Our Lady Peace on the wobbly path to Curve
Reunited Canuck rockers take the stage at the Phoenix on April 3.
AARON VINCENT ELKAIM / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Talking Curve in the road: Duncan Coutts, (left to right) Steve Mazur, frontman Raine Maida and Jeremy Taggart of OurLady Peace taken on the streets of Toronto.
George Chuvalo is about to enjoy a whole new wave of popularity.
A picture of the Canadian boxing legend taken when he was a strapping 22-year-old, adorns the cover of the latest Our Lady Peace album Curve, out April 3 – the same night the Canadian alternative rock band is playing an intimate show at the Phoenix.
During a career that lasted 93 fights — including two losses against Muhammed Ali, who called him “the toughest guy I ever fought” — the Toronto-born Chuvalo was never knocked down.
And even though he lost three sons — two of them to drug overdoses — Chuvalo hasn’t let life defeat him, remaining a source of inspiration to many, including Our Lady Peace singer and songwriter Raine Maida.
Chuvalo was the ideal cover subject for a couple of reasons, say Maida, especially when the latter feels Curve is a boxing metaphor on its own.
“In a sense, this is our boxing record,” Maida said down the line recently from the L.A. home he shares with fellow singer and songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk and their children.
“There were so many ideas that would have made another OLP record that we just scrapped right away. We’d finish the first chorus and say, ‘you know what? That sounds like it could have been on something else.’ So we just left it. For every good song that made the record, there were probably four or five ideas that didn’t.
“ It was a bit of a battle trying to keep that pace and realizing, ‘We still only have three songs that we like — a month later.’
And the Chuvalo connection?
“We became friends,” Maida explains, speaking on behalf of guitarist Steve Mazur, bass player Duncan Coutts and drummer Jeremy Taggart.
“There was this picture I found. I was looking at different boxing picture, and I found this picture of Billy Collins after a fight. He was an American middleweight back in the ’50s, and there’s this really amazing picture of him — his eyes were swollen shut, a headshot after a bout. It reminded me of a Smiths album cover.
“So that photo for awhile was the prototype — this is what I’m trying to say. What he looks like, is what I feel like, Trying to make this record. And then Chuvalo’s name came up, and we reached out to him. We’ve been to his house a few times. That’s basically what happened — we went up to his place a few times and said, “Do you have any old photos?’ And he went through a box and basically gave us a bunch to choose from.
“We put a picture of him on the cover of our record. The battles in and out of the ring for that guy have been pretty monumental. Just the human spirit of that guys, and the way he speaks, and his outlook on life is pretty inspiring.”
Maida says Chuvalo also made it onto the album in song.
“We ended up sitting around and shot the s–t with him for 45 minutes and recorded it, used a bunch of his philosophical musings, and wrote a song. He just became an inspiration to us, outside the music.”
Maida says the comparison to boxing came after the band had completed initial sessions for their album. He played some of the tracks to producer Jason Lader, (Jay-Z) who prompted an epiphany.
“Jason and I develop bands and record different things and I played him stuff.
“He just sat there, and he had this look on his face, and he said, ‘All of this music that we trade and work on and talk about, you never listen to this type of music. Why don’t you guys make a record that you’d like to listen to?’
“But it really home with me — it’s time to do something like that. It’s a culmination — we’re off of Sony Records (the band’s label from 1994 through 2006). We own everything again. There’s no reason why we can’t.
“So we scrapped everything and had Jason come in and co-produce the record with us and be that guy that has no filter and says it like it is. It was a nice change.”
Previewed songs like “Heavyweight,” the first single, and “Window Seat” seem to find the band in Radiohead-type spirits, and Maida is banking that Curve will be OLP’s game-changing album.
But if it isn’t, he’s happy with the outcome.
“If anything, this record is a reaffirmation of us being musicians. And I mean that in the best way.
“It’s about getting back to that place and being musicians and really having fun with needing to challenge ourselves with more complex chord changes. We sat listening to (Peter) Gabriel records and (David) Bowie and just tried to get inspired by those types of movements and that energy, and just really love music again in that way.
“It sounds stupid, but for the four of us, it’s the most fulfilling record we’ve made in a long time.”