Photograph by Mat Dunlap

Photograph by Mat Dunlap

Toronto’s indie charmers The Meligrove Band (Brian O’Reilly, Mike Small, Darcy Rego, and Jason Nunes) are ready to rock again. After a four year hiatus, their new singles-packed album Shimmering Lights is set for release by Nevado in Canada, and Last Gang in the U.S. on September 21.

For the unfamiliar, high School pals Mike, Jason and Darcy have been jamming together for over 10 years, with Brian recently joining from the stylistically similar Halifax music scene. In 2006, their catchy yet artistic “concept” LP Planets Conspire weaved its melodically-linked tunes into campus airwaves and reviewer’s hearts. Since then, the band has released little – but certainly not for the lack of trying. A multitude of obstacles plagued the recording, signing and release of their fourth LP; which makes yesterday’s release of its first single, ‘Halflight’, all the more exciting.

The Meligrove Band – Halflight

After mixing their dd/mm/yyyy cover ‘Super VGF’ (which will be released on their limited Halflight 7″ on August 24), Darcy, Mike and Brian relaxed on the patio with Ca Va Cool and joked about post-education abandonment (the three members dropped out of school twice to pursue the band) and the interesting characteristics of sound-guys (who are apparently “crazy and terrible, or crazy and awesome, but always crazy”), as well as the more serious topics of the upcoming album, tours, and the most delicious food in Toronto.

Sabrina: How long have you had the album recorded?

Mike: It’s been recorded for over a year now, and was mastered last October.

Darcy: A lot of people have been wondering why it was taking us so long, but we’ve been sitting on this finished record for a while. There were a lot of obstacles. For example, the legality slowed things down. We couldn’t sign a new contract because on paper, we were still signed to V2 who released Planets Conspire.

Sabrina: What happened with V2?

Mike: They just ceased to exist. And we owed them some money for CD sales, but they also owed us some money as an advance for the new record.

Sabrina: Did you just end up calling it a scratch in the end?

Darcy: Yeah. In the end, we lost out but it was easier than having to go to court.

Mike: Then after that, we lost our practice space in Liberty Village, and didn’t find a new one for over a year. So for that year, if we needed to practice, it was a whole ordeal. All of our gear was in storage. And because we had nowhere to practice, it made writing slow.

Darcy: Even after finishing the writing and recording, finding a label to sign us was an ordeal. We spent months playing showcases, and reps from these really cool labels kept approaching us with positive feedback and excitement about our new record. But we didn’t get any offers for the longest time. Then Nick from Nevado came by; Nevado has an awesome roster, and Nick was both excited and honest, so we signed. After that, all the other labels finally wanted us. At which point we could say, “Nope, sorry, too late.”

Not only do we have a place to put our record, but we have a great team. We already mentioned Nick. Our manager Eric Warner has his ear to the ground; he’s immersed in music and organizes festivals. His definition of cool is our definition of cool. So now, we feel like anything that’s going to happen is going to happen now. And if not, I’m going to go work at Costco.

Brian: I’m going to go back to school and drop out again. I think I still have a few left in me.

Darcy: Ultimately, I’m happy about the long wait; it spawned this weird “hype machine”, where everyone started to become interested in us. It also gave us time to write more songs for the next record, which hopefully won’t take 4 years to record.

Sabrina: Onto your perceptions of the new album. I heard rumours that it’s going to be a bit faster and harder?

Darcy: That has a lot to do with all of the live shows that we were playing during the gap between the two records. We based a lot of our new writing off of what we thought worked better live. For example, touring with a piano was kind of a bummer. So everything became more guitar heavy. It’s also more upbeat; we realized that we missed the 3-minute pop tunes that we loved.

Brian: I think it’s harder to be concise and get your message across.

Mike: In this record, all of the songs are in their own world, more self-contained. We don’t have the repeating motifs like Planets Conspire, so we weren’t trying to fit the songs to the melodies. We didn’t want to do the same thing over again. Every new work is a correction of the past, to paraphrase Mordecai Richler. It’s boring when bands do the same things over and over again. Well, except for The Ramones and The Strokes.

Darcy: To some extent it’s “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.” If you change your sound, people say you’ve gone in a crazy direction. If you don’t, the response is, “Oh, they released the same record again”.

Sabrina: It seems like your material already varied stylistically between your older albums.

