The Meligrove Band look back on their career and the upcoming reissue of ‘Planets Conspire’

October 24, 2017 in news

After self-releasing their debut album Stars & Guitars in their early 20s, the Meligroves’ sophomore effort Let It Grow saw them sign to Winnipeg’s Endearing Records, then home to Canadian stalwarts such as Julie Doiron, Destroyer, and Plumtree.

Returning from a tour of Western Canada, the band’s core trio of Jason Nunes, Darcy Rego and Michael Small began recording Planets Conspire. This piano-driven indie-pop epic would lead to their signing as the first Canadian act on UK major label V2 Records, altering the course of their musical careers.

When Planets Conspire was released in January 2006, it ushered in a groundswell of press coverage for The Meligrove Band. Positive reviews poured in from Spin, The Times of London, and an album of the month nod from Rough Trade, who wrote “This isn’t disposable pop; this is stuff that gets into your bloodstream and overwhelms you.” The Meligroves hit the road both at home and abroad, sharing stages with the Constantines, Born Ruffians, Tokyo Police Club, and their heroes in the reunited Dinosaur Jr.

Now, 10 years on from the release of Planets Conspire, The Meligrove Band has reunited for one final show at Lee’s Palace on November 24th. They will perform with fellow Toronto indie-rockers The Bicycles and a 20th anniversary appearance from Hamilton’s Mayor McCa. While celebrating the release of Label Obscura’s deluxe remastered double LP reissue, the Meligroves are excited to finally present their classic album to fans the way it’s meant to be heard.

Jesse Locke spoke to The Meligrove Band’s guitarist Michael Small about their reissue and the final reunion.

Can you tell me a bit about the band’s history leading up to the release of Planets Conspire?

We released one album on our own when we were all around 20. Then we played around Southern Ontario a bunch, made it up to Halifax Pop once, and used to head across the border to play Buffalo. It’s amazing to think about how long ago this was, but it stopped after 9/11.

Our second album was released by a label from Winnipeg called Endearing. Their biggest releases up until that point were The Salteens and Julie Doiron. Endearing booked us a Western Canadian tour and we came back after three weeks feeling super pumped. I decided I wasn’t going back to school and we all started focusing our energies on the band. Other than the label booking our tour, it’s not like we had any kind of business plan. We just wanted to keep playing, and all liked the travel aspect of it. I was the one booking all of our tours and shows otherwise.

That sort of focused us on finding a way to release Planets Conspire. We were making something we didn’t think anyone would put out. No one was making a mid-tempo, mostly piano record at the time, unless they were Vanessa Carlton. Then at the same time Jay was writing everything on piano, Darcy and I started getting heavily into The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin and Neil Young’s On the Beach. We were really excited about that clash of influences, but just thought people would laugh at our stupid album. We expected to release it ourselves on CD-Rs and call it a day.

It’s funny that the album became your breakthrough then, with you signing to V2 because of your friend Eric Warner.

 Eric asked us to make him a disc of whatever we were working on at the time so he could show it to his bosses. He said “What if they like it? That would be hilarious.” There were no expectations, and then in the first meeting we had with them, they laid out that they wanted to release the album and help us finish it.

Something we didn’t know at the time is that by paying for the mastering, V2 quietly had the mastering engineer do a bit of a loudness war job on the album. That means he cranked everything up and compressed the high end to make our CD seem louder than other CDs. It’s a thing that was kind of dependent on the technology at the time. What you end up with is something that’s pretty compressed, while losing dynamics and clarity.

We actually had no idea until we went back to Joao Carvalho, the same engineer who worked on the album in 2005, for the remaster last year. Joao was excited to revisit the album and undo what the music industry of the mid-2000s demanded. The reissue sounds so different now, and a million times better. I can hear a lot of things that I thought were lost forever.

At the time, how did your signing to V2 change things for the band?

It definitely put us into the world of waiting around for a long time because of label release schedules and strategies. That was something we had never even considered before. I remember it was supposed to come out in the fall of 2005, but then Broken Social Scene and The Constantines – bands who would have eaten up the Canadian indie-rock press – were releasing albums at the same time we were supposed to. V2 pushed it back to January, which was upsetting to us at the time but ended up being kind of amazing. Nobody put out anything in January 2006 except us, so we got a mountain of press. It fooled a lot of people into thinking we were an important band.

We also got a pretty sweet advance on Planets Conspire, and blew it all on a terrible tour before the album even came out. We bought this van that broke down twice, and went right back to being completely broke ourselves. Then V2 sent us out opening for someone with an album coming out on Warner. Our styles matched in no way, but the thinking was that we would play to a lot of people in these large venues across Western Canada. I think the biggest turnout on that whole trip was 20 kids. The thinking when you’re opening for someone is also that even though the money’s low, you’ll sell merch, but you can’t do that in an empty room.

After the album came out, did that lead to better opportunities?

 We played in Toronto and Montreal opening for The All-American Rejects, and the other opener was Moneen. It was super weird but we played to a sold out Kool Haus where the oldest person in the crowd was 16. That was the closest thing you can imagine to The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl. The second a single person went on stage it was wall-to-wall, painful, ear destroying screaming. None of these kids had any idea who we were. Some of them might have known who Moneen were. Just seeing a band was mind-blowing to them. It’s been so long but I hope in that moment we realized we weren’t actually famous.

