WOODEN STARS with TUSKS at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, April 19). $10. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
If you're the type of person who pays attention to signs and omens, you'd probably put money on tonight's triumphant Wooden Stars "reunion" show not happening.
En route to Toronto from Ottawa, where he stopped off for a hometown visit after his 90s cult Canadindie band rocked the initial two shows to support their first release in seven years, drummer Andrew McCormack has just been nearly sideswiped by a massive truck laden with tombstones.
Happily, he pulls over at a rest stop in time to chat about why the Wooden Stars are back on track. It's hard to believe McCormack's band, the one that faded into an informal hiatus shortly after collaborating with Julie Doiron on her 99 Juno-winning album, are mounting what seems like a comeback. Even he's a bit baffled.
"I'm pleasantly surprised that any fans still exist," he marvels over the phone. "It's so weird. You couldn't find a CD of ours in any record store in the world, in the past six years. I know - I looked! We only pressed a couple thousand, and they were long gone.
"So it's crazy, say, in Montreal, where promoters warned us that four other huge shows, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Do Make Say Think to name two, were on the same night as ours, that we had a full room and a great vibe."
Not that any of the Wooden Stars - including singer/guitarists Julien Beillard and Mike Feuerstack and bassist Josh Latour - just rolled over and died when the band went into hibernation - they've all kept playing music.
But, as McCormack insists, "there's something we do together that's unlike anything we do with anyone else. It's more collaborative. It's like when you order an omelette - no, a scramble - and you throw in whatever you have in the fridge. It's all mashed up and tastes better than it should."
There's something about the Wooden Stars' new People Are Different (Sonic Unyon) disc, made up of reworked material from the vaults and new tracks, that sounds simultaneously seminal and totally of the moment. More rhythmic and driving than earlier, looser WS songs, it has a sparkling elasticity, with vocal and guitar melodies that veer away from typical chord progressions before falling back into place, anchored by angular post-punk percussion.
It's an album that sounds like it could inspire a hundred Wooden Stars wannabes. It probably will. But McCormack and Co. have always sorta been that group, barely underground underdogs like Slint and Pinback, whose unrestricted style sparked kids to pick up guitars and start bands, even when the music they were making wasn't in step with trends.
"Back in 1993, musicians who made money weren't making really good music," McCormack begins, trying to explain why now feels right for his band to re-emerge. "Stone Temple Pilots - what the hell? In the 90s it was just grunge band after grunge band.
"But in the past two or three years, people in indie rock who are playing by their own rules are doing well. Take the Shins or the Arcade Fire; they're making interesting, creative music."
None of which is to say that the Wooden Stars have plans for world domination. Even their initial reunion mini-tour, a handful of gigs on Exclaim!'s tour in 05 that came hard on the heels of their first performance together in half a decade (they played at producer Dave Draves's 40th birthday fete in 04), was overwhelming.
"Those shows are a tad big, and playing with bands that really know how to work the crowds " he chuckles. "It made us realize what we really want.
"We're quite happy to play music to 200 or 300 people. It feels safe. When things get bigger and bigger, it's not clear to me how you can keep the core of what you're doing. I have no interest in playing the ACC - it seems like an absurd form of entertainment.
"We're not outgoing kids who put on talent shows for our parents. We're more the shy, introverted guys in the corner."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Andrew talks about the process of making People Are Different and describes the sound.
Andrew describes what the Wooden Stars' in-studio band dynamic was like after not having collaborated in about six years. [Bonus: What Howe Gelb is like in the studio!]
Has the rise of the internet helped sustain the Wooden Stars' still-loyal fan-base? And does the presence of online culture in 2007 make this musical climate more conducive to what the band's trying to do compared to when they were around in 1993?
Are Canadian indie rockers from the 90s (like the Wooden Stars and Julie Doiron) having a new renaissance?
Music Clips from the Wooden Stars' new album People are Different