In the summer of 1997, I was throwing around the idea of starting a band. I had never done this before so I had no idea what to do, but the brutal reality of getting a real job, was all the motivation I needed to persevere. I recruited an old junior high friend of mine named Scott Nolan, we weren't actually old friends so much as we went to the same school, ran with different crowds, but music being the great equalizer it is, we immediately spoke the same language. He recommended a guy named Dustin Leader. Dusty was one of those guys that no matter what he was doing, he was doing it way better than anyone else around him. And at this point in his life he was doing the guitar. We would get together and jam out acoustic songs trying to lock down interesting harmonies and arrangements.
It wasn't too long till we needed a drummer. One day at the "forks" one of winnipeg's few tourist attractions, there was a young drummer named Christian Dugas, busking by the kiosks. Although he was only playing some congas and various misc. percussion, Dustin asked him if he'd be interested in joining our band. Not auditioning, not feeling us out, not jamming, but joining right then and there. He didn't even ask Scott or myself. Now Christian was 6 years younger than I was, and when your in your 30's, thats just a number, but when you're 20, which I was, 14 is a significant number! However Dustin's intuition was bang on and Christian was a perfect fit. Leaderhouse was formed.
We started playing shows at various winnipeg venues like The Zoo, Ozzies and of course the world famous Blue Note Cafe. We had developed a big sound, that was bigger than my songwriting at the time but lent itself to the sound of the winnipeg music scene. One night, at one of our shows at The Zoo, there was a kid in the crowd watching and really digging what we were doing. He came up to me at the end of the show and said " I have to play with you guys" so I said "sure, were jamming on thursday" That kid was Remy Shand. Remy was as close to a musical prodigy that I've ever encountered. Not only was he a complete monster on the keyboards, he was also probably twice as good as any of us on our instruments. He also just "got it". There was no explaining to him why this chord changed to this or why the dynamics needed to come up or down, he "got it" We then changed our name to Leaderhouse 5.
Although our sound became more funk, fun, and upbeat, we still at the foundation tried to write songs, not just jam out riffs for days. About a year into this line up, Remy started to get ancy, after all, he was much more than just a keyboard player. He could do it all and their wasn't room for all his talent in a band situation. After some temultuous times and tough decisions, Remy decided to leave the band. Here are some videos from from an old rehearsal we had as "the Leaderhouse 5", in the basement of a house scott and I shared
One year later, Remy received the largest Canadian record deal ever given to a canadian from Motown records. He went on to record a couple of great albums, writing, recording, engineering, playing every instrument and producing both of them. He went on to win a juno, was nominated for a grammy and played some great shows and concerts around the world.
We dropped the 5, and went back to "leaderhouse" At this point it would've been very easy to throw in the towel as we were all pretty crushed with remy leaving and all of our work, effort and time being for not. I believe that all successful artists have to be completely delusional, which I am, so we not only carried on, but we decided to immedialely record an album. Now in those days, 1999, when you recorded an album you actually had to go into a studio and play all your instruments and perfectly perform your parts, I know, sounds crazy, but Protools was just getting its foot in the door and all studios were still recording to 2 inch tape. I consider myself extremely lucky that I had to record an album this way because it is a completely bygone era. Now adays you can basically record an album in your bedroom. It took us about 6 months to record the album and it was a complete joy from start to finish. Their was no real adversity or speedbumps, we just went into the studio and did the best job we could. I refer to the leaderhouse album as my "Bladerunner". You see Bladerunner (the movie) was released to very little fanfare and was considered a commercial failure as it lost a ton of money! It was only as time went on that Bladerunner made its mark on cinema and pop culture for that matter. Now if you ask someone about Bladerunner they will say things like "ahead of it's time" and "classic" and "one of my favorite movies" Although the leaderhouse album was well received, and we sold a decent amount of albums off the side of the stage at shows, we all lost money on it and for a long time it was more of a labour of love. It wasn't until Leaderhouse had disbanded and we had all moved on to other projects and life, that the true impact of that album was realized. To this day, people come up to me and say how the leaderhouse album is such a "classic" and "one of their favorite albums of all time" and how it was so "ahead of its time' and how they still play it at all the time. I'm very proud of our "bladerunner" and the fact that to this day it still gives so many people such enjoyment, for that reason alone, it is a huge success!
