Meligrove Band

PREMIERE: Meligrove Band’s mandolin epic “Sunrise Old”

Plus, an interview with bassist Mike Small about the longstanding band's place in the ever-refreshing Toronto music scene.

- Nov 4, 2014

Meligrove Band have been a fixture on the Toronto scene since their inception in the late '90s, but, like many power pop bands over the history of rock (like, for instance, their heroes in Sloan), have often played the role of "unsung heroes." They've watched music communities come and go, played just about every major institution and festival, had run-ins with all the local characters. So when their new album, Bones of Things, was announced, I had one of those "oh yeah!" moments. It has been awhile since I've heard new Meligrove Band. Turns out "awhile" was four years.

In addition to their now par for the course "to be or not to be" band crises in addition to, you know, life, that time was spent in the studio with producer Jose Contreras (of By Divine Right), taking the time to studio-craft their always formidable hooks. "Sunrise Old," which we're debuting below, justifies their persistent descriptor "jangly" with Darcy Rego's shimmering mandolin-played-as-guitar line. It's still a great pop song, but it's got sections and orchestration and maturity. And they'd probably hate to hear it described that way.

"We're not one of those 'mandolin bands,' promise," says bassist Mike Small.

I talked to Small via email about growing up, grants, the ever-refreshing Toronto music scene and seeing their lives pass before their eyes on a movie screen.

Meligrove Band's Bones of Things is out November 18 via We Are Busy Bodies. Catch them in Toronto this Thursday, November 6 at the Horseshoe.

It's been four years since the last Meligrove Band album. What brought you back?

Michael Small: For a long time I think we each at least half-assumed the band was finished. Our second US tour for Shimmering Lights ended in disaster - the transmission in our bus had to be rebuilt, leaving us in limbo for five nights at a motel in a part of Orlando that felt overrun by crime (a police officer was murdered outside while we were there; and the guests in the room next to us fought so violently that police came to take them away). Meanwhile, we missed important shows in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, etc. as our friends in Jukebox the Ghost carried on the tour without us. The experience (and huge financial loss) scared an extreme caution against touring into the band as a whole.

Assumptions about quitting have happened in every between-albums period, since we started as a band, though. In this case, at some point, Jay [Nunes], Darcy and Brian [O'Reilly] began emailing home recordings to the whole band, with kind of a "check out this thing I made" vibe. Next thing we knew, we were talking about making a record. Getting together to make music is what we do as friends, just like how you might have certain friends you meet up with for Walking Dead, Settlers of Catan, bowling, etc. I think our creative output might be timed by when and how much we start really missing each other.

Has the time apart given you a fresh perspective for this album?

Between Shimmering Lights and Bones of Things we've each returned to our own lives in a way that didn't happen after Planets Conspire. In that way, Bones of Things is coming from a similar place to Planets: music written for entirely personal reasons, shared amongst ourselves, with no expectation that it would ever be released.

One thing we've done differently is on the production side. We used to record all of our bed tracks (piano, main guitar, drums and bass) completely live. This time, we wanted what would be a new adventure to us: doing the complete opposite. FACTOR threw us an album loan for the first time in our lives, after years of consistent rejection, so it became possible to take our time in a studio. I was given two days just to record bass. It was the most fun and interesting time I've ever had recording - sitting with Darcy, Jay and Jose, bouncing ideas off one another, making slight amp and pedal adjustments between songs... I could go on. Should I go on?

You've never been a "flashy" band, but you've had a surprisingly eventful run. And you were recently the subject of a documentary. Was it strange to watch it all onscreen? 

Ages & Stages: The Story of the Meligrove Band [OFFICIAL]

I attended the documentary premiere at NXNE, and in a funny way, it didn't feel entirely real. I felt a bit disassociated from the person onscreen who was obviously me. It could be an internal defence thing, but I mostly thing of the film as a comedy. Darcy really shines in that regard. Grant Lawrence is hilarious in it too, though he also brings a great perspective. Along with Damian Abraham (who had some involvement with Ductape Records), he's one of the few interviewees who's been hearing each of our records, as they happened, from the very beginning.

An interesting thing I was reminded of about documentaries is that 100% accuracy is often a lower priority than entertaining storytelling. The movie isn't misleading or full of lies or anything, but things would happen like, details of a few different van or bus breakdowns were amalgamated into one narrative, and an anecdote from our friends in Magneta Lane about us refusing to tour with them because my old girlfriend disallowed it, which is completely false, but was included in the film, because it's hilarious. (We actually said no because it was in a February. Who tours western Canada in February?!)

You've played in Toronto during three different decades now. Do you feel like "veterans"?

I'm cautious of ever feeling like I've "seen it all" - that's when your eyes start to close. I'll never be someone who falls into the trap of believing the music released during my high school years is somehow better than all other music aimed at teenagers. Except the Super Friendz, obviously. Best band ever!

(I've actually just reminded myself that I nicked a classic Charles Austin bass move in the last song on our new record...)

How would you say you fit into the greater Toronto music landscape?

Toronto is so big, and keeps growing, with a new batch of young people moving here every September to start school, wanting to start bands. It's so fun, and endlessly interesting.

We aren't bound by unpredictable things like trends in musical styles or a perceived need for "success." So how do we fit into Toronto's musical landscape? I suppose it's just by living here, and doing what we do.

Mike Small, Meligrove Band
I've been here my whole life, watching many "scenes" rise and fall since I became musically aware in the mid-1990s. We played our first show in 1998, before any of us turned 19. Dan Burke put it on. I can remember telling Craig Laskey that we were all 19, when he let us open a matinee show for Thrush Hermit. Jay, Darcy and I are 35 now.

I remember when Grasshopper was a deadly band, not an awesome record shop. (same guy!)

We played Wavelength in its first year, our forearms covered in temporary scorpion tattoos, mimicking stage moves we saw in This Is Spinal Tap and covering "Gimme Some Money." Sometimes I can't believe I inhabit the same body as the kid who did that.

All the while, we've had the same core band members, and the same ridiculous band name we came up with in high school, making up our own word, out of fear that we'd get a cease-and-desist from an American band, at a time when it seemed like Canadians always lost.

We've never been attached to any specific "scene," except in a tenuous and social way, so as movements have come and gone, we've stayed constant. Grant Lawrence points out in the documentary that we've never gone down on anyone else's ship. As I mentioned before, this band is our friend-activity. We aren't bound by unpredictable things like trends in musical styles or a perceived need for "success." So how do we fit into Toronto's musical landscape? I suppose it's just by living here, and doing what we do.

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