I’M ON MY WAY TO A PERFECT DAY
A CONVERSATION WITH DREW ARNOTT & ROB BAILEY OF STRANGE ADVANCE: PART ONE
After a lengthy, decades long hiatus, Strange Advance, the Canadian Juno-nominated, gold-selling band is back from their ‘80s carbonite-like slumber. The recent release of their 4th studio album, rightfully titled 4, has been very well-received by the Strange Advance fan-base. 1988’s impressive release The Distance Between has for a long time appeared to be Strange Advance’s final studio album, strangely, just as they were building on their solid fanbase and library of music. The synth, new wave rock band’s impressive resume of catchy, radio-friendly songs, include classics such as “We Run”, “Worlds Away”, and “Love Becomes Electric”, which by all indicators hinted there eventually should be more to come. Founding member Drew Arnott and Rob Bailey spoke to Spill Magazine about the second coming of Strange Advance.
Strange Advance’s patriarch, Arnott, explained the thought process for 4. “The record has a very ‘80s sound to it. It turns out that is what comes out of my head. So I’m just a very old-fashioned guy. I thought, oh no, this is going to be laughed at. And the fans, of course, they’re enjoying it. They say ‘This is the best record you’ve ever done.’. What I find as a songwriter is I would kind of consider myself the curator of the Strange Advance catalogue and what ends up on a Strange Advance record. I’ve got one of those minds that can’t turn off and it’s not fun, sometimes. There’s way too many ideas. There’s lots of material but when I write it could be any particular style. I’m not writing as Strange Advance, it’s whatever occurs to me at the time.”
The independently released 4 contains vintage remastered and new material. Times and technology have changed and Strange Advance has adapted, using technological advances in their favour, while producing an album and for upcoming live concerts.
Arnott detailed “Mastering was one of the most difficult aspects, making everything sort of smoosh together. We went through a lot of mastering and re-mastering and re-mastering until finally we got it where we were happy. In the past, I got to go to New York with tapes under my arm and sit down with Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk and watch the maestro at work. Not to mention, I don’t have the world’s best ears. Rob is an engineer; he’s got a full-on really nice studio. I just need to hear things, they have to reach a really low bar for me and then I’m happy. But this time I had to be a little pickier. If I didn’t love them, they wouldn’t be on the record.”
“One of the biggest things about some of the older material that’s on the album is the formats, because so much time has gone. It wasn’t like you could just go ‘Oh there’s the reel with two-inch tape with everything on it.’. Nooooo. You had to go ‘Oh, I think this track is on this hard drive and then the bass part’s on this other tape for a machine they don’t make anymore.’. It’s quite an archaeological expedition to get stuff together. On the computer where you could have all the tracks line-up in synch and then be able to do some stuff with them.” explained Bailey.
An exasperated Arnott recalled “I got the shock of my life. I’ve got a big box of dat tapes, because DAT (Digital Audio Tape) used to be sort of the pro studio standard for a while. A short while. But to find out neither of my DAT machines work! It took a long time to find somebody who would loan me their DAT machine. Back in the day, everything went to tape, and tape is surprisingly robust. It can deteriorate, but you know, you can bake it and you can pull whatever’s on it. But then when we went digital, my god, it’s like everything’s gone to the dogs that way.”
4 is dedicated to the memory of the legendary Canadian music executive, Deane Cameron, who sadly passed away in 2019. Cameron was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2010 for his many contributions to arts and music. Cameron was nicknamed “Captain Canada” for his passionate support of Canadian music and was president of Capitol Records/EMI Music Canada for nearly 25 years. He had an impact on a wide-range of Canadian artists, including Stompin’ Tom Connors, Tom Cochrane, Rush, Max Webster, Corey Hart, April Wine, Anne Murray, Moist, The Tea Party, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Rankin Family, Nickelback, k-os, and, of course, Strange Advance.
Arnott’s fond memories of Cameron were extensive. “Deane Cameron was an awesome guy. The funny thing is Deane was maybe three years older than me, but I always looked at him like a father figure. I went to LA a couple of times to try to shop demos. I got shot down a lot, but when I went to Capitol Records, I can remember being at the tower, and being in the A&R guy’s office. When I dropped the cassette off, they had enough interest that they sent it to the Canadian label, and weirdly enough, the Canadian label did not have an A&R guy. Well, yes, they did, it was Deane Cameron, except he didn’t work for the Canadian label. He worked for the Americans but was based in Toronto. It’s a very strange set-up. Years later, Darryl (Kromm) was on the road with Bryan Adams, his local cover band was Bryan’s first back-up band. Bryan liked the tape and he gave it to Bruce Fairbairn. Bruce Fairbairn sent it to Deane Cameron, and he’s going ‘I know these guys, I’ve got this tape, I love these guys.’. The cassette didn’t show up with any contact information. So he’s like ‘I didn’t know what to do with this.’. We actually signed to Capitol LA, after all. Deane was our hero, our own personal hero. And nowhere is that more evident than when we recorded “We Run”, because Deane took a personal liking to the song and wanted to get a good mix of it. At the time, Scott Litt, who was an engineer/producer, he’d had some success but no major success, but he was hungry, he wanted it. He said ‘Deane, I love that song, give it to me, I’ll do a great job.’. So, he took it and our master tapes and went to the Power Station in New York, it’s a very famous studio and a very expensive studio, and he spent not one, not two, but three days mixing that song, which was unheard of for an act of our stature. You had to be The Rolling Stones in order to spend as much time as you wanted. He did a great job with the mix, and that’s because Deane was willing to sign the cheque. Although, in the end we had to pay for those expenses (laughs).”
“Deane was a champion of all kinds… I mean Ross, our drummer and I had a band (3D) in around that same era, and we were doing our best to write our own stuff and Deane financed a demo with us with Randy Bachman. Said ‘Here’s a cheque, go do four tunes, let’s see what you guys can do.’. We didn’t do what Strange Advance did, cause we kinda sucked (laughs). But he was a guy behind the scenes doing all of that stuff. He was a hugely important figure for a lot of Canadian bands.” vividly recalled Bailey.