Recovery Child frontman Ryan McCambridge and I came of age around the same time, when Canadian alt-rock ruled the airwaves on MuchMusic and bands like Age of Electric, Rusty, Pluto, The Killjoys and countless others earned hundreds of plays before being usurped by the international pop charts.

Appropriately, his band’s music recalls the days before pop and indie rock took over the opposing poles of taste. It reminds me more than anything else of sitting in my bedroom, holding a CD booklet in my hand and pouring over lyrics and images. Albums, even good ones, rarely have cause to envelop the listener in such a way anymore, but Recovery Child and its latest release Afterimage retain an oft-forgotten sense of importance and a welcome lack of irony.

In support of their recent appearance in the TORO Garage. I sat down with McCambridge to talk about his thoughts on music culture and the origin of Recovery Child.

[Ryan has placed a paperback down ...] What are you reading?

It’s Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. His most famous novel according to the cover. Truthfully I was supposed to read it in OAC Lit but I kind of bullshitted my way through. I’m paying my dues now. As you age your priorities shift and you see the true value (in literature) rather than having a teacher tell you about that value. I’m in a kick of trying to fit in as many classics as I can ... if I’ve got another 50 years, God willing, there’s a lot of books to be read.

But it’s important to stand up for what you really think. I recently read Kerouac’s On the Road and didn’t really like it. That’s hard when something is considered one of the greatest American books ever written ...

Probably by more than a few people who haven’t read it.

I think it’s really important to be honest (about art) as opposed to just liking something because someone says you’re supposed to. It all comes down to whether you’re really responding to it or not.

That goes for music as well. If you’re not finding value in the canons of classic or indie rock there’s still so much out there if you put forth the effort to find it.

There’s also so many “classics.” You can’t respond positively to all of them.

And in indie/underground music culture, everything becomes canonized in a certain way once it’s old enough.

Well, everything has a context at the time it’s released. People will pan or love a record based on what’s happening at the time. Fast-forward 30 years and that context is lost, and the people who are still talking about it are the ones who loved it. Things like disco. That wasn’t really what cool people were listening to. And a few years ago it was “reinvented” and suddenly considered chic.

There’s an anecdote about The Black Keys having their Grammy mistakingly inscribed to The Black Eyed Peas, and one member said, “In 30 years no one will remember The Black Eyed Peas.” Except that, based on what we’re seeing now, the Black Eyed Peas’ “uncool” music could easily be re-appropriated and re-evaluated by subsequent generations of music fans.

That reminds me of looking at pictures of people burning Beatles records after the “Bigger than Jesus” fiasco. I wonder, did those people just hide in the closet for a few years? Did they come out and say “No, I never said I hated The Beatles”?

Let’s talk about your music. When did you start?

I was about 12. I was a pretty complacent kid, didn’t really respond to much. You know how your parents try to put you in soccer or other general activities ... I felt the same way about music initially, but I ended up really liking it. This was the early-to-mid-‘90s. I had no interest in playing other people’s songs. I didn’t go out and buy songbooks.

I had a guitar teacher tell me once that was the biggest mistake of beginners: trying to learn how to play songs, not their instrument.

I did have that kind of clumsy start, trying to figure out what I should be doing (with music.) I will say I’m not an awful guitarist, but I’m not a great guitarist either; I’ve spent my whole life trying to learn and write my own songs as opposed to doing solos or something. I went into a studio (for the first time) around 14.

Did you always relish the “frontman” role?

When you first start playing you just mish-mash a band together from people you know from school or wherever. At that age it’s very diplomatic: “Who’s going to be the singer?” I don’t know if I stepped forward or if everyone else stepped back. (Stepping forward) is very hard to do as a teenage male.

Did you feel embarrassed? 

Oh, totally. But it meant something to me. That’s what I wanted to do. But we were so young. It was all bravado, probably. That was what you did: you made a tape, and tried to share it with labels. We’d play school shows and sell tapes. People would buy them! I remember a few times going to parties in our neighbourhood and (strangers) would say “Oh, you’re in that band ...” It was pretty wild. Our music wasn’t going to change the world or anything but it did teach me a lot when I went on to play in other bands. 

I knew it was time to buckle down in my ‘20s, after I’d figured myself out more. I’d made it to a point where my voice didn’t crack when I sang. 

What inspired the formation of Recovery Child?

I wanted (my music) to mean more than just a bunch of dudes getting together, to play bars and meet girls. That was never enough for me. What I’ve learned is that your intention matters only as much as people interpret it. If the message is lost than it’s not really worth the effort. That’s not to say you should give up if you get discouraged but you have to recognize that, in order to make a connection, it’s a two-way street.

Today, I don’t know if young people know what real, passionate music with an underlying point (sounds like.) I might be totally wrong on that ... 

I think you have to give kids the time to listen to whatever they want. There will be a point where they realize what is valuable on their own.

Absolutely. What (Recovery Child) is up against is ... it’s easier for artsy, quirky bands. It’s almost easier for people to accept that there’s a deeper meaning in that music. Look at a band like Arcade Fire. They have a lot to say and they’re saying it, and they’ve been positioned as “anti-mainstream.” But I think what (music like that) has done is make people look at more mainstream styles of music and assume it’s all devoid of substance. We’re mainstream not in terms of our level of success but in our style of music, so the medium of our art dilutes our message.

I have an aversion to “ironic” bands. It’s hard to be both (artistically) sincere and ironic. Unless you’re like Weird Al or something and you’ve managed to build an entire career from taking the piss out of music.

Not to get too esoteric about Weird Al, but his music has always felt sincere and I think that’s why he’s earned respect from artists he’s made fun of, like Kurt Cobain.

I have so much more respect for that. It’s who he is and he believes in it as absurd as it might seem. I respect anyone who considers themselves a serious musician. Anybody who sticks with it.

Related: Our 2010 interview with McCambridge about his benefit compilation Songs for Oil Spill Relief.

0 Comments | Add a Comment
*Your Name:
*Enter code:
* Comment: