Thursday, May 10, 2007

Elliott Lefko 2000

Today's Eye Weekly has a moderately in-depth story I wrote about independent promoters in Toronto.

The crux of the argument is that while the U.S. is largely dominated by Clear Channel subsidiary Live Nation--which acquired many of the country's largest indie promoters as well as main rival House of Blues--Toronto (and by extension, Canada) has a thriving indie promoter scene with no fear of a monopoly taking over any time soon. And those promoters are responsible for increasingly bigger shows, including this week's Arcade Fire gig at Massey Hall, and this September's V-Fest.

One of the people I interviewed for the piece was Elliott Lefko, who started as one of the city's most successful indie promoters in the 80s before being hired by MCA Concerts (later Universal Concerts, then House of Blues) in the early 90s. He's a giant in Toronto concert history, and more than one of my other sources credited his 2001 flight to L.A. as opening up the indie promoter scene in Toronto, and loosening House of Blues' grip on the market. Lefko now works for Goldenvoice, the company that puts on Coachella--who, not uncoincidentally, usually has quite a few Canucks on the roster.

I first spoke with Lefko in 2000 while researching Have Not Been the Same. Most of the book focused on interviews with artists, with very few industry voices. But there are few people with more experience in both the underground and the mainstream in Toronto/Canadian rock history between the years 85-95, and Mr. Lefko was a great help.

It's funny, of course, to see how many of his memories are based on how much money certain artists cost, and whether or not he was able to eat that night. But his was/is a high risk business, and he took chances on a lot of artists--especially Canadian ones.

At the beginning of this conversation, I don't think he understood what it was I wanted to talk about, but after that, he required little more than name prompting to embark on long tangents for the rest of our hour-long conversation, which stopped abruptly when I ran out of tape.

Elliott Lefko
June 6 2000
Locale: squatting awkwardly on the floor of the hallway of Universal Concerts’ office in the Molson Ampitheatre

When did you start promoting?
I started off being a journalist and a publicist. I was working for my friend Ron Mann, who did the film Poetry in Motion, and so I was doing publicity for him. I got involved in bringing some of the writers to town: Jim Carroll, Ed Sanders. I liked the performance aspect of it. Then I started doing Cdn writers, trying to put a bit more bite into poetry performance, because I thought it was definitely happening, as you can see from watching the movie.

After that, working with Jim Carroll and Groovy Relgion, and doing shows, I liked doing rock more than poetry. I was presented with some theme weeks down at the Bamboo [pivotal reggae club on Queen St. W], they were doing a ‘white roots week’ where it was cowboy stuff instead of reggae, so I got to program that. Then I brought the Del-Lords in. I’m really good at finding things. So presented with the challenge of finding cowboy bands, which nobody liked, so I found the Del-Lords, Kinky Friedmann, the Texas Jewboys, stuff like that. I had a really good time, so I started doing more theme weeks down there, with girl band week, surf band week. It was lots of fun.

When I went down to New York to find some of these bands, I ran into this whole scene where things were happening. Bands like the Replacements, Green on Red, True Believers. All the agents in New York were working on this kind of stuff, it was a beehive of activity for tons of great bands. They said, ‘we need help bringing in these bands,’ and I was more than happy to do it. I started working at RPM [now the Guvernment] doing indie Wednesdays and bridging Cdn bands like A Neon Rome and bands like that with the best of the young American bands, and having success at it. I brought in British bands too, like the Jazz Butcher.

I really grew to love that, and my niche was the American stuff. There were other promoters in town who were bringing in the more corporate stuff and more British stuff. My thing was more young American bands. I had this friend in Buffalo, these Buffalo kids used to come up to Toronto a lot, and we’d go down there for some shows.

There was this girl Cindy Hersh, and she gave me this tape one time with one side of Buffalo bands and Seattle bands on the other side. The Seattle bands were The Fluid, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana, everybody. I thought, fuck, there’s all these great bands out there I can bring in, and nobody knew about it at the time. I found out who booked them. At the time I was at the Apocalypse Club, and I was able to bring them in for $100. Phone up Niranva. $100. ‘Yeah, we’ll get there somehow.’ They couldn’t make it that time; they got lost in a snowstorm. But Fluid came up, Tad came up, Mudhoney, they all came up for really cheap prices and the kids came out.

