After the break-up of Tall Poppies in 1994, drummer Glenn MacCulloch and yours truly formed a new band, which we called Julia's Rain. We added Rob Currie on bass, and Chris MacKenzie on guitars, but it was singer Kelly McKeigan that provided the new band with it's spark, and me with a singer who really brought my songs to life.
We released a well-received E.P., Fiver, in late 1994. The Halifax Daily News wrote:
"Julia's Rain emerged out of the ashes of the popular and ambitious Dartmouth band Tall Poppies, which has already spawned one promising ensemble, The Booming Airplanes. Julia's Rain leans more to electric instrumentation than the acoustically-inclined 'Planes. Kelly McKeigan possesses a rich, haunting voice ripe with regret and melancholy. Guitarists Paul Kimball and Chris MacKenzie construct intriguing textures that sound like retro '60s folk rock crossed with fey '80s and '90s English bands such as The Smiths and Suede. What's most impressive are the songs. There are two killer tunes on Fiver, the kind of songs you hear once and never forget. "Fading" and "Mysterio" are catchy, perfect pop constructions that could be masterpieces in the hands of a good producer. For an initial demo, Fiver is a promising start indeed."
Fiver got us a showcase spot at the 1995 East Coast Music Awards, where we received some serious interest from record companies (and where Kelly appeared on national television - CBC - as an awards presenter). At left is a picture from that showcase which appeared in The Cape Breton Post - from left to right, Glenn on drums, Kelly, yours truly, and Chris in the corner. Glenn and Rob left the band shortly afterwards, but Kelly, Chris and I continued on for another year, until Chris left. Kelly and I added drummer Dave Croft and bassist Mark Winkelman to the line-up, and for another year and a half this was the best version of any band I ever played with (we brought in a never-ending group of lead guitarists over this period, and sometimes even performed as a four person group).
Live, we rocked. Some of the critics...
"Julia's Rain's vocalist blew me away with an amazing voice that fills the room with powerful emotion. They're a great band. I could say more, but I'd just end up gushing. See this band!" - Dalhousie Gazette
"Strong and intense alternative style pop tunes [with] staying power [that] linger in the mind for days after... their balance of modesty and attitude, combined with their very danceable songs, would have almost any audience onside before the night was through." - The Cape Breton Post
"Live, the band rocks. They put on a forceful, convincing set. Several record companies were circling around Julia's Rain - no wonder." The Halifax Daily News [alas, never signed a deal, although I did turn one down once. Long story... PK]
"The band feeds off of McKeigan's energy, and the songs, mostly by Kimball, are superior - engaging and diverse... It was a moody and powerfully moving performance." Metro Backbeat
The high point was the release of our CD Wonderful Broken Silence, in 1995, which we produced ourselves. We brought Glenn back to play drums, and former Tall Poppies member Mike Riley (aka Fat Robot) and Rob Currie played bass. Even Mike Trainor, the second Tall Poppies singer, popped by to play tambourine on one track. Laurence Currie, the best producer on the East Coast, engineered the album.
The critics were, again, very positive:
Chart, the "bible" of the Canadian music scene back then (it may still be the "bible" of the Canadian music scene, but I've been out of the loop since 1998, so I wouldn't know anymore), wrote:
"Julia's Rain could easily appear on the soundtrack to my life. I can imagine hearing a song from wonderful broken silence at a party or at 6:30 a.m. as I drive home while watching the sun rise. It's the late-night musings of a melancholy DJ or the passionate expression of a band that you somehow "get" although it never says anything to the audience or even looks up from its shoes. This Halifax group's follow-up to Fiver is a melodic, thoughtful progression through eight slightly twisted landscapes of sound. "Louder Than Bombs" is definitely the stand-out track. There's genuine emotion in these very radio-oriented pop songs and this EP's mere 34-minute run time leaves me wanting more."
Atlantic Gig, the "bible" of the Atlantic Canadian music scene back then (the mag is no longer around, alas), wrote:
"Julia's Rain cites The Smiths as influences - as well as the Beatles, U2 and REM. They thank Morrissey & Johnny Marr in the "kudos" section of the liner notes to Wonderful Broken Silence. This is fair, as the serious guitar pop of Smiths' classics like The Queen is Dead certainly shares a rhythmic and melodic similarity with Wonderful Broken Silence. There is a melancholy air to Kelly McKeigan's vocals (which can't help but remind me of Natalie Merchant, ex-10,000 Maniac) and a sombre note in Paul Kimball's lyrics. Songs such as "Vampirella" and "Mysterio" create characters that are best described with a line from Fading": 'My mind it mocks me with illusions.'
Wonderful Broken Silence, the band's follow-up to the highly-praised EP Fiver, is rich in texture, as deep as it is high and wide. Acoustic and electric guitars (courtesy of Kimball and Chris MacKenzie) provide the foundation upon which the songs are built, as the mortar of keyboards and the strong rhythm section keep things together. Kelly is the ghost that haunts this disc, emoting as breathing. I've been told her on-stage presence is spooky (in the good sense).
Driving pop for the most part, the disc contains two spectral nuggets. "Vampirella" would be a shuffle if there were any percussion, but is instead made macabre by swelling guitars and effects - again very spooky. The intriguing "Do You Think" features Paul's spoken vocal bouncing around in your headphones over a moaning keyboard and strumming acoustic guitar - 'do you care / or do you just sit back and stare / at problems you could fix / but let other people wear.'
A great album, reminding me of the unrestricted pop of the late 70's and early 80's, Wonderful Broken Silence is a dark room until you draw the curtains - then the scenery's lovely."
After WBS, we shot two music videos, which aired nationally on Much Music (Canada's MTV), and which represented, I guess, the beginning of my film career (my brother Jim, who now works with me as a producer at Redstar Films, even appeared in one, so I guess it marked the beginning of his film career too!). We also made a number of appearances on various television shows, locally and nationally, and played a lot of great gigs. Above is a photo of three of the band members - yours truly, Kelly, and Mark Winkelman - during the video shoot for "Fading."
In February, 1998 we played the last of those great gigs. It was a sold out show here in Halifax during the East Coast Music Awards. We ended with our signature song - "Mysterio" - and received a standing ovation from a crowd that didn't know we would never take the stage again. Afterwards, Tom Wilson, the lead singer from the band Junkhouse, which was hot in Canada at the time, walked up to me as I was packing up my guitar and said (I paraphrase here), "great show - that 'Mysterio' is a great song. I'd love to record that some time."
We didn't intend for that to be our last show - indeed, in the next issue of Chart we were identified as the east coast "band to watch." It just worked out that way, as we had already drifted apart.
Somewhere, here in the office, I stil have the master tapes for notes from underground, the full-length album that we began to record in late 1997 but never finished.
Here's a lyrical excerpt from "Darkest Hour," which I wrote for my fiance, after she had a particularly bad dream:
"The car in your dream / shattered by the side of the road / twisted heap of metal / its story told just moments ago // the driver, young and broken / so frail, dying / a whisper and he's gone // you helpless and alone / a wound inside / afraid of what lies beyond // I wish I could share this dream / and take the hurt away / or at least be the comfort when you awake // It's 3 am, still no sign of light / the darkest hour of the soul / I want to be with you tonight / to give you, to give you, to give you / someone to hold."
Maybe someday Kelly and I will re-unite, wander back into the studio, finish off the album, and then play one final, proper send-off gig?
That would be nice.
Rev. Pete would be well pleased, I think.