Interview With Mean Red Spiders

By Holly Day [12-15-1999]

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 downtown area.

[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 others?

[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 group effort?

[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?

[Greg] Shoes.


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