MIKE O'Neill playing as part of Zunior LIVE! with the Kelele Brothers , Dinner Is Ruined , Scribbled Out man and the Mountainside Band at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Wednesday (December 22). $6. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Former Inbreds frontman Mike O'Neill has finally released his long-threatened follow-up to 2000's What Happens Now?, only you won't find his latest Beatlesque pop thriller, The Owl, in any stores. In fact, it's not even available for sale on disc. O'Neill's self-produced nine-track Pro Tools opus is available only in MP3 format and can be downloaded for $8.88 from the Zunior Web site (www.zunior.com) run by his Inbreds cohort Dave Ullrich. And to think many people believed that since the Inbreds split, O'Neill and Ullrich would never work together again.
O'Neill, last seen playing guitar in Sarah Harmer's band when not doing sound on the set of Trailer Park Boys, was apparently among the doubtful majority.
"In a way, my working with Zunior really is like an Inbreds reunion," considers O'Neill from his Halifax home. "I mean, for the last couple of years Dave and I hadn't been in contact much at all, but now we're e-mailing each other four or five times a week. So our relationship definitely has been renewed because of his Zunior label Web site.
"It's amazing. I see it as a perfect extension of Dave's interest and support of the music he loves."
O'Neill says it all began back in 92 when they didn't get into a battle-of-the-bands competition and Ullrich suggested they make a tape instead.
"So we rented some equipment to record our songs and then started playing shows and selling our tapes. That's really what got this whole ball rolling. The Zunior site is just the latest phase."
Ah, what a sweet Canadian indie rock fairy tale. But where exactly The Owl's concept fits into this scenario demands further investigation. Some behind-the-scenes gag between Ricky, Julian and animal-lover Bubbles (along with a brick of hash) would be a reasonable assumption. But, as usual, the truth is far stranger.
Apparently, the odd title choice goes back to O'Neill's troubled childhood. Get out the tissue and have a seat. This may take some time.
"Did you have a nickname growing up? I didn't. And I was always jealous of the kids who did. I thought not having a nickname meant that maybe people didn't love me.
"While we were recording What Happens Now? I was talking to Matt Murphy about some little detail in a guitar part he was playing, and Charles Austin from the Superfriendz - one of those guys who has nicknames for everyone - leans over and says, 'Ah, the Owl.'
"For a couple of weeks after, he called me the Owl, and I thought, 'Wow this is amazing. I really like birds, so the Owl would be a great nickname for me. Every time I e-mailed Charles, I'd sign it 'the Owl,' but no one else would call me that. I felt my nickname was slipping away. For a second there I considered getting an Owl tattoo, but I decided to call my new album The Owl instead. In spite of all my efforts, I fear it's not sticking."
On the upside, maybe people will now start calling him Pam. And what about nicknames for O'Neill's performing posse, Dinner Is Ruined's Don Kerr, Sarah Harmer bassist John Dinsmore and Scribbled Out Man singer/guitarist Paul Linklater? Wouldn't want any of them to feel unloved.
"Let's see. Lately, Don has this moustache and suspenders that make him look like a prospector from the gold rush days."
Like straight outta the Yukon?
"Yeah, that's it - Yukon Don! And when I was touring with John in Sarah's band, he'd always have a solution for every problem, like a human Swiss knife. We'll call him Swissy. As for Paul, you'd probably think Art, right? But I'll do the double switch and go for Garfunkel instead. There ya go."