1. Painting poles
I have always been fascinated with peoples jobs. Never really having one, I was always amazed at what people would leverage their time for money. One of our mutual friends(miles) had a job painting all the light poles in the city. One of those jobs you never really think about or actually see being done but somehow it get's done. The lyrics depict my version of what I thought the job would be like. The solitary, the monotany, and the overall unappreciated effort that went into something that everybody took for granted. In the chorus I sing "it's too late for miles" It was just one of those lyrics that fit syllabically and vowel wise, it had no literal reference to miles, his job, his character or his potential in life. He later confronted me and said that it wasn't too late for him and that job's do not define who you are. I was absolutely floored and horrified that he had took the line literally, and to be honest who wouldn't have, I guess. I apologized profusely to him, reiterating how it was "just a line" and meant nothing. That was the moment I realised how deeply music can and does affect people. Whatever your intent while writing a song, the song itself takes on a different meaning to everyone who hear's it. Its actually a tremendous responsibilty I never took lightly again. My favorite part of this song was playing it live and listening to Dusty rip the roof off with his solo, and yes miles, you were 100% right, job's do not define who you are.
Growing up the son of a musician, I was exposed to a lot of jazz, show choir, swing type music. My first fan club I belonged to were the Nylon's - a canadian acapella group as well as The Manhattan Transfer's. I also played in alot of jazz bands when I was little boy. You can hear those influences rear their head throughout the album but this song seemed to champion them the most. I also lived in a basement apartment with hardwood floor's and broken blinds when I wrote this song!
3. The 300 Dollar Song
When you're learning to play the guitar, you go through what I call - an evolution of purity. You start from a place of uncertainty, and after years of dedication and practise you arrive.... at another place of uncertainty. The journey however is one that can be eased through layers upon layers of effect pedals. You see when you can't hit the intended note with complete certainty and confidence, its easier, and super fun to nudge it with a thick layered, processed wall of fuzz, reverb, delay and a myriad of other fun sonic toys. As you evolve as a player you tend to systematically strip down all the bells and whistles till its usually just you, your guitar, an amp and the channel select pedal. I definitely was not at that point in my journey yet, and at the end of the day I never considered myself a guitarist so much as I was a songwriter.
One of my favorite things to do with my free time was to go to Long & McQuade, a music chain in canada, and try out all the new guitar pedals. I was playing a digital delay pedal when the guitar guy, I cant remember his name, approached me and said "hey, I just got this one in yesterday, I haven't tried' er out yet but give'r shit man!" The pedal was the Electro Harmonix Memory Man
and I loved it so much I bought it right then and there, and by bought it I mean I gave them 10 bucks down payment, put it on my infinite account and took it home. The chord progression in the song is a somewhat traditional arrangement - E major, Dflat minor, Amajor, B major, not unlike most 1950's doo wop songs, and one that I probably would have said wasn't "cool" enough for me at the time, but when I played the progression through the memory man, it bypassed my musical snobbery and desire to be unique and different and allowed me to appreciate the brilliance of its simplicity. It was a very ambitous song vocally and really asked alot of the listener patience wise, but ultimately delivered a great pay off! Alot of people have told me it's their favorite song on the album and on certain days its my favorite as well. To think that the pedal only cost me 300 dollars! Here's a video of us performing the song live on The Vikki Gabereau Show in Vancouver
*sky onoson who at the time played the bass guitar in a legendary winnipeg band called The New Meanies, played the organ on this song. Years later we would be playing together in a band called Volume.
4. 70's Verandah Feel
I've always been a fan of a voice and an acoustic guitar. It's what I aspired to be and do as a musician. To me it is the true test of a song. wether or not it can survive in its most simplest form. Even though the band kicks in at the chorus, I wrote this song with the intent of it being a stand alone acoustic guitar/vocal song. I first recorded a version of this song with Remy, in his bedroom studio at his parents condo in garden city on a tascam 4-track
We made it sound like it was recorded live with an audience. I actually think that if it wasnt for the fake audience applauding at the end, it would have been a tough sell to convince the band to put it on the album. It was the neglected step child of the album in that we never really played it live. The flower girl refered to in the song, who's
"head was tuned into the world" , is a girl named laura. We were high school sweethearts I suppose. She and my sister became best friends after we broke up and is my niece sophia's godmother.
