Hooks ‘N’ You: The Gravelberrys, “Bowl of Globes”

Written by Hooks 'N' You, Music, Popdose Interviews

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Two Canadian artists back to back?

Hey, don’t blame me. Blame Paul Myers.

If you happened to check out the comments in last week’s column, you might’ve seen the entry written by a man who described himself as a “Canadian in Berkeley, CA.” I’ve never actually met Paul personally, but we’ve traded E-mails a few times, and he and I have been fellow subscribers on an invaluable E-mail list called Audities. (The group sprung forth from Audities Magazine, and it’s been a haven for pop fanatics for quite a few years now; I can’t remember exactly when I first joined, but I know that when I attended the 1999 International Pop Overthrow in Los Angeles and met several listees, I’d already been a part of the list for a fair while.) The first time I received an E-mail from Paul via the list, though, I did a major double take, wondering, “Is this the Paul Myers?”

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For the answer to why I asked myself this question, we must flash back to the mid-1990s, when I was sale-bin diving at a used CD store and happened upon a 2-disc collection of indie bands from Canada. I mostly bought it because it included an early version of “Be My Yoko Ono,” by Barenaked Ladies, and truth be told, most of the bands on the collection didn’t really do much for me, but in addition to discovering one of the great band names of our time (the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir), I also stumbled upon an incredibly groovy pop song called “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Daydream,” by The Gravelberrys. After one listen to the song, I knew I’d gotten my money’s worth and then some…like, to the point where I desperately needed to find out if the band had anything else available.

Fortunately, they did: a full-length album entitled Bowl of Globes.

I admit that when I got inspired to write this piece, I hadn’t actually listened to the album in awhile, but since Paul’s TPOH comment made me think of it, I broke out Bowl of Globes and took it for a spin, and I found myself remembering all over again just how good it is. And once I got into flashback mode, I decided to see if I could get Paul Myers to reminisce about the record a bit, too. Fortunately, the man’s a writing machine (more on that in a moment), and he responded almost immediately with a few anecdotes about the making of the album itself:

“Most of it was done in long overnight sessions at the old Reaction Studios in Toronto. It’s gone now, but a lot of great albums were recorded there by Toronto indie bands and other Canadian groups like Barenaked Ladies and even Rush. I was co-producing Bowl Of Globes (the songs were all mine and I was a control freak, let’s face it) with my best friend Michael Phillip Wojewoda (who engineered the whole thing), and he was ‘hot’ off working on the Rheostatics and Change of Heart in that same building, so he was ‘one’ with the mixing console there. The band had tracked all the beds live off the floor, so that left a lot of time for doing what we called ‘selective sweetening,’ little tweaks and added instruments to give the sound more of studio vibe. That was actually a mild controversy. The other guys in the band, ace keyboard player John Hume and journeyman drummer Claude Kent, were adamant that we make a Rockpile-like album that would be very live sounding. But I was very into XTC’s later work by that period and got into that Andy Partridge headspace where I wanted it to be like an aural sculpture, something that suggested a live four piece band but that existed in the magical realm of studio recordings (more Revolver than Sgt. Pepper, though). This meant that after John and Claude had tracked their beds and after we all sang three part harmonies, Michael and I would stick around and ‘mess with it.’ I added that backwards guitar solo in the intro to ‘Wonder Where You Are Tonight,’ which also got a rented 12-string guitar overdubbed to it. Michael and I also constructed the drum loop intro to ‘It’s Raining,(It’s Pouring)‘ and even brought in some female backing vocalists, Kathryn Rose and Vid Lake, to sing on ‘Everyday She Wants Tomorrow.’ In the end, I think I was afraid of my own bandmates. It wasn’t a democracy, but I really wanted everyone to feel respected, so I asked Michael to mix the extra stuff lower than the band tracks; as a result, I think it’s a compromise. I love that album, but I wish I’d either made it Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure or XTC’s English Settlement.”

As to how I came into possession of Bowl of Globes…well, I can’t swear that I got the CD from Bruce Brodeen at Not Lame Records, but let’s face it: that’s pretty much where I was getting everything pop-related from the mid-1990s onward, so it’s safe to presume that Bruce was my benefactor. As such, it was another case of sending off a check and twitching until my order arrived, but this was even worse than the wait for the Merrymakers had been. At least that had been a completely unknown commodity; here, I’d heard a song and was now anxiously waiting to find out if its quality was a one-off. It was not, thankfully, and I realized this from the moment the album’s opening track, the aforementioned “Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” kicked off and instantly inspired a smile with its opening lines: “Doing nothing, watching TV / Listening to Little Stevie / Wonder where you are tonight.” Genius.

Paul still remembers the first time he ever heard the song played on the radio:

I was at my office day job. It was surreal. We had CFNY on in the office, the best Modern Rock station in Toronto, and suddenly I hear that backwards guitar whining out of the radio. Obviously, I couldn’t concentrate on my data entry — then my phone started ringing, and my intercom. You’d think I had just won a Grammy the way everyone was phoning in. Another neat moment came on our Canadian tour. We were driving across the Canadian Prairies in an Econoline van and I had to pee very badly. We pulled into a Harvey’s hamburger store just outside of Winnipeg and I ran into the restroom there. As I’m furiously relieving myself, I notice that they had the local ‘Adult Contemporary’ station (Light rock for the office) on. They were playing our softer single, ‘It’s Raining (It’s Pouring)’ as I peed. I almost missed the urinal and it’s a good thing there was no one else in the men’s room or I would have seemed like a crazy man pointing to the ceiling speaker yelling ‘that’s me on the radio’ while peeing.

There’s plenty of wordplay throughout the lyrics of Bowl of Globes – in particular, I always enjoy the line in the caveman anthem, “Rocks and Bones,” where he describes the size of a cave with the words, “Deep and wide but not so tall / Everyone’s Neanderthal”) – but the music is equally memorable. “Felt This Way Before” has a soaring harmony-laden chorus, as does “Everyday She Wants Tomorrow.” In fact, of the ten tracks, eight of them stick with you, and the two that don’t only fail because they aren’t around long enough; there are two versions of a song called “Landlord,” and the joke is that the radio edit is two seconds long but the extended dance club mix is five seconds long.

By the way, for the record, the MP3s included within this piece are here with Paul’s blessing. When I asked his permission before uploading them, he replied, “Why not? I don’t even know if the album’s available anymore so it would be a good way for the music to get back out there. I retain any commercial rewards from it, only if you do.” (Maybe this posting will inspire someone somewhere to reissue the disc…?)

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If you’re curious about what Paul’s up to these days, you can head over to his MySpace page and listen to some of the work he’s doing under his current musical guise, FLAM! Alternatively, you could head into a bookstore and check out some of the stuff he’s written over the years, including Public Stunts, Private Stories“>, the authorized biography he composed for his close personal friends Barenaked Ladies; his most recent work, however, is It Ain’t Easy, a biography of the late Long John Baldry and his influence on the British blues movement of the 1960’s.

In closing, I should probably reference one other thing, if only in passing. When I finally got that copy of Bowl of Globes and started studying the liner notes, this comment caught my eye: “Special thanks to Mike Myers.” This being the days before I was surfing the ‘net like a madman, I was frustrated that I couldn’t immediately get an answer to the question that leapt foremost into my thoughts: “Are Paul and Mike related?” If only I’d had access to this photo of him (taken by Crystal Heald) at the time, it would’ve answered my question without a single word being spoken.

(And just in case you don’t see the family resemblance, yes, they’re brothers.)