Then we were sent out east with The Constantines, which was super fun, and got added to the bill with the first reunion tour from Dinosaur Jr. That led to us getting to play Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax with them when they came back a while later. It was amazing and deafening and definitely the highlight for me of those years.

Did you tour overseas?

 V2 was a major label in the UK, so we went over there and experienced the grinder that is the major label system. They just put out a million records and whatever becomes a hit is what they support. These Canadian nobodies that we were went over there and played five nights in a row of what may have well have been a Tuesday at Rancho Relaxo. It was a bunch of local bands trying to find their live legs and then us in the middle of it playing to their friends. So much money was thrown into this trip by the UK side of the label, who still put the album out, and hired a publicist who did their work excellently. There was zero promotion though, so they said, “We’re not bringing you back again. Good luck in Canada.”

We had a manager who was bouncing back and forth from London, England and Hamilton, Ontario. He was our driver for that tour, so he rented a sprinter van that had three seats in the front and threw a love seat in the back. Every day and every night two of us were sitting in the darkness in a windowless van on a love seat that was sliding around on the corrugated steel floor surrounded by all of our gear. That was hilarious and a bit terrifying!

Following those extremes, what happened in the next few years?

About a year after Planets Conspire came out, V2 was sold and shut down by whatever company bought it, and we were cut out. Right when we were going to start working on another album, that process got really drawn out. We did get to do a few more tours. Tokyo Police Club, who had been our teenage superfans and then became huge, brought us to the States with them, which was amazing. Our second ever playing in New York was to a sold out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom. It was just down the East Coast, but every show was huge and awesome and fun.

We met Tokyo Police Club at the first Osheaga. Graham came up and introduced himself, kind of nerding out and talking about how we were a big influence on him. We were laughing because moments before that our drummer Darcy had done the same thing to the Flaming Lips! It was just a big tent backstage so there was a lot of band-to-band harassment.

After that, it just took us forever to finish our next album [Shimmering Lights], and another year after that to find someone who could put it out. Then we did this giant tour of the States that sapped our precious bodily fluids. It was a giant lap of the whole country with Born Ruffians, and it went OK. We headed back down to meet up with this band from Atlanta called Jukebox the Ghost. By then we had bought this Woodbine casino shuttle bus and it broke down in Florida. We were stuck in Orlando for almost a week and lost out on the whole rest of the tour. After that, we decided not to do it ever again.

Was that the end of The Meligrove Band?

We ended up putting out another album after that [Bones of Things], but didn’t really play live to support it. Everyone still liked hanging out and making music, but we had reached a point where we’d been doing this from our late teens into our mid-30s. There’s more to life, so we decided to go do other stuff. I ended up becoming a man about town on the bass, and now I play in a karaoke band and am trying to start up a web developer career. I worked at a bar that closed with no notice in April, so I jumped right into school and did that all summer.

Brian and Darcy made an album together that they’re soon to release, but I think they’ve only played one show. Their band is called Quite Nice.

So why have you decided to reissue the album now with Label Obscura?

It was an evolving process over a number of years. At first we got a message from someone in Halifax who said they were starting a label that would focus on reissues of albums they considered forgotten classics that were out of print. I always thought the original Planets Conspire vinyl release was done badly. Something that was our fault is that it was too long for one record. It’s got very little bottom and a lot of distortion. I always wished that we had listened to Joao, the mastering engineer, who had warned us that we should spread it over two records. At the time it was our first album and I said “Double LP? Come on, who are we? The Doobie Brothers?”

I remember that Halifax reissue label wanted us to be their second release after Rockets Red Glare or North of America, and I said “Wow, sure, weirdo!” The company didn’t end up coming into fruition but we had already started making plans to remaster it. Eric has his label We Are Busy Bodies, who had released the vinyl edition of Planets Conspire the first time, so he was happy to do it again.

That makes sense because he reissued the Limblifter album.

 Yes, and The Age of Electric! So Eric said, “I can do it… why not? The process is started and I know I can sell these.” Then Label Obscura kind of appeared out of nowhere, and they were willing to package it in a really loving way. They were like, “What about a gatefold? Wouldn’t that be fun?” And we were like, “Oh shit, yeah!” There aren’t any bonus tracks but just spreading it out onto two records on top of the remaster has really done wonders for the sound of the album.

I had bought Label Obscura’s reissues of The Inbreds and thought those were done really well. I also play in a band with Carla and Lynette who were in Plumtree called Overnight. Label Obscura reissued Plumtree’s entire catalogue, all in beautiful gatefolds with new artwork, so those look awesome. Once I saw what they were doing with those releases, I was like, “Oh my god, please!”

The Meligrove Band’s Planets Conspire reissue is now available for pre-order:

https://labelobscura.bandcamp.com/album/planets-conspire

 

(swedish) Death Polka - Judith Judith
The Meligrove Band's 2006 indie-pop classic Planets Conspire reissued by Label Obscura!
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By Jesse Locke

Jesse Locke is a writer, editor, and musician based in Toronto. He is the author of Heavy Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer, published in 2016 by Eternal Cavalier Press. Jesse currently plays drums for Century Palm, Tough Age, Chandra, and Simply Saucer.

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