Outside of Bono and Bob Geldof, not many music stars are reknowned for their altruism. But Ryan McCambridge, frontman for Toronto indie-rock band Recovery Child, has poured a ton of work into organizing the new benefit compilation Spill: Songs for Oil Spill Relief. Not for his ego, but for the future of our environment, with proceeds going to water conversation group Oceana.

The disc gathers up a handful of great Ontario groups, including TORO Garage Band alumni The Balconies, and Michou, with contributions from Dragonette, Dinosaur Bones, Clothes Make the Man, and more. McCambridge was motivated by his frustration over the Deepwater Horizon disaster, frustration aimed at both the lax standards that allowed it to happen, and the incompetence that prevented a resolution.

TORO talked with McCambridge (below left) about the process of putting the album together, his ties to the environmental movement, and some unbelievable facts about the oil rig explosion.

Q: I recall my first reaction to the Deepwater Horizon disaster was fairly indifferent, until I slowly realized how serious the situation was. Can you tell us about your initial thoughts?
A: The reality was that of course it was going to intensify over time. But no one could have ever estimated that it could have gone on for three months, and turn into the biggest environmental catastrophe of our time.

Q: Have you always considered yourself environmentally conscious?
A: I would love to be able to answer yes. I think I’ve always cared about real fundamental problems plaguing the world, problems that have been talked about since the 1960s. When I was younger, I was more apathetic. In my twenties, I started to sit back and say “Well, this isn’t going to get any better” and it started to chip away at me a bit more.

Q: When did you become more actively involved in the relief process?
A: It was a pretty definitive moment. About a month into it, they started to realize that there wasn’t any good solution. They were really underprepared. They were exploring different means for sealing the well, and one thing that was put on the plate was to use a nuclear bomb. I don’t know how seriously they took it.

Q: But somebody brought it up, and they must have thought, “Hmm...”
A: Lead scientists were saying “Maybe the heat from the bomb will seal it...” And I remember reading this article like, “Really? This is what it’s come to?”

Related: Article in The New York Times

I was compelled to do something. I could have donated $25 or $100 myself, which would have been a drop in the bucket. Or I could used my resources, reach out to people I knew in the Toronto music scene, and try to put more time and elbow grease into it. Raise awareness, especially for people of a younger generation who are harder to reach.

Q: Was it tough to get theSpillInsert.jpg bands on board with the project?
I was absolutely amazed that everybody was so unbelievably humbled to be a part of it, so enthusiastic. Most artists have the heart to want to help, but don’t have the time, you know? All it takes is someone to organize and wrangle everybody together. Even artists like Dinosaur Bones and Dragonette, people I look up to, were thankful to be a part of it.

Q: The album has two functions: it’s a benefit compilation, but it also documents the Toronto indie music scene in 2010.
Absolutely. That was something I’ve always valued, when there is a scene and artists know each other and are collaborating, and coming together for causes or musical means. I really like the compilation, from a musical standpoint.

Q: How much of the material is exclusive?
I’d say 50 per cent. Beggars can’t be choosers. I turned to the artists and said it would be great if the whole compilation was unique, but the reality is that I’d be asking a lot. Dragonette shared a remix, and Lindi Ortega shared an unreleased B-side.  

Q: Has the oil spill inspired you as a songwriter, directly?
I can’t say right now. I don’t look at songwriting so methodically. I think if I were to sit down and write a song about the spill, I wouldn’t be able to do anything with it. But it’s probable. Every artist should draw from those kind of things. You have to be open to feel these things, however it manifests itself. Maybe I’ll be 50 years old, and it will come out then. Tough to say.

Q: Hopefully the oceans will not be 100 per cent oil by then, and we’ll all be around to hear it.
Yeah, exactly [Laughs].

Q: Why did you decide to partner with Oceana?
Originally, I started doing research on different organizations. I liked Oceana, because they were very focused, and they’re pretty much the premiere organization focused on ocean conservation. So it just made sense. I wanted the compilation to be a conduit for people to be introduced to Oceana. They were so responsive, fantastic to work with. They appreciate when people step up to the plate.

All of the donations are going towards their research into the effects of the oil spill. The well has been sealed, but the majority of the oil that came out of the well is still in a soupy mess under the water. A very small amount washes to the shore. There’s all this base-level wildlife - plankton, krill - that are fed upon, and their exposure level to the oil is the highest. Oceana’s big push right now is to get the U.S. government on board to prevent future oil spills.

Q: Canada is facing an uphill battle when it comes to restricting or banning offshore oil drilling, which is something that Oceana supports. We’ve had environmental committees come out and say that it doesn’t need to happen, because so many safety standards are in place. Can you comment on this?
I recognize that things are a lot more complicated than anyone is going to make them out to be. It’s not a clear-cut situation. Personally, I run off the information I collect from other people. I’m not a marine biologist, or a politician, or an oil tycoon.

But the oil we get from offshore drilling is such a small portion of what is available in the world. It’s a small portion of what we use. If the effort and money being put into offshore drilling were reallocated into alternative sources of energy, we’d be much better off in the long term.

Q: And the rest of the world does not necessarily have the safety standards that we do.
Yeah. I hope people don’t view what happened as only a U.S. problem. It’s easy to brush it off and say “It’s not up here.” But it could have been. One of the biggest issues surrounding offshore drilling is that we don’t have the means to control it.

Q: We clearly don’t have the capacity to handle something going seriously wrong.
I’ve read so many accounts calling this “The worst field experiment ever.” They spent three months learning how to deal with it. An oil spill on this scale is completely unmanageable.

Q: From what we’ve learned about how lax safety standards were on Deepwater Horizon, it didn’t even take that much foresight to prevent.
A document was put together called “In Case of an Emergency”, and the person who was first point of contact, i.e. who to call if something goes wrong, had been dead for years! You just hope that you learn from it, and that our definition of learning isn’t “OK, now we know how to plug it..." 

Related: Learn more and download the album here.

Related: Oceana conservation online.

Related: Recovery Child online.

3 Comments | Add a Comment
Great compilation, great cause.
Downloaded the album and it's great! Nice to see that people still care...
Downloaded the album and it's great! Nice to see that people still care...
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