5. Missing Minutes
In the early days of leaderhouse we were often described as prog- rock, a term I didn't really like but to a certain degree was quite accurate. I have a few rules as a songwriter that I had to implement to preserve my own sanity. One of them and maybe the most important one is what I call "the half hour hustle" which simply means if the song isn't more or less finished at least in a rough skeletal form in 30 minutes or less, you should throw it away. Any song that I've written that people immediatley liked usually took me less then 10 minutes to finish. This track took me days and days and I toiled and tweeked the f*#k out of it before recording it and ultimately burrying it, and our prog rock description in the belly of the album at #5
6. Today It's Over
This track is probably the first song I wrote for leaderhouse. Actually I think it was written prior to all of us getting together but it was the first song we worked together on. It was initially recorded on remy's four track, and then later re-recorded in the studio. There's a line in the middle 8 that says "all we had was scott's disease, a reflection of the bastards we'd become" This of course had nothing to do with Scott Nolan, it just worked in the cadence of the song. Nonetheless when we played it live, Scott sang the harmony and ALWAYS sang "Matt's disease"....bazinga!....I suppose.
When I was a young boy @ 5 years old, my dad took me to a music store and in the window hung two instruments, a guitar, and a trumpet. He asked me which one I wanted to play, I pointed at the guitar, he went in and came out with the trumpet. I'm a firm believer that you can put pretty much anything into a little kids hand's and he's going to get really good at it fast. So it was with me and the trumpet. I was playing in university jazz bands by the time I was 10. It was my musical education and what I always say "made me weird". It taught me a new language of math and sound, changing how I interpreted the world forever. It was then that I also became an adult or at least a little boy who was treated like an adult. To my parents total dismay, I quit the trumpet when we moved to winnipeg at age 14. I was bored of it and didnt think it was "cool" enough. At least not as cool as a guitar. A couple months into the genesis of leaderhouse one of the guys found out I could play the trumpet and that was it, they wouldn't rest until I played the trumpet in at least one song. I was totally against it because I knew the trumpet wasnt a "pick up and play" instrument. You had to be in shape, or at least your embouchur (lips/lip muscles) had to be. Reluctantly, I brought the trumpet to a rehearsal and by the end of it we had our trumpet song. Had I known how well the trumpet was going to go over, I would have wrote more songs around it, but I didnt. We always opened with this song live for one reason. I was a sweater, especially on my upper lip so if this song was performed any later in the set, it would've slipped off my face.
8. Baw Like a Nuisance
I originally wrote and recorded this song in Remy's bedroom as well.
The name "Baw Like a Nuisance" actually came from the recording sessions in remy's bedroom. He had pressed record while I went to test the mic and mumbled "baw-like-a-newsh-wah" or something close to that. When he mixed down the track he decided to leave the ad-libbed vocal outtake at the beginning of the song. Having no real working title for the song, I just continued to refer to it as "baw like a newshwah" Knowing that isnt an actual word, I changed it to nuisance and that my friends is how you name songs in a band!
9. The Elephant Song
The Elephant song is a song I wrote around some lyrics from a friend of mine named Tyson Koschik. He was quite a gifted singer/songwriter friend of mine and who doesnt like songs with fast lyrics? This was probably one of the more fun songs to play live as it usually got the dance floor pumping and its just a simple 2 chord feel good'r! Although I said earlier that the entire process of recording this album was completely enjoyable and went off without a hitch, there was a slight problem with this song that did delay the release of the album by a month or two. Norm Dugas (christians dad) who was producing/engineering the album, in the 11th hour decided he couldn't release this song unless we changed a lyric in it. At a "listening party" where we all just sit in the studio and listen to the mastered tracks in the order they were arranged in, when it got to that part of the song, Norm had simply made a mute recording over the lyric so everything just dissapeared for the duration of the lyric. At first we all kind of looked at eachother and thought maybe it was a weird glitch. However after the song was over Norm told us that he had muted out the lyric on purpose. The lyric in question was...
"you've got the silver sun setting in the whites of my eyes
I've never tried killing but I'll give it a try"
Having not wrote the lyrics I didn't have a deep connection to them nor did I feel one word was more or less important than another, but I took offense to the hijacking of the project, the "change it or I won't release it" There was also some integrity - stick to your guns - youthful - nobody tells me what to do type feelings that I had seen in a movie and thought I should play out as long as I could but in the end, upon deliberations with the band I decided to change the lyric. I changed it to "I've never tried dylan but I'll give it a try" If you listen carefully you can pick out the difference in compression in my voice when we punched it in. Although it was a bone of contention between us and Norm, life went on and we all forgot about it soon enough. Although I'm not sure I've ever told Tyson that we butchered his lyric!
