By Steve Newton
Holy snappin’ arseholes, as my buddy Scotty Bad used to say back in Chilliwack.
While searching through my old Georgia Straight interviews from 1996 just now I came across one that I did with Mike Smith of Sandbox.
If the name Mike Smith rings a bell, it could be because he’s the googley-eyed costar of the motherf***in’ Trailer Park Boys, no less! Yeah, that’s right. I interviewed Bubbles before he even found those legendary lenses that turn his eyeballs into two funny things.
Notch one up for the Newt!
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 28, 1996
Nova Scotia guitar-rockers Sandbox were nominated for a Juno Award in the best-new-group category this year, and considering the critical and commercial (near-gold) success of its Bionic debut, the band had a decent shot at the prize. Then there’s the fact that Sandbox lead vocalist and kazoo wizard Paul Murray is the nephew of Anne Murray, who just happened to be hosting the 25th annual awards show. Could it be that Canada’s veteran songbird would grease a few wheels or pull some strings to have another Juno in the family?
“Maybe if we hadda asked her,” jokes guitarist Mike Smith, “but I don’t think so.”
It’s two days after the Junos, and Smith is on the line from Toronto, but he’s not there on a vengeful mission to dethrone the Philosopher Kings, who won the award in question. He doesn’t sound bitter at all. “It was cool,” he relates. “We went to the Junos and stuff, and the EMI party afterwards, so it was a good night.”
Quaffing brewskis on your record label’s tab has to be the next best thing to nabbing a Juno anyway. And now that the results of the Murray-hosted event haven’t led to any claims of favouritism, maybe her name will cease popping up so often in the band’s press.
“That’s kind of a drag, actually,” says Smith. “Everybody just seems to know [about the relationship]. But it’s no big deal, really; like she’s never done anything for us, and we know that. She actually didn’t even know we had a record deal until EMI told her.”
So enough about Anne Murray, already. Sandbox isn’t the type of band that needs to rely on industry connections anyway—it can get by quite easily on the strength of rousing guitar-rock tunes such as “Decision”, “Flux”, and “Curious”. The infectious melodies of the latter tune helped make it a Canadian radio hit last year, as did an interesting effect on the lead vocals.
“We fed them through a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet,” explains Smith, “like from an old Hammond organ, and just kind of overdrove the tubes. It’s been done before, but it’s always hard to duplicate, and it’s a pretty cool sound, I think.”
“Curious” originally showed up on the band’s 1993 indie EP, Maskman, although on that track a simple distortion pedal was used. The band’s experimentation paid off with the Bionic version, and even more extreme vocal effects were utilized on that disc’s freaky hidden track.
“We get quite a bit of fan mail,” says the 23-year-old Smith, “and in a lot of the letters they’re asking what that’s all about. It’s actually just a continuation of the last song, ‘And the Mood Changes…’. The hidden thing is kind of the mood-changing part of that song.”
Bionic’s bizarre closing track isn’t likely to make an appearance when Sandbox plays the Starfish Room next Friday (April 5), but patrons could still be startled by a version of Stompin’ Tom Connors’s “Big Joe Mufferaw”, which the group pulls off now and again. Before its Vancouver show the band is playing its first-ever U.S. gigs at the South X Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas; after that it will be back in the studio to record some demos, which will be sent around to different producers “to see who’s into it”.
According to the credits on Bionic, the band’s debut was coproduced by one William O’Guru, not a particularly well known name on the Canadian music scene.
“That’s just a guy from our record company,” notes Smith with a chuckle. “He just kinda sat in with us just to make sure we didn’t get too outta control or whatever.”