The Story of CHANGE OF HEART’s Smile

July 22, 2017 in news

Although often working on a shoestring budget, the band released a string of excellent studio recordings, with their 1992 album Smile now recognized as one of the most important Canadian rock albums of that decade. Label Obscura is delighted to be able to finally release the album as originally intended: as a two-LP set.

The story of how Smile came to be is one that included major changes in the band at a time when the Canadian music scene itself was changing drastically. Shortly before the band’s recording, the band’s personnel had a major upheaval with the departure of longtime drummer Ron Duffy – replaced for Smile’s recording sessions by ace Toronto sticksman Glenn Milchem – and the official addition of keyboardist Bernard Maiezza into the group.

Just before the recording of Smile, original drummer Ron Duffy decided to leave the band. He had some recent work-related injuries that were hampering his playing and it seemed unlikely that he would be able to continue with the group. “We were like ‘who do we call?’” says Rob Taylor. “So we called up Glenn Milchem and in two weeks he basically learned all of the songs, we did a show and then we went into the studio.” Smile would end up being Milchem’s only album with the group, as he was actually asked to join Blue Rodeo while the Smile sessions were underway.

Shortly after the release of their previous album, 1989’s Soapbox, longtime band pal Bernard Maiezza joined the group full-time on keyboards, synthesizers and sounds. He had been involved a lot with the band right from the beginning, helping in the studio and behind the scenes, but Smile would be the first album which he was considered an official member for. His unorthodox style brought a new dimension to the band’s sound, from both a melodic and a disharmonic point of view. “Bernard’s not really a normal kind of keyboard player. He was always into the noise aspect of it,” adds Taylor. His avant garde style was another key ingredient that would help mould the direction undertaken on Smile.

With Blurton, Maiezza, Milchem and Taylor set as the core members for the next record, the band made plans to record. Joined again by longtime producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda, who Blurton and Taylor had been friends with since high school, the band booked time in Toronto’s Reaction Studios. Unfortunately, that ended up costing almost the entire budget that their then label, Cargo Records, had allocated for the recording. The band and Wojewoda made plans to record the entire album live.

“We had a budget of $3000 from Cargo Records to do the album, hence the whole ‘let’s go and do it live’ thing, because we didn’t have the money to do extensive studio tracking,” explains Taylor. “It cost $2400 to rent Reaction Studios for four days,” adds co-founder/guitarist/vocalist Ian Blurton.

Recording the record live meant that they would need to figure out how to make sure that the ends could be met by their means. Due to time constraints, the group would not be able to take the time necessary to record overdubs. To ensure success, the band instead looked into the Toronto music community and asked friends, including John Borra, Don Kerr, cellist Anne Bourne and others, to take part in the sessions. If they couldn’t play everything they wanted themselves, they would add more musicians into the recording studio. The peak saw seventeen musicians playing at once on certain tracks. “It was insanity, really, when you think about it,” jokes Blurton.

Inspired by the expansive, career defining double albums Double Nickels On the Dime by the Minutemen and Zen Arcade by Husker Du, Smile went from being ten songs to a full, twenty-one song double album. Sadly, however, it never ended up being released that way. Although the album was originally sequenced to be released as a two LP set, Cargo only ever released the monumental album on compact disc and on cassette. There had been talk of it coming out on vinyl, but apparently it was too cost prohibitive for Cargo and the record pressing was cancelled.

Wojewoda was never completely satisfied with the 1992 compact disc version of Smile. He recently revisited the album, carefully piecing together the tracks, carefully re-editing them specifically for this vinyl release. It may have taken twenty-five years for Smile to finally see its vinyl debut, but that is now about to happen. Finally. And, as you will hear when you sit down with it for the first time, it was well worth the wait.

Change of Heart will be reforming this summer for a select group of dates to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Smile, starting with this weekend’s performance at the Horseshoe Tavern. This will be a one-time reunion for the band. There is no plans for future performances after their string of shows in Ontario and Alberta, so if you are so inclined, do not miss these shows.

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By Sean Palmerston

Sean Palmerston is a vinyl loving music nerd who also loves NHL hockey, Godzilla movies and hanging out with his kids. A former contributing writer to a number of publications, including Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs and VICE, Sean also runs the all metal webzine Hellbound.ca

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