NOMEANSNO and that's that!
"We’ve always done stuff that takes a few chances and requires a bit of listening...."
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He’s coming to town this December and he’s bringing the Wright brothers with him! I don’t mean Orville and Wilbur, but rather John and Rob Wright of Victoria’s NomeansNo. Currently touring the East in support of their latest release, No One, the brothers Wright find themselves in the part of the continent where they do not tend to do so well.
"Pillar to post. You go from 400 people in Chicago, 100 in Phillie, to a bowling alley, to someone’s warehouse."
Fortunately, their egos are well in check, and they are not injured by the thought of playing a smaller gig. Even if the turnouts could be more impressive, the band still manages to draw something positive from each experience.
"We’ll do these shows and think, ‘There aren’t too many people here – too bad.’ And somebody will come up to you and say, ‘Hey! We drove eight hours from Missouri, or Kentucky, to see you!’ And you realize it’s not the amount of people, it’s the quality."
With quality high on their list of priorities, it’s not surprising that their new album is such a fine example of NomeansNo’s time-practiced artistry and musical craftsmanship. A monstrous and confrontational body of work, No One lumbers through eight-minute power poems, and jazz-inspired tangents that threaten to alienate those looking for that quick punk rock fix.
"We gave our audience a bit of a job with this record. Sometimes that’s the way they turn out. You just follow your inspiration, and if it takes you down 20 minutes of whatever, then all you can do is follow."
Following that path of inspiration has led NomeansNo down many twisted avenues and dark alleyways. As a Canadian rock entity, they have continually reinvented themselves, keeping the spirit of their music vital and alive. But with all these startling transformations over the years, some of their old-school fans may have been left in the dust.
Even now, some are still sitting in the basement listening to Sex Mad on vinyl. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Rob acknowledges the philosophical gap.
"I think our audience expects that of us. We’ve always done stuff that takes a few chances and requires a bit of listening.... You risk failing and you risk humiliating people who think they want a song to reach out and grab them, but it happened to work out the other way around."
Market appeal definitely isn’t an issue here – these guys have been at it long enough that they just do what comes naturally. This time the result is a lengthy, clean and thoughtful collection of songs that takes us down an emotional chain and stirs the juices. One of the two standout tracks on the album is "’Bitches Brew", a 15-minute transgression inspired by Miles Davis’s improvisational jazz album. In NomeansNo’s version, the super-structure riff from the intro becomes the basis of a huge, long, improvised interpretative piece. Wright gives Davis full credit, touting "Bitches Brew" as one of the best recordings of the 20th century.
"It’s a classic. To hear the original compared to what I did – it’s a bit different," Rob laughs.
The other big surprise comes at the very end of the album, in the form of a heavily monotone and dried out version of the off-colour Ramones hit "Beat on the Brat."
"We started doing that as a joke. Sort of stumbled on playing it reeeally slow. When all is said and done, there were a lot of extra songs in the sessions for this record, but we chose that one over some of our originals. And it ended up being quite in with the tone of the record – the contrast between it and "Bitches Brew."
Perpetually, swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other, NomeansNo encourages us to let go of the human symbols for the mystery of the existence that we’re bound up in. No more clinging senselessly to oversimplified cartoons (i.e., the yin-yang). What then is the alternative? Uncertainty. A frightening thought. But then, one must be strong to be wrong.
"At least let yourself fall into the soup, where you’re not quite sure what It is. That takes some guts. You never know what you’re going to find."
by Christine Leonard
Performing with Removal and Chupacabra at The Night Gallery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Originally published in FFWD Magazine -- Friday, December 1, 2000