I remember doing Soundgarden for the first time there. It was $1000 for Soundgarden. They all came in, they were so quiet, they sat on the bus at the end of the show, very nice and well behaved. At the time Chris Cornell had great long hair at the time so girls wanted to fuck him and the guys wanted to be him. It was like our version of Black Sabbath. It was beautiful, there was this great energy and uncharted territory.

Were you booking local people on the Bamboo series, or mostly New York people? Shadowy Men?
Shadowy Men were there and they were very helpful in playing those kinds of gigs. It was funny because at the time in Toronto there was – and still is – a band called Bunchofuckingoofs. There was a girl I met and we had a fun idea to form a band called Bunchofuckingsmurfs, with a little kid in the band, and it was really funny. We put this band on stage, and the owner came out and started freaking out: ‘you have a kid on stage!’ but it was really fun. It was funny, because Bunchofuckingoofs went crazy, they thought we were making fun of them. I said, ‘Isn’t this what you’re all about? You can’t take a joke?’ There was also the Dundrells from Toronto. There were some really great country bands, too. Prairie Oyster was there, Handsome Ned. It was a cross-pollination.

Where did you see Handsome Ned and what role did he play in bringing roots music to Queen St.?
I loved country music. I don’t know why, but I did. I would go down and see him on Queen St., at the Cameron, and he also had a show at CKLN. He was the nicest guy. I had a poetry show there that I did with Chris Twomey, and I’d see him all the time. He was a real sweet guy. Always willing to help, always wanted to talk. Whenever I wanted to do something, he was there. ‘No problem.’ He was involved, I didn’t have to ask. Blue Rodeo was in its infancy at the time, and they’d be the opening act for some of these weeks, and down at RPM, too. Handsome Ned was the star. I would do shows with him, and he’d be just such a sweet guy. I really like working with him.

Did you see how he influenced different people?
Yeah. (pauses). I guess I did.

That was around the time Blue Rodeo started.
Yeah, he did some shows with Blue Rodeo. (stammering). He was a very sweet guy and I was very sad when he died. When I heard about it, I walked down to the Cameron House. We’d have parties after the shows with the True Believers, Alejandro Escovedo and some of those people, and Ned would be with us. We’d have a lot of fun together. I don’t really see that sense of community now that we had then, where everybody would have a really good time together after the shows.

Was there something about his songwriting that set him apart?
He was a really great songwriter, a really great voice. He had a lot of presence on stage, which is the hardest thing to get. You couldn’t stand behind him (Ned) at a gig, because he’d be wearing his giant cowboy hat. A very sweet guy. I remember riding home from his funeral with Greg [Keelor] from Blue Rodeo, in this really old beat up car. I remember listening to the radio and feeling really sad about it. At the time, Blue Rodeo really wanted to play a lot. There weren’t very popular yet, but they certainly were afterwards.

Did you know Blue Rodeo’s early incarnations?
They had went down to New York and then moved back here, so I started to work with them a lot. They would do anything at the time. If you needed them to do a show, there was no problem to get them to play. They opened some really great bills.

Were there turning points in their evolution that you saw?
When they put out the first record, they had a really good manager at the time, John Caton, who subsequently had some heart problems and had to retire. When he was with them and Outskirts came out, Jim [Cuddy] had experience with video, so they were able to put out a really good video right away. It touched a nerve with a lot of people. The images were very clear. There was one song about Kennedy in a hotel room getting shot, and also “A Good Year for the Roses.” It seemed to touch a lot of people. Really good music, really good words, really good looking guys on stage. There was a time when the Queen St. thing was exploding, and they stepped out of that and into people’s homes, through their stereos.

