Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/1/2017 (1773 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In 1989, Monuments Galore — a Winnipeg band that took home a 1986 CASBY (Canadian Artists Selected by You) award for "Best Non-recording Act" in the country — was in Edmonton in the middle of a western Canadian universities tour.
Monuments, as the group was known to its loyal followers, had spent much of the previous year working on its first full-length album with vaunted American producer Mitch Easter, and the guys were finally going to hear how things turned out, thanks to an advance cassette copy that arrived via courier.
After removing the cassette tape from its shrink wrap, Kevin Mears, the group’s lead singer, inserted it into a tape deck and hit "play." Then he and his bandmates settled back and waited for the lead track, Sometimes I Wander, written about a friend of theirs who had committed suicide, to come blaring out of the speakers.
"After a few songs, we couldn’t believe what we were listening to," Mears says, seated in a St. Vital watering hole, not far from Arden Avenue, the street he grew up on.
"Our record company had changed almost everything we and Easter had done. They’d dropped songs, removed entire verses out of other (songs), chopped (guitar) solos out and inserted solos where there hadn’t been any before. We looked at each other and almost cried it was so shitty."
On Nov. 25 2016, Mears was brought to tears again. Partway through what was billed as a Monuments Galore reunion show — held to toast the re-release of the band’s self-titled debut, which had been re-mastered "to sound the way it was supposed to sound in the first place" — Mears took a moment to scan the crowd bobbing and weaving in front of him at the Orbit Room, on Pembina Highway.
"We were doing Young Girl Generation, a single we recorded after winning the CASBY, and everybody on the (dance) floor was singing along, word for word," Mears says, taking a swig of his Bud Light, referring to it to as "a good afternoon beer."
"I was like, ‘Whoa.’ Somebody told me later it looked like I was welling up, which is probably true because at that moment, I was recognizing all these people who, 30 years ago, used to come see us at the bar four or five times a week, and thinking to myself, this show is as much for them as it is for us."
Mears was a Grade 10 student at Dakota Collegiate when he put together his first band, Pilot Young, patterned after glam rock acts such as David Bowie, Slade and Sweet. Not long after the Sex Pistols turned punk rock into a cultural phenomenon, Mears switched gears and helped form Discharge, which he guesses to have been one of the first punk outfits in Winnipeg.
Mears was between groups in 1982 when he started jamming with Doug Dobson (drums), Art Pearson (bass), and guitar players Eric Loewen and Brad Hrushka. All five shared an affinity for the new wave sound coming out of England at the time, and within a few months, Monuments Galore was packing venues such as the Royal Albert Arms and Wellington’s, as word spread about the British-sounding quintet and its manic front man. (Prior to Monuments Galore, Mears had a part-time job in the mailroom at the Manitoba Legislative Building. One afternoon, while he and a friend were eating lunch on the legislative grounds, Mears’s buddy remarked, "There sure are a lot of monuments around here," to which Mears replied, "Yeah, monuments galore.")
"For the first few years, we breathed, ate and drank Monuments," says Mears, 58. "We had a house on Fleet (Avenue) where we all lived, including our manager. We were constantly writing our own stuff, we practised seven days a week... at the time there was nobody (in Winnipeg) tighter than us."
Following their CASBY win, the group raised $50,000 to finance its debut album. They flew Easter, who had already made a name for himself working with the likes of REM and Let’s Active, to Winnipeg from his home in North Carolina, and put him up at the Grant Park Motor Inn, on Pembina Highway. Once the album was completed, their manager began shopping it around to different record companies.
"We signed to BMG/Eureka but we were so excited to have a contract, we didn’t pay too much attention to the fine print," Mears says. "As it turned out, they took our album to Buffalo and remixed it with the guy who, at the time, was working with the Goo Goo Dolls. Except they didn’t get the band at all; they thought we should sound more like Honeymoon Suite than the Clash, which was the kiss of death."
Monuments Galore toured behind the album in 1989 and 1990, opening for the likes of Alannah Myles, the Georgia Satellites and the Hoodoo Gurus. Record sales were flat, however, and at one point, the guys learned BMG was dropping them from its roster.
The band soldiered on for a while, Mears says — after all, they had close to 30 new songs in the can, and were hoping to put out a follow-up — but by 1991, the guys became disillusioned with the biz, and, one by one, left the group to pursue "real jobs." (Mears, a married father of two, worked as a manager at Safeway for years; he’s currently a retail supervisor for a data collection company.)
Three years ago, Mears got a call from Pearson, his old bass player. Pearson had some interesting news; although everybody associated with Monuments Galore believed the original master tapes for their first record were long-gone, it turned out the late Kevin Walters, a Winnipeg entertainment industry icon, had a copy in his possession.
"We were of the belief our former manager had thrown everything away, but Kevin, who used to work for our old agency Hungry I, apparently went dumpster-diving one afternoon and found our two-track, one-inch master tape, and kept it all these years," Mears says, rolling his eyes. "After the tape turned up, Art and I discussed what to do with it. He was about to be a father and was kinda busy with that so I said, ‘OK, I’ll take it and get this done right, once and for all.’"
Before its re-release, the album, now titled Colour, Depth & Field, was "cleaned up" in a Los Angeles studio owned by Richard Duguay, ex of legendary Winnipeg rockers Personality Crisis.
Peace and Harmony, one of the tracks that was dropped from the original release, kicks things off. With its bright harmonies and U2-ish, ringing guitar sound, it immediately transports listeners back to the ‘80s, and sweat-soaked nights at Broadways, the Pyramid and Verna’s – just a handful of the local venues where Monuments Galore once reigned supreme.
"I don’t care about sales, this isn’t about the money," Mears says. (That said, he is hoping to make the record available on iTunes in the near future.)
"But it is about a new chapter for Monuments Galore. I’m not saying we’re going to play every month, but we will play often enough. When I look back on my life and think about what I’ve accomplished, I can say I’ve been a good father and a not-bad soccer player. But music, I think, is what I did best.
"I never thought I was a great singer, but I do think I’m a damn good performer, and that our band always put on a damn good show. After the (Orbit Room) show, everybody was coming up to us saying, ‘Wow, I forgot how good you guys were.’ That’s kind of given us the catalyst to get out there and do it all over again."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.