Interview with Mean Red Spiders
Mainstays of Canada's Toronto indie scene for over six years, Mean
Red Spiders have finally graced their loyal fans with their first
commercially available release, "Places You Call Home." The band
(Lisa Nighswander on bass; Greg Chambers, guitar; percussionist Adam
Rosen; Minesh Mandoda on keyboard) has long been renown for their
live shows, and has opened for bands such as Bardo Pond and
Windy and Carl. The music of Mean Red Spiders has been likened
to a guitar-driven Stereolab or a less chaotic My Bloody
Valentine; whatever they are, they're absolutely wonderful.
Not only is Mean Red Spiders a part of the indie scene in Canada,
they're also very much responsible for keeping it alive. Greg,
Dave, and Lisa have organized five Kanadian Independent
Music (K.I.M.) festivals, designed to bring together the music
community in Toronto and Ottawa without discrimination towards
musical genre. With the support of their label, teenage USA,
they've managed to put together shows featuring hip hop and
psychedelic acts on the same bill, inviting R&B groups and other
musicians that normally did not get invited to play in Toronto's
[Holly Day] Where did the band's
name come from?
[Greg Chambers] An ex-member of the band came up with it.
He said it was a song that Muddy Waters recorded on his first
album. I later found out that it actually means crabs but we like the
name because it never really connects with the music we do; people
say, "You guys don't sound mean, red, or spidery." I think people
expect that a group's name reflects the music, but in our case, it
has nothing to do with us.
[Holly] How long have you all been
playing together? Is this your first band or have you been in
[Greg] David Humphreys and myself started the group in
'93. We had, along with Lisa Nighswander, worked together in the late
'80's in a record store in Toronto. David had played with some
people, but nothing too serious, and I was just a music fan. We got
together and I learned to play guitar. We added a friend on bass and
a drum machine and just began playing. Adam Rosen, who joined in '96,
is also in 122 Greige, who've just released their CD "Movin' Away
from the Sun" - they've been around since '93. Minesh Mandoda
joined in '97, and plays with Parts Unkown, a local band
who've been around since the early '90's.
The Toronto music scene is quite tight, so everyone knows everyone
and you see a lot of people you know at shows. There's a lot of
mutual admiration going on.
[Holly] Is "Places You call Home"
your first release or have there been others? If there are others,
what labels are they on?
[Greg] "Places You Call Home" is our first "real" release.
We did a couple of tapes, but they were very, very limited.
[Holly] What is your composition
process like? Does one person write most of the songs, or is it a
[Greg] Generally David or I come in with something,
usually very basic chord and structure, and then we all collaborate
on it either one on one or together, banging it into shape.
[Holly] Where is the band coming
from so far as sound, hidden agendas, etc.?
[Greg] Yikes! Umm, well, overall I'd say we're all
interested in pop culture as a whole and we tend to see ourselves as
artist swimming in a vast pool of mediums - some of us are painters,
some write, others sculpt and work in theatre, so we've come to
regard music as a way of communicating our creative chaos shit. I
hope that don't sound to pretentious. We really are just down home
folks. But all of us have vast collections of music and we love to
share our tastes with one another. I would describe us as Wall of
Sound enthusiasts with a cheese pop streak, which I'm sure my fellow
band mates will eventually beat out of me.
We're all fans of psychedelic music, not the hippie stuff, but the
more trancey sort of stuff like Can and Eno, the
Orb, so we try and evoke a state of mind in our music that's
soothing in its way. We also work in a very organic way and love
found sounds that we can work into what we do. We sort of choose to
go about getting heard also in a very organic way, sort of bubbling
up to the surface. Working with teenage USA has been good for us in
that they want to be seen that way too. Canada is an odd place for
our music in that a percentage of radio play has to be Canadian but
no one knows what that really means. Brian Adams can get play
on Canadian radio just because he's Canadian, but we, on the other
hand (and I'm not in any way comparing us with him) have a hard time
getting grants because we don't play bagpipes or fiddles. Because
Canada is so huge, if you want to tour or have a video made and
played nationally, you will lose money, so you need the government
support. But Toronto is a big city (4 million), and because we get a
lot of British music here (a lot of English bands test the market
here before trying the U.S.) and are vastly influenced by the States,
the music scene is very diverse. Basically, we like to be seen as not
coming from anywhere in particular.
[Holly] What's your favorite kitchen
utensil/found non-music instrument to use in recordings?