Clearing static on Canada's airwaves
WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS. Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini agonizes over the heartache in the band's distinctly-Canadian music. The Rheostatics play Althouse College tonight.
By Sam Pane
Rush's drummer Neal Peart calls them "Canada's answer to REM without the attitude."
Tim Vesely, Rheostatics bassist and all-rounder, doesn't get that one. Neither do I. Does Canada really need an answer to REM anyway? Who cares?! This has nothing to do with REM and it would appear that I am slipping into the throes of digression.
The Rheostatics are off in other creative directions again, promoting their lucky seventh album entitled The Blue Hysteria. Under intense interrogation, Vesely admits the "nebulous little phrase-title" comes from a song Martin Tielli wrote on the band's Tribute to the Group of Seven album.
Ah ha! A trend of sevens! Coincidence perhaps? It isn't every Canadian band that is bestowed with the honour of going on tour with legends of the art world. Especially since they're dead the Group of Seven I mean, not the Rheostatics. The Rheostatics are livers in the active sense of the verb.
No one can deny the obvious parallels between the Group of Seven and the Rheostatics. Like the Seven, the Rheos are wrongly neglected. Blame it on eclecticism, innovation beyond their times or artistic genius you can blame it on the rain.
The Rheostatics may not even be conscious of their unique character. Vesely tentatively explains, "We work on being the same, at least we think we are. We're making pop music but other people don't think so."
So the Rheostatics aren't looking for categorization. They come from a lot of different directions, mix it up and come off with this crazy unified sound. Tunes like "Horses" and "Self Serve Gas Station" are musky with blue collarness.
"This is where our lives are," Vesely says. "Martin wrote that song on the night shift at the Esso on Albion. We stay honest with our lyrics and write what we know."
Gas-slinging rockers Oh Canada!
Rheostatics' lyrics, like the music, are unmistakably Canadian. Narratives of everyday tribulation echo Canadian verse makers like Al Purdy and the working poets. Vesely even speculates about a possible tour with the legendary Purdy. Purdy la Rheos? The 'Statics are no strangers to Can Lit especially with their triumphant cinematographic soundtrack interpretation of Paul Quarrington's Whale Music.
While the Rheostatics are a force in Canadian music, they rarely even find a toe hold in the States. Vesely chalks this up to circumstance more than anything.
"To be successful there, it's more than just being really good," he says. "Other things have to happen."
Other things indeed you oughta know.
The Blue Hysteria has been called more of a rock album. Self-production and recording makes for a "dryer, less overproduced sound" Vesely says. It is an album loaded with hints of influence. The Tragically Hip figure into the Rheos sound through music and friendship that extends throughout the Canadian music scene.
There is no show like a Rheostatics show. Who listens to the Rheostatics Mr. Vesely? "Young people and their parents and everyone in between." That's pretty diverse by any measure. Revolutionaries of diversity? Definitely, though, Vesely is shy on this assertion. "We try to change things a little."
It isn't fair to try and qualify the Rheostatics. There just isn't the frame of reference. This band is a-movin' Vesely purports a live album and even something for children. Like their new shark skin-esque matching suits bought for the Hip tour, the Rheostatics cut a fierce musical image; 'cause in Vesely's words: "There's no room for subtlety in a hockey arena."