced me to do that one because she said it was her favourite. It’s a great tune and it’s a classic ‘90s Canadian video. It’s just them under a bridge. And you can see they got the Geffen money with that remote control car.
They're reuniting, for better or worse. Mostly worse. That is maybe just ill-advised. I will say I remember almost buying the Moist album Creature on the strength of “Resurrection” because I thought it was such a cool song. And it was vaguely goth, I guess, so as a 9-year-old I was like "this seems kind of dangerous." I remember picking up the album and it looked like the cover of Doom or Quake or some freaky computer game. And I didn’t buy it, which I think was probably the best choice I could have made because I think that album probably isn’t very good.
The video’s cool, though! It’s a one-shot thing, and David Usher’s just walking for some of it, but the camera just pans for all of it. It’s edited well. It’s actually pretty neat. There’s a similar shot in True Detective, a similar panning shot where it keeps showing Matthew McConaughey in the same room over and over again. Very innovative.
So what you’re saying is there would be no True Detective…
...without David Usher, yes.
Big Wreck, “That Song”
I think that Big Wreck, or at least Ian Thornley, was Canada’s Chris Cornell. Because if you look at a picture of him from that time and you look at the pictures in Superunknown they’re basically the same person. I also just think that song kicks ass. The guitar tone is awesome. And it’s catchy as hell.
The Inbreds, "Any Sense of Time"
The great thing about videos back then is that they marry an image with a sound, obviously, and you associate those things together in your head forever after that. That song "Any Sense of Time," any time I hear it I just think of that ‘70s basement, sunny suburban street where we all grew up, wood panelled walls, a shitty old couch, hanging out in the basement with a couple friends. That’s exactly what it reminds me of.
To create that sort of mythology, if you will, by just watching a band – this is what they look like, this is the world they come from – it's an aesthetic and a stamp and a brand that you just kind of buy into. All the Blur videos from around that time are great because they totally do that. Especially for "Song 2" and "Beetlebum."
The Tragically Hip, “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)”
The Hip one is like that, too. I definitely went through a Tragically Hip phase recently. I think they’re like the Canadian R.E.M. Once you reach a certain age you just develop an appreciation for them. That image of Gord Downie in his Bruins crew neck just wobbling back and forth is a big one. It reminds me of the the 1992 World Series, because I remember that video was on all the time. It's also not a bad song.
A lot of people seem to be admitting their Hip fandom lately. We recently published a story that asked if the Hip were suddenly cool.
Well, Gord Downie’s on the new Fucked Up album. They’re an easy band to not like because the music isn’t exactly cool in any remote way. But it’s the same way you appreciate fucking CCR or something like that. They’re just like a classic rock band. They were never trying to be anything else.
They were always played on classic rock radio...
Yeah, like even when they were brand new.
I wonder if they're the band that's most benefited from CanCon regulations.
Maybe! I’m sure they don’t have to work anymore. It’s just too bad they can’t play anywhere outside of Canada. That's not true, I remember they played Woodstock ’99 and there were a shitload of people there for that. Speaking of things that you carry over from your adolescence. The memory of watching that on Much is probably why I don’t have any interest in going to outdoor festivals now. I don’t want to see Limp Bizkit start a riot.
Our Lady Peace, “Superman’s Dead”
Everyone owned that CD. When we were kids some people would have Dookie and some people would have Smash and some people would have, like, Nevermind. And you wouldn’t need to own it yourself because your friends owned it. That was kind of what it was like. You didn’t need to buy it because you’d heard it so many times. Clumsy was totally an album like that. I had heard it so many times before I ever bought it.
The video is funny because it’s clearly trying to send some sort of dystopian message, but it absolutely fails in doing that. It doesn’t mean anything. And then you’ve got the kid from Serial Joe dressed as a girl, and he’s eating an orange in saran wrap. It looks sort of like Metropolis, but just completely fails in every way. Much like a lot of those videos from that time, it's trying to be thematic, but… That’s a very post-grunge thing. After David Fincher started doing all those Rolling Stones videos, everybody started wearing eyeliner and shiny shirts and things got real dark.
Rascalz, "Really Livin"
That’s a classic, not only Canadian video, but also classic hip-hop video because it totally has every early ‘90s hip hop cliché. It’s got steel barrels with fire coming out of them. It’s got a dude behind a chain link fence. And it’s got a couple dutch angles in there. Oh, it’s also got breakdancing. And I think it might have – I might be getting this mixed up with another one of their videos – but it also has kung fu imagery. So that’s everything, right?