In the beginning it seemed to be more of an adult thing, and then their audience grew.
The Cowboy Junkies, one of their first gigs was at the Bamboo for one of the country weeks. Michael Timmins gave me a tape with a couple of songs on it, and then they did a show there. Greg [Jim, actually] took those pictures on their record. Michael would lean over his guitar, and she [Margo] was very cheerful. They haven’t changed that much, in a way; they’re still the same band. Success came to them, left them, came back again, etc., but the band has stayed consistent. From the beginning, if you listen to their early music, it was that drugged-out kind of music then that they’re still playing now, with this graceful voice on top of it. The thing I liked about the Cowboy Junkies was they were able to go into the United States and tour, unlike a lot of other bands. They would go into a van. They saw themselves – maybe not an American band, but they never saw themselves as a Canadian band. Never did. That’s why they were successful.

Even before the first record.
Right away, they were touring. They got into the station wagon and toured. These other bands like Green on Red would play all over the world, and that’s what the Junkies were. They realised they wanted to fit on the same map. Even if they were only making 50 cents and sleeping on people’s floors. A lot of the other Canadian bands didn’t do that: they were scared to do that, or didn’t want to do that. That was a good thing about the Junkies.

Another guy was Jeff Healey. I knew him through this friend of mine Joe Rockman, who I grew up with, the bassist. He told me he was playing with this blind guitar guy. I was putting on a show with Dr. John, and I got Jeff Healey to be the back-up band for Dr. John. They hit it off like crazy, getting to play together on stage. They were his band. It showed a bit that he could rise above the level of just playing Grossman’s. Later they did get to see some success.

The Cowboy Junkies seemed an oddball choice for mainstream success. A lot of Canadian companies thought their records were demos.
Sure, if you look in terms of Canadian music and what was going on then, Haywire and the pop music that was coming out of Canada at the time. It was the furthest thing from it. But there was a different strata that was going on there. At the time I couldn’t even buy bands off of Canadian agents, they would laugh at me. But American agents were taking me seriously. The comparative thing with the Junkies was that they were appealing to things that were going on universally, rather than in Canada. Eventually A&R people would come and see them and think they’re really good. Or if they played at Maxwell’s, a place like that in Hoboken, then people would look at them as being a creative, interesting voice. To Michael Timmins’ credit, he didn’t really care. He was going to do it, and if people didn’t come, they didn’t come; if people came, then people came. That’s great.

Was there a point when that attitude changed in the industry?
Perhaps with people like Pursuit of Happiness, when they had some success. Or Chalk Circle. Those kinds of bands would play RPM on Wednesday nights, one of the many bands who would give me tapes. Eventually, they had good videos and got signed – maybe in the Pursuit of Happiness’s case because they made a really good video. At that point the A&R people saw that there was something happening here that they could work with. Still, to this day, though, people can’t really go out on a limb and sign a weird, eccentric Canadian band and think that that’s going to make money. They want more commercial stuff.

As a result, you saw Zulu Records and Og Records and other independents putting out stuff and having a little bit of success; Mint later on. Part of the problem in Canada is that when you leave out a couple of urban centres, people don’t care what’s going on in modern music. Our friends in Montreal and Saskatoon and Winnipeg and Calgary and in Vancouver, you hear this stuff on Brave New Waves, but try to sell a show with the Apples in Stereo outside an urban centre, and not many people are going to come and see it.

There was a lot of stuff going on in Montreal. I know you were a big Gruesomes supporter.
I really liked the Gruesomes. There were certain things in Canada that I would hear about that I thought were a combination of artistic – I thought they were really good – and money; I’d think, this is how I’ll make some money and eat that day.

The Gruesomes were fantastic. When I first found them, it was for one of the things at the Bamboo. I brought them to Toronto. They had really long hair, and all they wanted to do was eat cereal and candy. John Davis’s younger brother Eric must have been about 15 or 16; he got to the Bamboo gig and he didn’t have any drumsticks! He was about to go on stage, and I had to run down to the Horseshoe and get him some drumsticks. The guys at the Bamboo were howling on me: “What is this?” And yet the band would pack them in. People loved it, it was really good.

I’d do combinations like them and the Chesterfield Kings; at the time the Chesterfield Kings were so good, and the Gruesomes just rocked their heads off. They didn’t care about anything. They were really great on stage, so easy to work with, and fun, and people would come out. It was a pleasure for me.

