Mike McDonald thinks God is a Jr. Gone Wild fan



By Steve Newton

On the back cover of the latest Jr. Gone Wild release is a black and white photograph that captures the essence of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. It shows a stage floor with all its trappings: the base of a microphone stand, snaking guitar cords, a dirty ashtray, a couple of empty beer bottles, a half-empty beer glass, a broken beer mug, a shot glass, and a stage monitor with a set list taped to it.

The item that really provides a look of authenticity, however, is a square white napkin bearing a scribbled message obviously intended for a band member: “THE POLICE WANTS TO STOP THE GIG!! TOO MUCH NOISE!! NEIGHBOURS.”

“That’s real,” says Jr. Gone Wild leader Mike McDonald, on the phone from the Edmonton office of Stony Plain Records. “You notice it’s sort of broken English? Well, that’s from our very last gig in Europe. We were playing this little tiny bar in Belgium, and it was packed with people, and we were just playing every song we knew. We weren’t even aware of how long we were up there for, but the police shut it down. That was the actual note the guy handed to me.”

Jr. Gone Wild spent six weeks in Europe, an experience—the incident with the napkin notwithstanding—McDonald describes as “sorta hellish”.

“It was like touring Canada for the first time. Nobody knew who we were so we had to start from scratch. I mean, financially, it was a disaster, so that’s what we’re doing in ’93—paying for our trip to Europe.

“But it was worth doing, because we were getting kinda spoiled out in Western Canada. Our heads were gettin’ kinda big, and it brought us down a few notches, which is what we needed. We were in Europe just prior to recording Pull the Goalie, and the last thing I wanted was the band going with huge heads into a recording situation, ’cause that would have betrayed the integrity of the music, I thought.”

Integrity, as Pull the Goalie shows, is one of Jr. Gone Wild’s most evident qualities. The recording is a genuine slice of free-spirited country-rock, a punks-on-the-prairie hoedown that’s a sterling follow-up to the 1990 Canadian classic, Too Dumb to Quit. The two recordings, however, were made quite differently.

Too Dumb to Quit was essentially live off the floor,” says McDonald, “and with Pull the Goalie we multi-tracked; we did it piece by piece. But the major difference was, Too Dumb to Quit was recorded in a studio situation, and with Pull the Goalie we rented a big house and built our own studio, essentially. So Pull the Goalie was 100 percent our atmosphere.”

Pull the Goalie was recorded on the shores of Ontario’s Lake Simcoe, in a a massive mansion once owned by baked-goods mogul Mr. “You Make Good Cookies” Christie. “It’s sorta run down now,” says McDonald, “but you could see how it used to be one of those F. Scott Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby-type mansions.”

McDonald’s favourite product of the Pull the Goalie sessions is a rockin’ two-step tune called “Just the Other Day”, which he claims is the best song he’s ever written. Another standout track is “Rhythm of the Rain”, a song written by McDonald’s younger brother, who committed suicide a few years ago.

“He wrote a million great tunes,” says McDonald, “so we still got those kickin’ around. Fortunately, he recorded them. It’s just a shitty recording, but there’s enough sound quality there to pick out what the song is. And there’s reams and reams of paper with all his lyrics on ’em, so…his work ain’t lost. Actually, we learned another one of his songs just last night, so you’ll probably hear that one in Vancouver.”

The road to Lotusland—which brings Jr. Gone Wild to the Town Pump next Friday and Saturday (March 5 and 6)—is one the band has travelled many times during its nine-year history. That route is the inspiration for another well-crafted Pull the Goalie tune, “1,000 Miles to Go”.

“It was Juno week a coupla years ago,” recalls McDonald, “and we were on our way to Vancouver to play the big Commodore thing with Leslie Spit Treeo and Darby Mills—you know, the big, pay-to-play, stupid Juno schmooze bullshit thing—and just four miles east of Jasper, four trucks piled up on the highway. We came zippin’ around the corner and they were all over the road, so we had no choice but to drive into it. We wrote off our van, but we made the gig anyway.”

The band’s most nightmarish journey, however, is described in another Pull the Goalie track, “March into Jerusalem”, written by one-named bassist Dove. Its lyrics tell the tale of the night when McDonald lost his brother and Dove lost a close friend.

“We were playing the night my brother killed himself, and when we found out, we had to drive home. We set a land-speed record, actually; we made it from Winnipeg to Edmonton in 12 hours, which is pretty dangerous and pretty amazing.”

Pull the Goalie is a testament to McDonald’s will to survive as a person and a musician, and to keep Jr. Gone Wild alive as a band. Over the years there have been battles and personnel changes, but none big enough to silence the captain of the ship.

“Some people think I get outta line,” says McDonald, “but whatever needs to be done, I make sure it gets done, and I don’t mince words. I hurt people’s feelings sometimes, unintentionally, but if it gets things done, then the ends justify the means, I suppose. Survival of the unit is my priority.”

And survival is one thing that McDonald cannot take for granted, especially when he remembers yet another narrowly averted highway tragedy. This time the band, travelling through Saskatchewan one night, nearly drove into a speeding train.

“The bells and lights weren’t goin’ off,” he says, “and we came around the corner in the middle of the night and there was just something there. We stopped a foot and a half away from it.”

Sounds as if there might be some higher power watching out for Jr. Gone Wild, even if it has not yet showered the band with riches and worldwide fame. “Yeah, well, I think God’s a Jr. Gone Wild fan,” says McDonald. “He just likes to see us work hard, that’s all.”

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