The iconic Toronto underground rock band returns to celebrate 25 years of Smile and Toronto's musical past
CHANGE OF HEART with SIANSPHERIC, B.A. JOHNSTON and DJ CHRIS HARPER at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (July 22), 9 pm. $12-$15. ticketfly.com.
One of the heaviest side effects of a defunct band reuniting for shows is the emotional baggage that piles up in venues when the audience arrives and processes the whole affair.
Relationships are rekindled, memories both fond and buried are conjured, and even the buildings and geography are animated with a sense of the past.
That all happens offstage, emanating from relatively passive onlookers. You can only imagine what the band members are going through, their minds and hearts tangling with muscle memory and, in many cases, this weird exercise of revisiting their youthful, proto-selves.
Iconic underground Toronto rock band Change of Heart commemorate the 25th anniversary of their influential Smile by reissuing the LP on Label Obscura and performing a handful of shows in Alberta and Ontario, including a hometowner at the Horseshoe that’ll be a sentimental affair.
The four-piece band – originally comprised of singer/guitarist Ian Blurton, bassist Rob Taylor, keyboardist Bernard Maiezza and drummer Ron Duffy – ballooned to 13 during Smile’s three-day session at Reaction Studio in January 1992. They played live and altogether in the same room, reflecting an open Toronto community. Hell, jazz musicians like saxophonist Ernie Tollar and trumpeter Michael White, total strangers to the band, even took part.
“When you say ‘community’ – that was an element of when Toronto was smaller, and the jazz people knew the rock people and the theatre people,” Blurton explains, in the east-end studio where he records and rehearses. “There was more cross-pollination going on. For me, I was gunning for MC5-style horns and [Smile producer] Michael [Phillip Wojewoda] suggested those two guys.”
Another newcomer to Change of Heart back then was drummer Glenn Milchem. Best known now as a member of Blue Rodeo, he lived in Oakville but was interested in the big-city scene.
“I was 19 when I first heard Change of Heart,” Milchem says. “I was at the Record Peddler, which was the cool record store. This was in ’82 or ’83. I bumped into Rob and their manager, Scratch Anderson, and they gave me a compilation tape called Arming The Hand, which had three Change of Heart songs on it. I took it home and remember really liking the Change of Heart stuff. I thought it sounded like Echo and the Bunnymen.”
Milchem moved to Toronto and was playing in a few bands when Blurton called him after Duffy had left and they needed a drummer to make a new record. He obliged.
“I remember the intensity of the communal effort,” he says. “It was a unique recording situation that I’ve never been in before or since, where that many people are trying to make something happen all together. It’s a pain in the ass in a lot of ways but it’s an amazing way to make a record. Now, you can go and clean it all up on a computer, but then, that was it. It was done.”
“It was the best quality sound for the least amount of money,” Blurton interjects. “Literally, the budget for the record was $3,000.”
Taylor still marvels at the experience. “My memory is just seeing this room full of people playing this song, locked in. It was like some kind of magic.”
“Yeah, it was a real community experience for me,” Milchem adds, “and when I play some of these songs, it takes me back and is very emotional.”
For those who know him or have worked with him, Blurton is (almost exclusively) regarded as a sweetheart. Funny as fuck, he can be cantankerous and opinionated, and yet every one of his bands (Blurtonia, C’mon, Public Animal) has songs steeped in galvanization, the search for oneness and, as trite as it might sound, love.
“The themes of the record keep revealing themselves as you listen,” Milchem says of Smile. “There’s an environmental thing, community, shit happening in the world, and looking for positivity. A lot of these songs really move me still.”
With all of this rekindled joy and interest in Change of Heart, does Blurton have a desire to bring the band back to life for good?
“No,” he says sternly, and his bandmates laugh.
Listen to this interview via the Kreative Kontrol podcast on iTunes or below:
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