We went into this record sort of wanting to get back to being a rock band. It was hard for us to get a new producer; we’d done four records with Arnold Lanni, who we love and have tons of respect for.
We caught up with Duncan Coutts, bassist for Our Lady Peace, to talk about Gravity, the band’s latest release, and OLP’s new direction. Our Lady Peace will be in St. Louis at the Pageant on Wednesday, September 25.
Tell me about the new album.
We’re too excited about it. We went into this record sort of wanting to get back to being a rock band. It was hard for us to get a new producer; we’d done four records with Arnold Lanni, who we love and have tons of respect for. But there comes a time when you need to move on. We [also] parted ways with our guitar player, and so that really signified a new chapter for this band.
Steve Mazur is the type of guitar player that we’ve been wanting for the last couple of records. Our previous guitar player, [OLP cofounder Mike Turner], was really a soundscape type of guy and—no disrespect to that, it’s just a different path than what we were looking for. Now we’ve got a real player’s player-type guy and it’s really exciting.
I’m probably dating myself now by saying that, when I was a kid, I bought LPs. There used to be eight or ten really great songs, and you could listen to the whole thing all the way through, and there was a flow to it. Nowadays, quite often there are two or three really good songs, and then a lot of songs [that] don’t sound as if they were born from the same spirit. We really wanted to make an old-school rock record, and I think we achieved it.
How did you come to work with [famed Metallica producer] Bob Rock?
Originally, we were thinking about putting out a live record, and we were just gonna get together with a producer and maybe do two or three new songs. If a fan is going to buy the record, there’s got to be some new dimension to it, something extra. So we were in L.A. and we were auditioning a couple of producers. The last guy we went to see was Bob, because he lives in Maui and it geographically made sense to go there last.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the making of the Metallica Black record, but Bob was portrayed in that video—well, some people could say as a bit of an asshole, because he takes this world-famous band and is not afraid to let them know what he thinks, and chews them out a bit. But what we saw was just a guy who’s passionate about music, and passionate about songs, and that really piqued our interest in wanting to work with him. We met him, we hit it off, and then the first day we went to even try to attempt to record anything, we wrote and recorded a brand new song. Jeremy was getting drum tones up, I started playing a bass line, Raine hears this groove going through the wall, he runs in, starts singing, tells Bob on the microphone to put on the microphone. Bob says, “Where does this song go from here?” and Raine says, “I don’t know; you’re hearing it as we are,” and within 20 minutes we had a brand new song written. Because that happened, and because the relationship felt really special, he said, “Why don’t you guys just stick around and make a record? James Hatfield’s going into rehab, and I happen to have a couple of months off.” So Metallica’s loss was definitely our gain.
I read a quote from Raine that said working with Bob Rock was “intense.” You’ve kind of touched on that, but can you elaborate a little bit?
I think Bob pushed us, pushed us all to do things differently than we have in the past. It started off with him saying, “Don’t bring any instruments.” So you go in there and it’s like young kids going to have fun in a candy store, [but] you have none of your old tricks to rely on. And then from the way that Jeremy drummed to the way that I played bass to the way that we’d recorded in the past, to the fact that one thing our old producer didn’t really do with Raine was really challenge him lyrically. Bob really challenged Raine and forced him to drop the wall that he was hiding behind in his lyrics, make them a little more personal sometimes and a little less ambiguous. He really pushed us, and I think the actual recording was intense in the sense that it was so new and so different to us. He was really good at encouraging you [while] taking you out of your comfort zone, so there was an edge to it.
How long did you spend down there, total?
Probably about 10 weeks, but spread out over three or four months. In the past, we’ve gone into the studio and spent anywhere from 10 to 16 hours a day in the studio; when you’re spending that much time, it sort of becomes a job, and one that you dread by the end of it. Being in Maui, a number of things changed for us, aside from just Bob being the producer.
We lived together, which we have never done while recording. You know, we ate together, we had to be sort of wary of who was doing the dishes in the mornings and all that kind of stuff. We would surf together in the morning, and we’d go and work maybe eight hours in the studio, but we’d work hard for eight hours. It became that you were having so much fun the rest of the day, that by the time you had to go to the studio, you were jazzed and excited, and that never dwindled.
We drove to the studio together, we drove home together. You could never leave the studio mad and get in your separate cars and go to your separate homes and wonder what everybody was thinking because we were all living under the same roof. It was a pretty tight-knit family down there.
Raine Maida writes all the lyrics; what about the rest of the music? Is that a pretty democratic process?
It depends on the song. Raine writes a lot of the songs, too; he’s sort of become the most prolific and proficient songwriter out of all of us. We recorded six songs that the band wrote; three of them made the record, three of them have been recorded and hopefully will see the light of day at some point.
To a cerebral reviewer, Gravity’s self-described “rock band sound” seems a dumbing down from the band’s previous LP, with its unified theme: the integration of humanity and machines. What’s your take on the change in direction?
The last record was, I’d say, 50 percent a concept record, and it was dealing with very heady issues. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, but—yeah. You know, it’s a lot to take in, it’s a lot to tackle, and it’s a lot for people to absorb, and some people had the misconception that you needed to read the book to understand the record.
I wouldn’t call [Gravity] a dumbing down; I would call this a sense of needing to realize that, as humans, we need to deal with things in the present. Sure, you can worry about things that can happen 20 or 50 years from now, and it’s good to theorize about that and maybe get yourself prepared, but at the same time, if you break your leg, you’ve got to deal with that today; if your girlfriend wants to leave you, you’ve got to deal with that today. And there’s nothing wrong with Raine exploring human emotion and definitely his own emotion; I think it’s a good place that he got to lyrically, because I think they’re really honest lyrics.