ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 29, 1994
By Steve Newton
When the time comes to sit down with Kim Mitchell and his lyricist, Pye Dubois, at the Bulldog Cafe, I have a bone to pick with them—and it isn’t one of the Nelson Street eatery’s tasty chicken wings. I want to know why one of Canadian rock’s top songwriting teams has gone and done the unthinkable by creating a tune with rap music in it.
Most everything else on his new CD, Itch, is prime Mitchell material—the kind of no-frills, get-your-ass-up party rock I’ve come to love and expect from the clown prince of Canuck guitar heroes—but I don’t care one bit for the hip-hop angle of the disc’s leadoff single, “Acrimony”.
I doubt if any other red-blooded Mitchell fans will, either.
“Well, if they’re really drunk they wouldn’t know it was rap, would they?” says Dubois with a half-chuckle, getting the first retaliatory lick in before Mitchell gets around to stating his case. But I have to inform the veteran tunesmith that, yes, even if they were pounded, they might know it was rap.
I know I would.
“Personally,” says Mitchell, “I can’t concern myself too much about what people are going to think. We just sit down and write. The lyrics of ‘Acrimony’ were so entertaining to me, and had such an attitude, you know. I don’t call it rap, anyway. It’s more just recitation. I call rap stuff about ‘kill the white man, kill the cop’—that’s rap to me, with a drum machine. But this guy’s really sayin’ something that’s cool and funny, and this is like a real band plowin’ away.”
“It’s a compliment and very good feedback,” injects Dubois, “when people have a little bit of trouble with a tune like this, especially when, subsequent to that, they end up likin’ it and playing it. We know there’s something intriguing about this song. We always knew there was.”
“And if I may be so bold,” adds Mitchell, “rap means rhythm and poetry, and this [motioning to Dubois] is one of the best poets in the country, so if I should be utilizing that form at all, this is the guy I’d want to do it, ’cause he’s the person who’s gonna entertain me the most.”
It’s obvious from the way Mitchell openly brags about Dubois that he’s mightily impressed with the lyrical abilities of the grey-haired hippie sitting next to him—and well he should be. The dynamic songwriting duo—who first met in the smoking section behind a Sarnia, Ontario, high school—worked together to make the Mitchell-led Max Webster a leading force in Canadian ’70s rock. Dubois also penned the lyrics to Mitchell’s impressive string of ’80s solo hits, including “Go for Soda”, “Patio Lanterns”, “Easy to Tame”, and “Rock N Roll Duty”. Then they split up for a while.
“I walked out of [the sessions for Mitchell’s 1989 album] Rockland when they refused to give me catering,” says Dubois, and you can’t quite tell whether he’s kidding or not. Mitchell just breathes a heavy sigh. Whatever the reason for their breakup, they reunited three years later, and it was like they had never been apart.
“It was pretty effortless,” says Mitchell of reviving the songwriting vibe. “But we don’t sit down and go, ‘Oh, gee, we should write this quick or we shouldn’t write this quick.’ If we don’t write a tune in a certain week, we don’t write a tune. We talk about other stuff, and eventually just by hangin’ out, things would happen. There was a point where nothin’ happened for a month, but we didn’t really get uptight about it. It was more like, ‘Well, the tunes will come when they come.’ ”
“Kim is very good in this,” asserts Dubois, “because that’s always been my attitude. I’ll go, ‘I’m not writing today,’ and I’m gone to buy some new socks. It’s just this feel and attitude I have towards writing. But it was very easy to have ideas, because the momentum was always there, even if we took a month off.”
And just where does the mastermind behind such Canuck-rock classics as “Hangover”, “Paradise Skies”, and “High Class in Borrowed Shoes” get his song ideas from, anyway?
“I’ve never really had the balls in an interview to say that I’m my biggest influence,” says Dubois, “but I think because I’m a bit of a neurotic and I’m the kind of a guy who wears my emotions on my sleeve, I’m a good resource. How I’m feeling, how I move through my feelings, and how I resolve or don’t resolve them is always intriguing, and I’ve never been afraid to put that down on paper or to share that with Kim.”
As well as benefiting from the renewed writing partnership between Mitchell and Dubois, Itch—its offending single notwithstanding—was given a winning sheen by Memphis producer Joe Hardy (the Tragically Hip, Colin James). It’s the first time that Mitchell hasn’t taken an active part in the production process.
“And I loved every minute of not producing,” he says. “There’s a certain amount of dog work that goes along with, quote unquote, ‘producing’. There’s dealing with the record company, there’s dealing with musicians who might not be cutting the job, there’s all kinds of silly sorta work, millions of little decisions that have to be made that I didn’t have to make this time. It was like, ‘Take care of it, Joe. Great. I’ll see ya, Joe.’ I could just be the guitar player playing with these good musicians. I felt just like one of the guys in the band, you know.”
While Mitchell thrives on the in-concert experience, Dubois has no craving for the spotlight, so you won’t see him when Mitchell brings his hard-rocking quartet to the Commodore on Friday (October 7). “If I ever had the nerve, I would love to do a Captain Beefheart cover band,” says Dubois, “but other than that I can’t think of myself as performing.”
Although Dubois won’t be hopping onstage with his longtime pal and musical associate anytime soon, there’s a fair chance that he’ll continue to work with Mitchell in a lyrical capacity. “Again, it depends on catering,” he says, causing Mitchell to sigh once more. “I’m an irascible old hippie. I may open up a pet shop in Tahiti or somethin’.”