The Fish I Did Not Catch: The Tale of the Lost Our Lady Peace Demo Cassette

One day in the spring of 1993 as I was preparing for my afternoon shift at 102.1 the Edge, I was paged to reception. Waiting for me was an awkward-looking teenager with big, thick glasses.

“Hi,” he mumbled, not meeting my eyes as he handed me a cassette. “I’m in a band I was hoping I you could listen to our demo. My phone number is on the inside. Thank you.” And with that, he turned around and left.

I looked at the cassette. Nothing special, really. Track names like “Blind Anniversary” and “Out of Here” scrawled out in block letters in pen with DEMO written at the top. I’d been handed hundreds of similar tapes over the years. Did I listen to the kid’s tape? No. I think I tossed it in a box reserved for Dave Bookman’s Indie Hour show.

That sounds callous, but none of us on the Edge staff could possibly keep up with the volume of demos we received. Going through unsolicited demos wasn’t a priority for anyone but Bookie, and he’d be the first to say that 75% of the submissions could be classified as “terrible,” 20% “good” and 5% “exceptional.” Finding gold in that pile of gravel was hard slogging.

Years later, I realized that the gawky 17-year-old kid in the glasses was drummer Jeremy Taggart. He came by to tell me about his new band called Our Lady Peace.

***

Information about the band’s early demo cassettes is sketchy and incomplete. Something known as Demo #1 appeared in January 1992 and featured three songs: the two mentioned above and a third untitled song. It was followed in March by Demo #2, recorded with the intention of being a full album, but the band ran out of money after just three more songs.

A friend mentioned that he was going down to the CMJ Music Festival in New York, so the group dubbed those six songs onto a series of cassettes in a quick’n’dirty way: no artwork, no liner notes—just the name of the band, the song titles and a phone number.  Those cassettes were handed out at the conference and resulted in label interest and eventually a bidding war for the group. Not all of these cassettes went to NYC because a few were kept back. I’m pretty sure I was one of the recipients of one of those cassettes.

Dammit. I threw away my personal copy of the tape that led to OLP’s major label deal. Idiot.

I’ve since tried to track down a copy, but with no luck. Even the giant Discogs database has no record of anything from that early in the band’s career.

Occasionally, something like a pre-release promo cassette of Naveed shows up on eBay, but it’s official Sony product and nothing close to the indie demo. Another six-song promo aimed at the American market issued through Relativity Records can be found, too.

In 2015, OLP began rooting around in their vaults for old material to release for free online. Songs from a trove of old DATs dating as far back to 1993 were downloaded by fans. Fascinating stuff, but still not what I was looking for.

As OLP artifacts go, a personalized mixtape would be in Holy Grail territory for band fanatics and I tossed mine away. How many ever existed? A dozen? Five? Just that one?

***

OLP’s eight studio albums have sold millions of copies. At one point in the 90s, an OLP album could be expected to debut at #1 on the Canadian charts and reliable sell 20,000 copies every week for months on end. The unveiling of any new video was an event. They won tons of awards for both their music and social activism. Their run was that good.

And here in 2017, they continue to play gigs. Their next event is coming up July 1 when they’ll play for the grandstand at the 158th running of the Queen’s Plate, which is part of a Canada 150 celebration. (The Goo Goo Dolls play the following day. Tickets for both days start at $30 and can be found here.)

After the OLP broke through a few years later, I ended up knowing Jeremy really well. He went from a shy kid to one of the friendliest, most likable and funniest guys I’d ever met. I told him the story about the lost demo tape and he laughed.

“Brother,” he said, “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t have kept it, either. It sure would be cool to have it, though. Fans would go bananas for it!

***

That cassette fiasco turned me into a hoarder. Anything that anyone sends to me, I keep. A good number of them are safely stored in my CD vault (I have a whole room devoted to them) while there are boxes and boxes of unfiled CDs (and more than a few cassettes) in the basement waiting to be transmuted into gold.

It’s never happened. Not once.

I know that 99% of these demos will never amount to anything, but when a new demo first arrives, you never, ever know, right?

***

“I’m going to have a 90s weekend,” said Kate. She’s my personal trainer and she had just again pushed to be to the verge of a serious myocardial infarction. “I was going through my CDs and found Clumsy!  And then I found Naveed! And Happiness!  I loved them so much. I bought everything they ever released in the 90s. No one was a bigger fan than me.!”

Fortunately, I didn’t have the breath to tell what I had. Once.

***

UPDATE! Ex-OLPer Mike Turner sent this:

Hey Alan,
Nice note on the ancient history of OLP, it made me smile this morning. That said, it reminds me that I’m an archivist as well (that sounds so much better than a hoarder, right?) and there’s one drawer in my basement that is the resting place of several dead and dying forms of media. There are layers of CDs, DATs, MiniDiscs, and cassettes in both 2 track and 8 track format (anybody have an old Tascam 8-track I can borrow??). I’d gone through a few of them when I closed the studio (no lease renewal offered…boo!!) a couple of months ago and found the 3 song demo (I think you refer to it as Demo 2) and got it into the digital realm and gave it a little bit of mastering. As for the rest of the tapes, I don’t have that much time to spare and the, how shall we say, casual relationship I had with labeling back then made it all too intimidating to carry on with!
I opened the drawer up this morning and saw my favourite cassette of them all. It’s the year-end countdown that you did when Clumsy finished at the top (I still find that hard to believe) and the incredibly flattering commentary you did on us. I requested a copy because I felt that there was a pretty good chance that would be a high water mark for us.
I still think of it in those terms.
“Where old music goes to die.” Courtesy Mike Turner
Now, my recollection is that it was demo 2 (Super Satellite, Denied and Big Neon Crossing) that got everyone’s attention but I do remember the combined version that went to CMJ.
m

 

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

4 thoughts on “The Fish I Did Not Catch: The Tale of the Lost Our Lady Peace Demo Cassette

  • June 20, 2017 at 7:29 am
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    I was just listening to 90’s Goo Goo Dolls and Our Lady Peace yesterday afternoon. My 3 year old kept running around wanting to hear “Superman’s Dead” over and over again…I happily played it. Great article as always Mr. Cross.

    Reply
  • June 20, 2017 at 10:11 am
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    Out Of Here is still one of my fav OLP songs. I remember seeing the video on MuchMusic, when they still played videos. My first exposure to the band, and I loved it.

    Reply
  • June 20, 2017 at 10:53 pm
    Permalink

    From the cassette photo, I saw a few interesting labelled tapes. “As If” was the name of the band before they changed their name to Our Lady Peace. Before Mike Turner was in As If, he was in a local Whitby band called International Boundaries who did quite well back in the 80’s. Just a bit of trivia.

    Reply

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