Other bands at the time were the Asexuals. I’d heard the records, and it was as good in my mind as the Replacements. Another band was The Nils. Again, you couldn’t believe how good those records sounded. When they’d play Toronto, I’d offer them $2000 for a show and they’d make it easily, we’d all make a lot of money. Or the Doughboys. The first or second time we did the Doughboys, we did a free show, and it was just packed. There was this big fat doorman at the Silver Dollar who was taking money from people just to get into a free show. It became a carnival atmosphere. People really wanted to see this stuff, the shows would sell, and things were working. The bands were great, made great music. Later on, they became such a great band. Jerry Jerry was also a great band.

A lot of the credit at the time went to Lee’s Palace. Mr. Lee and Craig Morrison. I would do shows all over town, wherever there was a stage. But the best place was always Lee’s Palace. I quickly realized that places would come and go, but that place would always be there. There was one point where I had no money – I’d been fired from the Silver Dollar or the Apocalypse or some place like that. Mr. Lee called me and took me out for lunch, and said ‘Do shows here. We’ll give you money. Don’t worry about stuff like that. You’ll be okay.’ I felt so good. There were all these nights when I’d sit in their leaky basement counting my money and feeling really thankful that I had a place to go and a place for the bands to go.

There was another band in Toronto I used to make money off of called Rare Air, with bagpipes. Amazing band, really good. I used to promote their shows in Toronto, and I’d make $100 and I could eat that day. It was so much fun. Then the Vancouver connection was with bands like Slow. I brought them into Toronto because I’d seen their video, and it was really amazing. It was around the Expo thing, all the hype. I brought them in for a show with Soul Asylum, and then the next night they did their own gig. They were so good, so incredible, but so fucked up.

On drugs or in general?
Not on drugs, no. They were the kind of guys who could walk down the street and get into an accident because they stepped on the wrong thing. They were funny guys. To get to Toronto they spent all their money, so they had no money to go back home again.

So they slept in their van, parked in front of my apartment on St. George for three weeks or something. My friend across the street was like, ‘Hey, is that Slow?’ And he’d invite them in to listen to music at his place. Tom was sleeping in the van, and the inner linings of the top of the van went into his mouth while he was sleeping and he had to go to the hospital because he was swallowing fibreglass. Ziggy got into a fight at a club in Hamilton and broke his arm. Chris and the other guy got into a fight with Bunchofuckinggoofs and hurt himself.

Steven Hamm, we were invited to a party up north for this guy who really liked the song and wanted to impress his girlfriend, so he took us to his parents place. He went into the Jacuzzi when everyone else was downstairs, and he flooded the Jacuzzi, and there was water everywhere. They were that type of band: everything would happen to them, but once they got on stage, they were so good.

I recently saw Tom Anselmi, and the guy still looks like – if there’s a rock star in Canada, it’s that kid. He looks and dresses the part. It’s a bit of a shame that band never achieved the success that was due, because of all the problems they had and the guy was a prima donna. It’s only now that he’s able to act halfway normal, and be nice to people. He was such an asshole to people for so long that people wanted to bury him. When I see him now, I think, that guy’s a star.

Did you see Circle C? [the band that formed out of the ashes of Slow]
I got to work with them a little bit. I booked them when I first started working with MCA Concerts, and he sent me this t-shirt with the Circle C logo based on the Chanel thing. It was one of these Spinal Tap things, where they got the wrong dimensions, and it was too little [he holds his fingers three cm apart]. We had all these t-shirts we couldn’t do anything with. When I heard A Neon Rome’s record or the Circle C record, I thought these were grandiose, beautiful records that deserved their place in the whole thing of Canadian rock. But those records never really did anything. I loved the Circle C record, but they weren’t able to do it live at the time. Maybe their story will come out one day.

A Neon Rome.
Those guys were almost the house band down at RPM when I was doing shows there. They were very popular at the time. They were a great band live, they’d go off and do these long songs. One day I was sitting somewhere and I saw their record, which was put out by New Rose Records in France, who put out Replacements records, and I said, ‘I really, really want to put this record out.’ So I formed a record company called Rightside Records and I put the record out in Canada. I loved that record. I thought, how can anybody not put out a record like this, such a beautiful record, beautiful cover? What a great record! But the singer at one point stopped talking [literally: he took a vow of silence]. You wonder why a band like that never got signed or nothing ever happened with them, because they were incredible live.

