The Toronto Sun
March 28, 1996
Group Of Four create rock art
Rheostatics CD a Group Of Seven 'soundtrack'By Kieran Grant
If The Rheostatics were ever annoyed with the "art rock" blanket term that is draped on them, their latest project probably won't help. The band just unveiled their CD Music Inspired By The Group Of 7, which is just that. They'll play two sets at the Art Gallery of Ontario tomorrow to accompany a 75th anniversary exhibition of works by the legendary Canadian collective of painters that included A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris.
In short, The Rheostatics have written a score for landscape paintings. "As much as describing the paintings themselves, we were describing the places the paintings depicted," singer-guitarist Martin Tielli is saying recently at a local studio, where he and his bandmates are taking a break from recording their next album. "It's challenging in that it's completely abstract."
"I think it's pretty easy, actually," counters singer-bassist Tim Vesely. "You can put music along with anything and come up with something new and interesting that either one on its own wouldn't give. But what music really has to do with anything besides music is up for interpretation." Tielli clarifies this.
"It's like when you go in a hotel room, turn on the radio, and then turn on the TV with no sound," he says. "It's amazing how good the video is." That said, Music Inspired ... wasn't quite so effortless. The Rheos took a detour for the project by using acoustic instruments like double bass, cello and piano alongside their usual arsenal of odd-sounding electric guitars and, only occasionally, Tielli's otherworldly warble.
Hours of improvisation were taped and edited down into a performance piece.
"Because it was so abstract, we could take a lot of liberties," says guitarist Dave Bidini. "But we knew the Group Of Seven worked in the 1910s and 1920s so we used samples of people like Newsy Lalonde, a big hockey star in the '20s, and John Diefenbaker reading the poem about WWI fighter pilots. There's a lot of things from the era they were working in."
The band included natural sounds like rainfall and wolves howling to capture the feel of the Group of Seven members' famous landscape paintings. There are also snippets from a phone conversation between Rheostatics drummer-producer Don Kerr and landscape painter Winchell Price, a Group
Of Seven contemporary, who spins a bizarre - and true - yarn about being struck by lightning as a child.
"He's a pianist as well as a painter," says Kerr. "The connections between music and painting are a science to him."
As strange as it sounds, Music Inspired By The Group Of 7 does somehow manage to sound like the Canadian landscape.
Considering that a simple, life 'n' times rundown of the Group Of Seven's life was not the objective, it's mission accomplished for The Rheos.
"The worst thing we could have done is sing lyrics like, `Oh, Tom Thomson where are you now?'" Vesely says with a smile.
"It could be a really hokey rock opera if we wanted," adds Bidini blithely.
That probably wouldn't hold the same level of respect.
"But if someone asked, I'd do it."
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