10. On a Bender
I guess if all those years of jazz band's and listening to The manhattan Transfer's and The Nylons had any influence at all, it can be heard in this song. This was always my favorite song to play live. For all its tempo changes and subtle nuances, we always nailed it live, it was also I think the only time I ever played a guitar solo on the album..so there's that!
I've had a close friend named Walter in my life since I was about 14 years old. There's a 3 year age difference which is alot when your 14 and he's 17, but our love of music, songwriting, a somewhat consistent take on the universe and an equally consistent appetite for destruction made us fast friends. When I was 22 and he was 25, he went into the hospital to check on a lump in his throat and it turned out it was cancer. He was immediateley admitted to the hospital and within 3 days he was undergoing aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Now Walter was quite easily the most larger than life character I had ever known, and with that character comes a certain immortality and strength. So when he was diagnosed with this illness it not only shook my foundation and belief system on the human body but brought into question my own immortality or lack thereof. He suffered immencely under the barbaric ritual of cancer treatment, I often thought the doctor's were just trying anything that came to mind. It was an aggressive form of cancer in its 3rd stage, the kind of cancer that after you explain it to any type of health practitioner they respond with a long "ohhh, thats not good" and a grimaced face. Most people die of this type of cancer and they die fast, but after 3 long years, and a bone marrow transplant, walter survived. Not only has he survived but he has thrived, its been 20 years since that weird glitch in our plan and he is stronger than ever. In fact, he was just visiting from toronto, and we spent a night talking about life, the world, the universe, music, and family over enough drinks that when I woke up the feeling I had in my head shook my foundation and belief system on the human body and brought into question my own immortality or lack thereof. That weird glitch in our timeline was spent in a ward in The Health Science Center named GD6.
If there was one song that people have asked me what it's about more than any other, it would be this one. Not only what its about, but what, or who, is a vanderveen? There are a handful of people who I've told because I knew they either wouldn't care, or they would find it amusing and there are another handful that asked me, and I reluctantly told them as I watched there complete dissapointment with my explanation wash over there face. Almost like telling a kid that santa isnt real so...I no longer explain what its about. I've realized that even the most elaborate explanation of what the songs about, what each lyric means probably pales in comparison to the listener's own imagination as the song flows through their mind. Thats what so special about songs and music, it can mean something different to everyone who listens to it, and thats more important than any intent I may or may not have had when trying to explain who or what a vanderveen is. If you ask any hardcore leaderhouse fan what their favorite leaderhouse song is, they might say vanderveen, or they might not but judging from the reaction this song brought in live, it was easily the most popular song we ever played. Here's a version of it sung by a talented young singer named arden alfonse
The trickiest part of playing this song live was getting the tremolo pedal and the wah pedal to fall into that perfect "whuck-a-kuk-a "groove, once it did though, it was a beautiful thing!
Nights Like These
I believe this song was the last song written for the leaderhouse album.
You could almost put it on the second album (if there was a second album) because it more or less sums up where our "sound" was evolving to. The first chord of the song is a really weird version of an Eflat diminished 7th that resolved to a C major chord, just enough weirdness to pass our musical snobbery tests but still quite melodic and satisfying in its resolve(music nerd talk). We always ended the live shows with this song because it was just the most powerful example of the intensity of the band. The vocals were as always slightly too ambitious and spanned the course of my range. Dustins' melodic counter melodies are some of the best I've ever heard, and Chrisjans off time drum sycopation (remember he was 16 years old when he recorded this) took this song to a whole new leaderhouse level. Although it probably isnt most leaderhouse fan's first favorite song on the album, it's for sure the too often forgotten favorite due in part to its late appearance on the playlist (in my opinion anyway) If I had to sum up the leaderhouse sound in a song it most definitely would be Night's Like These
My Blade Runner
a short memoir
sound quality is rough
but the turtleneck and cords
are pretty sweet!
The New Meanies
Vanderveen feat. Arden Alfonse - Arden Alfonse
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