I’ve heard they were also dangerous live, hurting people in the audience.
I believe that they were to a certain extent, and they also were dangerous to themselves, too, at the time. From wherever they came from in Toronto, they knew that they were making sophisticated, universal music that was coming out at the time. I don’t know from what place inside of them it came from, but it was amazing. It’s incredible. Nowadays, you have guys like John Borra, who’s still one of the nicest guys around, playing really excellent music. He eventually became part of the lineage from Handsome Ned, in terms of cowboy stuff. But at the time he was doing psychedelic music.

Ian Blurton [Change of Heart, C'mon] was their drummer for a short period of time.
I remember Change of Heart always being around. There was a scene at the Beverley, and they would play there with bands like Vital Sines, Breeding Ground. That guy probably started when he was 16 years old or something. He always put out really great records, did really good live. If you’re going to have scene people who you recognize as the Toronto music scene, there’s Ian Blurton, Handsome Ned, Jim Cuddy. Faces to the music, those were the guys. Ian Blurton, you wonder how the guy ate for all these years, because there was never any money coming in, but he’d always be playing gigs.

There seemed to be a glass ceiling for that band.
There certainly was. They were the quintessential traveling-across-Canada-in-a-van-for-$100 band, back and forth, they did it so many times. And tried to probably go to the United States. He never had the attitude; or, he never had attitude, really. That was the good thing about him; he just wanted to play.

How did people find out about those Montreal bands that drew so well? Where did people find out about them? CKLN? BNW? Nerve?
I think it was a combination of all of those things. And once they did a gig, they were really good. If they were shit, it wouldn’t matter, they’d be come and gone. But they were all really good bands. They came out of their circle; Foufounes Electrique was a really great club at one point. There was a really great scene going on with people in Ottawa like Eugene Haslam, and in Hamilton there were guys doing shows, and in Kitchener and London, James McLean was there. And Suffer Machine was coming out of there. Disappointed a Few People were an amazing band at the time, too. There was a whole scene where bands could come in and do ten gigs in a row and do very well.

L’Etranger [early 80s Clash-y new wave band with Andrew Cash and Charles Angus]. Was that before you started booking?
A little bit before, so I wasn’t involved with them very much. I worked with Andy Cash a lot after that. When he signed a deal with Island, that was a little bit of a milestone, for someone plugging away for a long time, had really good songs, had a really good personality on stage, and got recognized by a major record label. It’s funny, because Island recognized him, an independent in its own way. When he got his deal and his songs were getting some radio airplay, “Time and Place,” that was a really good thing going on there. He was a guy who always wore his heart on his sleeve and was political, but always was a face that you could recognize Toronto rock by.

I used to work with Dave [Bidini] at the Excalibur when I was a writer at York University, and he was too. He told me he had a band, and I did some shows with those guys. (pauses) There are some guys who are the good guys of Canadian rock. I’d look at Bidini as being one of those types of people. And all the people with him, like Dave Clark and all those guys in the group. They made you feel so good whether you were in the audience or wherever.

On stage, or professionally?
Professionally, for me. Sometimes it was not so much the music. For some people it was the music, and with others it was being associated with really great people, and for me the Rheos were more like that. They never had a bad word for people, they always had a smile for people. They were always going out of their way to help other people. The way Don Kerr or Dale Morningstar [owners of Gas Station studio] are now. That’s what those guys were like then. Bidini loves Canadian rock, like Max Webster and stuff like that. He sees them as the older brothers, like Led Zeppelin would be England. He treated them with respect. Rush, and people like that, he loved those bands. They would help him, and then he would help out the littler bands. That was the nice thing going on, a sense of community.

Barenaked Ladies. Was that a fluke of time and place?
Yvonne used to book them at Ultrasound and do really well with it. At one point I became aware of them and decided I had to get involved. They had really good songs, just excellent, excellent songs. Their father would sell the tapes out of the back of his car and do really well.

