The Scenics formed in the summer of 1976 after Andy Meyers posted an ad at a Toronto music store about starting a bold, risk-taking band. Ken Badger was the only person to reply, and with a rotating cast of drummers and bassists, they made some of the most innovative music Canada has ever produced during their original six-year run.
You can hear elements of Television, Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground, Pere Ubu, Roxy Music and free jazz in The Scenics' intricate yet powerful twin-guitar sound, but the band put everything together in a way that was uniquely their own.
"The Scenics never toed the line," says Meyers. "Never once did someone bring in a song and was told, 'You can't do that.'
"There was complete acceptance and support of each other. Musically and lyrically, there was this sense of being able to do anything you wanted."
The Scenics' originality earned them a small core group of devoted fans, but they were far from universally beloved in the late '70s Toronto punk and new wave scene that spawned the likes of Teenage Head, The Viletones, The Ugly, The Mods, The Secrets and The Cardboard Brains, all of whom are featured along with The Scenics on The Last Pogo DVD released on Dream Tower last fall (which included seven Scenics songs performed on video as a bonus feature).
"Punk was a revolution, but there was no room in the revolution for another revolution," says Meyers. "And that's what The Scenics were.
"There were a lot of people in the Toronto scene who didn't get us and there was a serious debate in the Toronto scene about whether what we were doing had any validity whatsoever."
The Scenics opened for Talking Heads and The Troggs and were part of the infamous Last Pogo punk blowout concert at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern in 1978. The band recorded their Underneath The Door album for Bomb Records in 1979 and the "Karen/See Me Smile" single two years later before breaking up on amicable terms in 1982.
Almost nothing was heard about The Scenics after that. But when Badger sent Meyers some of the more than 300 hours of rehearsal, live and studio recordings that had sat in a box for a quarter-century, he was knocked out and "totally taken by surprise by the songs and the passion of the performances."
The Scenics re-introduced themselves to music fans in early 2008 with the release of How Does It Feel To Be Loved: The Scenics Play The Velvet Underground. This collection of 10 live recordings taped between 1977 and 1981 and released on the band's own Dream Tower label earned critical acclaim across North America. But as glowing as the feedback was, the album left many music writers asking if The Scenics wrote any of their own material.
Those scribes got their answer with the Oct. 13 release of Sunshine World, which features 13 original songs as well as intriguing covers of Tommy James And The Shondells' "Mony Mony" and The Kinks' "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" The songs were laid down in the studio in 1977 and 1978 and these are remastered versions of the original 4 track recordings.
People will finally be able to discover such previously buried gems as the art-punk album opener "O Boy," the jangly "In The Summer," the melodic yet still mildly cacophonous "So Fine,' the outsider pop of "Sunshine World" and the danceable rock of "Do The Wait" — which features an unsettlingly long pause two-thirds of the way through that literally makes listeners "do the wait." The album ends with its longest and most experimental track, "Scenic Caves," which was the group's original name in the spring of 1977.
While there's little doubt that what The Scenics created was musically ahead of their time 30 years ago, it no longer sounds so radical. As Meyers says, "Then was the perfect time to do the creative end of it because there was so much space and freedom, and now the public is ready for it."
The Scenics have played a few shows over the past year-and-a-half with singer/guitarists Meyers and Badger joined by former bandmates Mark Perkell on drums and Mike Young on bass. They recorded 14 new songs — Original Scenics material, and songs written by Meyers and Badger over the years following The Scenics' break-up — while in Toronto for The Last Pogo 30th anniversary show last fall. Those tracks will be released on an album next year.
But there are a lot of things going on in The Scenics' world before that.
A short Canadian tour hitting cities between Hamilton and Montreal will coincide with Sunshine World's October 13 release on Dream Tower. The musicians may have grown older, but their take-no-prisoners performances remain vital.
The Scenics will be featured in The Last Pogo Jumps Again, director Colin Brunton's sequel to The Last Pogo, which will be released in 2010.
Furthermore, beginning inJanuary 2010 , The Scenics' website (www.thescenics.com) began featuring Punk Haiku, Meyers' bi-weekly blog of his reminiscences of what was happening with the band and the exciting and changing world of music 30 years ago. Punk Haiku will be augmented by Punk Haiku Audio, an online storehouse of downloadable Scenics material from those 300 hours of recordings. (www.thescenics.com/punkhaiku1)
"The Scenics were not a mild-mannered or small band," concludes Meyers. "Our energy was very big and very powerful, but it happened in a vacuum.
"But these things are coming out now to give people a real sense of what we were. And now we can tell the whole story in the Punk Haiku blog and Punk Haiku Audio."