Darcy: Especially with our first album; I mean, it was really just teenagers having fun. I feel like Planets Conspire was our first album because it was the first time we were really focused. And while the new album is different, it still sounds like Meligrove Band. Which is important. Listening to this record, I don’t hear us trying to be incredibly different from the last one. It’s just what came naturally.

Sabrina: Instrumentally, since you’re focusing more on the guitar, is there less of the more unconventional rock elements that you have used in the past, like brass or whistling?

Mike: This one has whistling and brass, but only on the first song.

Darcy: We still enjoy that idea, but Andrew [Scott] isn’t in the band anymore, and he did all of the brass work. Also, it’s difficult to reproduce that large brass sound with only one player. Playing live really did affect the state of mind we had for writing.

Sabrina: So you’re finished the album, what’s the story behind the dd/mm/yyyy cover you were mixing today?

Darcy: The song, ‘Super VGF’, started as a joke. dd/mm/yyyy would never play the song live. They didn’t feel like it was representative of what they do, but it fit our material really well: short and pop and awesome. So we stole it.

Sabrina: If they didn’t play it at shows, I guess that gives you the opportunity to horn in on their territory.

Mike: Actually, we did exactly that. We played it at their last album release party, when it was their turn to go on. We went on stage instead, introduced ourselves saying, “Hey everyone! We’re dd/mm/yyyy!” and opened with that song. And everyone in the audience was really confused. Then they came out and introduced themselves as the Meligrove Band.

Darcy: Matt King and the band are really cool. We’ve known them for so long. So it was awesome to see the band taking off. We saw their evolution and it’s come full circle with us covering ‘Super VGF’. I love stories like that. Something similar happened with us and Tokyo Police Club. They used to play small shows with us, then they became huge and we were able to tour with them. Which was awesome; we went to New York and played a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, just because at one point they were into our music and we played together.

Sabrina: The musical community at work there. Speaking of which: back in your early years when you guys opened for Thrush Hermit, were you all still starstruck at that point?

Darcy: Oh, hell yeah!

Brian: We were still starstruck last time we worked with Joel [Plaskett].

Darcy: We’ve relaxed over the last 10 years. We have a working relationship with them now, especially with Joel (we appeared in one of his videos) and Ian McGettigan.

Brian: You can’t fight nostalgia though. Especially because a lot of it formed our interpretation of music. When you’re a teenager, music affects you more than other points in time.

Mike: Yeah, when we were recording our first album, we listened to Thrush Hermit every day. I actually sing on one of his records, for ‘Drunk Teenagers’ with Two Hours Traffic. I’m credited as “Mike Meligrove” because he didn’t know my last name.

Sabrina: On the topic of Halifax tunes, I was introduced to your band almost as if you were “carrying the flag of east coast music scene from the past”. Did you consider yourselves to be something of a revival of that music, or was it something that just evolved from your influences?

Darcy: That wasn’t a conscious thing, but we were fortunate enough in high school to discover Murderecords and thought, “Hey, I don’t have to listen to Guns’n’Roses or Tarzan Dan.” That idea was furthered by the fact that when we finally went to Halifax, we fit in.

Brian: I remember when the Meligrove Band first came to the East, before I joined the band, and they were the “hot new ticket”. I think it’s true that they carried the torch of the East Coast music. Although it’s not just in the music; it’s in the things that aren’t tangible. It’s the spirit, the character, the songwriting and the energy. They came to Halifax and slapped everybody in the face with good taste.

Sabrina: Somehow I stumbled onto your old website and I noticed next to the free tracks a statement along the lines of: “Put this in your Kazaa folder”.

Brian: Whoa! That brings me back.

Sabrina: Do you still feel the same way about free downloads?

Mike: It’s flattering when people want to steal your music.

Darcy: For a smaller band, it’s important that prior to us showing up in Regina or something that people got a hold of our record. Usually it’s not because the HMV there carried it, but because they downloaded it. And that’s fine, because no one is really making money off of album sales anymore.

Sabrina: It seems that everything is being focused on the live show, for selling merchandise and making an impact on audiences.

Brian: Exactly, and this makes things cooler for us: if owning something becomes less special, it makes seeing someone performing the songs live more of an important experience. I think it changes the way you feel in front of an audience, because maybe they care more.

Sabrina: What makes a good show for you?

Darcy: For me personally, it’s a number of things. It’s feeling good about your performance, and making sure the crowd is enjoying themselves and interested. But, that being said, if I think we’ve played a sub-par set but the crowd is going bonkers anyway, I’m still going to go away with a good feeling.