Jane Siberry paved a lot of roads for non-commercial music that did really well.
I really loved her. I first saw her when she was doing her folk stuff. I thought she was really beautiful and very talented and very poetic. I started to work with her when I was taking musicians and getting them to do poetry and spoken word and performances, and she fit into that well. She was very into the whole Laurie Anderson thing, and wanted to evolve out of that. She appealed to people and worked really hard to get her own thing going.

She was really smart. She had her band, she was the leader of her band, she put up her posters all over the place, and she worked her way up the ladder one rung at a time. From a little club to a bigger club. She had both things, which was the best thing about her: she had a firm understanding of what it takes to be successful and all the hard work she had to put into it, and she and Bob Blumer went into the United States early, and worked hard to get the level of recognition going. Subsequently, 20 years later, she can still go to places like New York and Los Angeles where she has a following, because she worked it back then.

She took a lot of chances, too, and sometimes she’d miss the mark. But because she did that, she stayed ahead of the game and didn’t get lost, whereas so many other people just got lost and became clichés afterwards. She never did become a cliché. Even now.

Why do you think her music became so accepted, beyond just her hard work?
People like her and, say, John Critchley [of 13 Engines], they have a very broad sense of what’s going on in the world. They look at you when you talk to them, but they don’t look at you totally in the eye. You can see that the wheels are always moving in their head. They’re always thinking about how they can change things, how to do something different from what everyone else is trying to do. With her, she always knew how to change things and make things different. She was never going to let anybody tie her down. It all came from within her. And she was an artist, too. That’s how her head worked, like Joni Mitchell. They were always going to change. I don’t think she even thinks about it; I think it just happens.

Mary Margaret O’Hara.
Again, there’s somebody to an extreme, though. She’ll be so popular that Michael Stipe announced her from the stage here.

And that’s 12 years later.
Yeah. People are still knocked out by her. With her, though, it’s her beauty and her fault that she can’t understand the mechanisms of commerciality. She won’t go down that road. In a way it’s artistically really good, because she’s able to put out a record like she did, and play with the Glass Orchestra or whatever she does, an evening of love songs, and then you won’t see her again. That’s the positive. The fault is that if she’d learn to take a step towards the centre of the road, she could be huge. But she won’t, or she can’t, or she doesn’t know how, or whatever it is.

Did you see the Go Deo Chorus? [O’Hara’s first band]
Yeah. There was this place in Toronto called the Blue Angel, where Ultrasound was, and it was kind of this white elephant of a place. She’d play there, and she also had her way of writing, and she did the logos for the Rivoli and posters for people. She would do those kinds of gigs. Very much a Queen St. diva at the time.

You mentioned Critchley, and there was another band who went to the States right away.
Critchley realized what was going on with Husker Du and the Replacements and all these bands, and he went down to Minneapolis to record and play in the States. He was doing something which a lot of people failed to do, which was just go down there and knock on some doors and eventually they would open. But they were hard.

I remember trying to get gigs for the Gruesomes in the United States, and there was nothing happening, nobody wanted to know. One time this girl sent us a letter saying she wanted to invite the Gruesomes down to New York to play and we drove down there, did the gig, and afterwards she had no money to pay us. That kind of stuff. For a Cdn band, it was very difficult, and difficult to draw across Canada because it was so huge. There were daunting tasks. You could sit down with Ian Blurton and he could probably list a million reasons why things never happen and why it’s so difficult.

Were you managing the Gruesomes?
I just booked them and was friends with them. I never did any managing, I was always just friends with people. There was this band, Rang Tango, at the time when Blue Rodeo was starting. They were such a big band in Toronto at the time, and she was so good, they were making great music and packing houses. That was the one time I went to someone and said, can I manage you? I guess they looked at me and said, ‘you’re too scruffy’ or ‘you’re not enough of a businessman’ or ‘we think we can do better.’ They said no. That sort of frightened me after that; I didn’t want to put myself on the line for people and ask their permission to work with them. I know I’m good and I know I can make money off of what I was doing, so I went back to that. I never managed everybody after that.

