By: Gerry Krochak
So you think you want to be in a rock and roll band?
If you still do after seeing the John Stiles-directed ``dirty little rock and roll documentary,'' The smalls ... er whatever, at least you know your aim is true.
Culled from more than 60 hours of footage, and after more than
three years on the road through Canada, the U.S. and Europe with
the veteran Alberta band -- trusty Hi-8 digital camera in hand
-- Stiles' documentary captures the raw and harsh reality of touring
with a steadfastly independent
rock and roll band.
Stiles says The smalls ... er whatever was intended to encapsulate what happens the other 23 hours of the day when the band is not on stage.
``From the outset, the boys said we didn't want a lot of concert footage, '' Stiles says over the phone from his Toronto home. ``Because, No. 1, it distracts from the performance, and, No. 2, it's been done before.
``I think what I was trying to capture is what I saw in the
band. The tight-knit chemistry that they have together. The feeling
that they have a unique sound and they're not trying to be anything
themselves. That, to me, is what makes them great.
``In a musical climate where every band is trying to forge some kind of false identity, The smalls can't help but be who they are.''
The smalls ... er whatever was a project that Stiles admits happened, at least somewhat, by accident.
He had been a struggling writer-waiter in 1996, when smalls bassist Corby Lund asked him if he'd like to come on the road with the band for a while. An imminent European tour in the works, Stiles thought,``Why not?''
Shortly thereafter, he figured out that life on the road ain't all it's cracked up to be.
``Comically, for them, the boys put me in the `roadie bed,' '' he chuckles, but only slightly. ``Living in that van ... well, you can imagine. It's pretty grimy, pretty harsh. There's a lot of blood and booze back there ... you never had any privacy.
``Plus, there's the unwritten rule that whoever comes on the road gets the frustrations of the band taken out on them!''
As long as Stiles has been friends with Lund and the rest of the band, he admits that, at times, the making of the documentary and the long hours in the band van had stretched the limits of friendship as far as they could possibly go.
``I'm not much of a fighter,'' Stiles offers. ``But Corb and I have duked it out a couple of times!''
Believe it or not, after what amounted to a three-year ordeal,
there seems to be a part of Stiles that misses being on the road
-- or at least misses being surrounded by the band he refers to
as ``A very
special group of people.''
Stiles doesn't consider himself a musical expert, but he knows this scrappy little uncompromising band from the prairies of Western Canada has ``Something.''
In the big scheme of things, fortunately, or unfortunately, that ``something' ' is not so easy to articulate.
``Someone from a magazine in Toronto said that The smalls are the closest thing to a collective organism,'' Stiles recalls.
``I think there's some element of truth in that statement.
``I think that despite all of the negative forces that can
go along with being in an indie rock band, The smalls, as a unit,
just gel. They're a genuine musical family -- in a way that The
were or The Tragically Hip are.''
``These guys stick together no matter what. They're closer than brothers.'
After his experience with the band, Stiles likens The smalls to an underdog sports team -- the longshot who, despite overwhelming odds, you can not help but want to stand up and cheer on to an unlikely victory.
``Even the group's name sets them up to be the underdog,'' he says. ``The major corporate record companies are `The bigs' ... and we are The smalls.''
Even though you may have caught snippets of The smalls ...
on Much West, you'll want to do yourself the favour of owning the
film. You can buy it online at www.insolentboy.com Only $20, postage