Mike: A show is like a party where you’re the guests of honour. It’s your group birthday party. You want to make sure everyone at the party is having fun together, and if that goes over well, then the things you did that sucked might be ignored or even considered cute.

Brian: Audiences can tell when you’re having a good time, too. It’s great to have these three guys on stage together, everyone feeds off each other’s energy. When everyone gets into it, we become the perfect storm. It’s hard to recreate in any other circumstance that I’ve tried. Maybe in hot yoga some people can reach that pinnacle, I don’t know. But when everyone clicks in and the crowd loves it, you get that feeling which is the main reason you keep going back, to recreate it.

Darcy: About the audience though, the energy can work the opposite way with terrible shows. For example, we played this horrendous show at U of T’s Trinity College. The sound guy didn’t know what he was doing, all he had were microphones and subwoofers playing Lady Gaga, and no real P.A. system. We’re trying to win the crowd over, and no one cared. They just wanted to party and pop their collars and wear flip flops.

Mike: Even worse, we were playing facing the crowd, but everyone else was facing the other direction, toward the free food and beer.

Darcy: It’s funny now, because we joked and made fun of ourselves. But it was a bullshit show.

Sabrina: Speaking of (hopefully better) shows, the touring plans are looking up?

Mike: Yes, just yesterday our manager was saying “Okay, January you’re going to Australia, Europe to follow, and more”. Suddenly there’s a big plan.

Darcy: Especially since this record is being released worldwide, we want to make an effort to tour outside of Canada. We’ll obviously still get around the country several times, but now…

Mike: New adventures!

Sabrina: The internet certainly makes that a lot more accessible. Canadian music does make an impact across the world.

Darcy: It seems to be especially in Spain. On the last SoCan check, the biggest number was from Spain. Do you know the show Kyle XY? Apparently we have a song in that, and they just aired the pilot there.

Mike: We have a song on the Party of Five DVD set too, it replaced some old music. We probably made around $5 for it. I’m sure it’s at really low volume in the background of a scene.

Sabrina: Now for a final, tangential question: I know you guys have been asked about the best venue in Toronto, but where would you say has the best food in Toronto?

Mike: Gandhi Roti.

Brian: For me, 3am, guacamole at Sneaky Dee’s.

Darcy: Yeah, Sneaky Dee’s for Tex Mex. And Nataraj, I love Indian food. But I think the number one is Flip, Toss and Thai. I eat there at least once a week.

Mike: I like Tacos El Asador a lot. Also, the poutine at the Lakeview is surprisingly awesome. I hadn’t tried poutine for most of my life. I tried to be vegan for a while, and I was really good at it; until I accidentally took the saag paneer at Gandhi, and then I was like, “Man, cheese. I missed this.” Then I went to Montreal, and I was saving myself for the right poutine until then.

Brian: You had never tried poutine?

Mike: Well, it always looked really disgusting.

Sabrina: I’m inclined to agree with you there.

Darcy: You guys are all bonkers! It looks delicious. Also, The Victory Cafe have this macaroni and cheese that you can have as a side dish instead of fries to anything. You can get burgers with mac & cheese.

Sabrina: That is an amazing tip!

Darcy: Changing gears, in terms of venues… even though it’s a little too-clean, the Mod Club has the best stage.

Brian: When you get the Mod Club packed, it’s amazing.

Mike: The lights are insane. Every band looks like Pink Floyd when they’re playing there. The lighting rig is hooked up to the soundboard, so the lights move to the music, as if you brought someone who knows your music really well.

Darcy: We also have really great memories there. The Mod Club hosted our release party for Planets Conspire and it was a milestone for our band. We had to turn away over 200 people, and we were worried that we weren’t going to fill it, period. Also, Lee’s Palace is great. And then for nostalgia, Sneaky Dee’s.

All: Oh, yeah.

Darcy: There’s something about it that feels comfortable, like playing to your bros in a garage. We’ve always had the most fun, sweaty shows there.

Speaking of fun (maybe also sweaty?) shows, be sure to catch the Meligrove Band at their upcoming NXNE show in Toronto – June 19 at the Scion Showcase at Wrongbar (with Surfer Blood, Mannequin Men, Les Savy Fav, The Grates and more), which you can win tickets for here.


— , June 16, 2010    1 Comment

To check out Planets Conspire, head over to the group’s website where you can stream the whole album!

— Sabrina Diemert, June 16, 2010