They got signed to a deal and then fired the band, is that what happened?
They got signed to a deal and got a lawyer to manage them. It was ridiculous. They’d be playing the Silver Dollar and this lawyer would be running around backstage, telling everybody what to do. And everything was fine beforehand. Then the record company said, ‘we want to sign you but fire the band.’ She had to make this hard decision. She made the wrong decision. It would be like saying to Blue Rodeo, ‘Fire that fat bass player! Fire that postman drummer! You don’t need all that stuff, just use your two beautiful singers.’ But that’s why bands are bands, it’s that intangible quality, and it also keeps the lead singer’s head down to a reasonable level, by having everybody in the band, and having band meetings and band practices. That’s what was wrong in her case. She made a lot of moves, but she’s paid everything back in spades in subsequent years. She realizes she made a mistake, and if she could take it back she would. Again, she’s one of the nicest people in Cdn rock.

The east coast explosion in ’91 with Sloan.
People were going out to the east coast and coming back and saying, ‘there’s this amazing band called Sloan down there.’ I brought them to Toronto to do gigs. They were not unlike the Gruesomes in that, um, they were totally naïve in the way they were. They were making really fresh music, really good music. They did very well when they played gigs. And then Eric’s Trip, they came down to open for Sonic Youth at the Concert Hall. Again, that started rolling. They were really good, they draw people, and all the other bands followed suit coming out of there. For a while there, there were a whole lot of really good bands coming out of there.

I seem to remember some Toronto snobbery towards those bands at the time. Or was it all hyped up too much?
I think those bands were really great bands. They had a lot of confidence. Because they came from so far away, they travelled 15-20 hours to get here, they built up a bit of protection around themselves and self-confidence. They did very well.

The shining moment for me was when Dave Bookman and I booked an Edgefest at the Ampitheatre. I had done a few of them, and things went well and people came out. Lowest of the Low, Violent Femmes, the Rheos. One time [1995] we just wanted to do a show, it was the show with no fat, we called it; we didn’t want any bad bands on the show. We had so many great bands, 40 bands or whatever. Bookman’s girlfriend at the time did a poster and a t-shirt. There was only one bad band we had on the show, that we were forced to put on. What were their names—a funky bass player from Toronto, I forget.

But every other band was amazing. From Montreal there was Merlin, from the east coast there was Thursh Hermit—the Steve Miller set! [Thrush Hermit’s entire set that day was spent covering Steve Miller’s Greatest Hits album.] That was such a beautiful moment. To have the sense of irony that they had, and for the biggest moment in front of their biggest crowd, instead of going for it and playing a set to do that, that’s when you realize you have a sense of community here and a band with a guy like Joel [Plaskett], a superstar singer like that who said, ‘You know, I don’t care if I sell a million records. This is my moment and I’m going to enjoy it.’ And for him to make the audience enjoy it that much, everybody understood the joke at that point.

No bad bands on it, really good bands, people came out that day, about 4000 people. Bands like Cub and Pluto from out west, bands of every single kind, and Sloan was doing sort of their farewell gig at that time. That’s when you saw, there are 40 amazing bands in Canada doing really good and who can take their place with anything. A lot of credit goes to Dave Bookman, too, for thinking of the whole thing, and helping a lot of bands along. And Sloan for leading the charge with all these bands.

Any other highlight moments for you like that? Seminal shows or bands?
Well you know, all the marijuana smoked clouds my mind a lot. I really liked the Lowest of the Low. When you see a band like that achieve the commercial thing too, with people lining up to see them, that was exciting to see. [Lefko coaxed them out of retirement a year after this conversation, for three shows at the Kool Haus that sold out instantly. It was his last hurrah in Toronto before moving to L.A.]

Doing my first show at Massey Hall with Grapes of Wrath, and having John Critchley's 13 Engines open. Doing shows at the Concert Hall with Skinny Puppy, or Sarah McLachlan at the Diamond Club. Having giant line-ups and doing really well with those things.



Anonymous said...

Looking for Elliot Lefko. I'm Plaskett's manager and used to run into Elliot back in the day. Can you say, "Blue Aeroplanes?"

Jess said...


I know I gave you a hard time for the long interviews, but I really enjoyed this one. Thanks.