Matthew Good Band, "Load Me Up"
This was a toss up between “Load Me Up,” which I think is a great video even now, and “Everything is Automatic,” another one of those somewhat pretentious, vaguely Dylanesque – messages on billboards and shit, making fun of advertisements - one of those videos. Again, the song is not bad. Underdogs is a pretty terrific album. But the video, it kind of looks like a Backstreet Boys video, “Shape Of My Heart” or something like that, with the auditions going on.
“Load Me Up” is the one where all the kids are chasing him and at the end the girl has a knife behind her back. It’s great. And actually, if you can remember to check it out there is a version with commentary on YouTube by Matt Good and the director.
What was the one with the Shyamalan twist? Where he was dead all along?
I don’t remember. Some of his later stuff was lost on me. His videos got pretty brainy.
I Mother Earth, "One More Astronaut"
I read a writeup, I think it was on AUX, that called Edwin a living eyebrow ring, which I thought was hilarious. To be fair I remember a lot of people looked like him at the time. A lot of people had that bleached blonde hair and basically had a bowling shirt and modrobes or khakis.
The video’s great, actually, to be fair. Total Stone Temple Pilots video, where the band doesn’t really know what they’re doing there. It’s obviously someone else’s idea. Bleached blonde Edwin sitting in a seat in the middle of a field with a dude walking around wondering where he is. Outside of that long bongo solo it’s not the worst song in the world, I guess. Could be worse.
“Soda” was I guess a little bit after like Dookie and Rancid, which was a kid that age’s introduction to what punk rock is, for better or for worse.
Great video. You’ve got the dude barfing out crickets at the end. It’s a hilariously apropos quote-unquote “punk rock” video. But it’s funny that as an 8-year-old you would think that because anyone older than an 8-year-old would just dismiss it as stupid. But watching it I was like "eh, it wasn’t that bad." “I want to jump in a lake.” It’s exactly what the song says. And then you have the classic ‘90s trope of making fun of product placement. Just trying your hardest to say that you don’t subscribe to any of these things even though you’re trying real hard to have a video on TV.
Yeah, like the Foo Fighters video.
Totally, although they were already going to be on MTV no matter what.
Eric’s Trip, "View Master"
I’d say out of all of them, this is probably the best. It’s hilariously lackadaisical. It fits the song perfectly. And you can’t not fall in love with Rick White and Julie Doiron. It’s just them hopping up and down the whole time. Great song, amazing record. And they were the original Canadian Sub Pop band.
And you’re wearing a Sub Pop shirt.
There you go.
But be honest, did you like it at the time or discover it later?
That record came out in 1995, I think, so I would have been 8. There is no fucking chance that I would’ve loved Eric’s Trip when I was 8 years old. But I probably liked the video. I would just be up really late watching The Wedge all the time, I don’t know why my parents let me. [MuchMusic] would play that and then they’d play Beavis and Butthead. And Beavis and Butthead played music videos too. I remember seeing Jesus Lizard and PJ Harvey and all that good stuff.
By Divine Right, "Come For A Ride"
I think it’s great because you’ve got Brendan Canning and Feist in the video. Brendan Canning looks hilariously dweebish. It’s a terrible fucking song, though. It does not hold up in any way. I remember the video really well because they’re eating doughnuts and obviously kids like doughnuts, but it is not a good song.
Tricky Woo, "Let The Good Times Roll"
This record is badass. That was the tail end of the ‘90s, but I remember the video pretty well because it was pretty antithetical to a lot of the shit going on. These guys looked like they were from the ‘70s, playing in a field. I later found out that record came out on Sonic Unyon, which is really cool. That riff is so good. And it’s such a cool video because it’s just like two minutes, it’s a great tune and they look like they’re really playing along. It’s classic.
Alanis Morissette, "Ironic"
Oh man. That’s probably one of the biggest Canadian exports of all time. And out of all the Jagged Little Pill videos, that’s probably the best one. Mostly I remember the Pop Up Video for it. And I also remember Weird Al would go on Much Music sometimes and just talk over the videos and make fun of them. So I remember that more than I remember the actual video. That stuff holds up better than the actual songs he was making fun of. The version that he did of “Lump” by the Presidents of the United States of America is amazing. The video is hilarious. I fucking love it.
I heard most of those Weird Al versions before I heard the real songs.
I never heard what “I Think I'm A Clone Now” was referencing – "I Think We're Alone Now" – until I was an adult. It was like “ohhh, it all makes sense.” That and The Simpsons. I feel like anything I even know is based on Simpsons and Beastie Boys references.
Thrush Hermit, "French Inhale"
I like Joel Plaskett’s songs way better than the other guys. I heard a story once that one of the guys in the band North of America, who are one of the best Canadian bands of all time, was apparently the original drummer of Thrush Hermit and was kicked out because he was too young. I think that’s really interesting.