See Spot Succeed
by: Keith Sharp
from 'Access' february/march 2000
It's a Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park, New York, and Montreal's See Spot Run is about to perform before 90,000 fans at the Buffalo Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium. Well, not exactly in front of the sell-out crowd....more like slightly behind and off to the side of them. The Bills' field house training facility to be precise, where the Loggerhead recording artists have been hired to perform at the team's pre-game tailgate party.
"It was real cool," exclaims Chris Brodbeck, the band's vocalist and bassist. "They introduced us before the game, put our names on the Jumbotron, and said we could come back if the Bills made the playoffs."
Any U.S. exposure is a stepping stone for these Montreal veterans, now being lauded as the 'next big thing' after the first single (and title track) from Weightless, their second album, soared as high as No. 5 on the nation's Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) charts, accompanying such names as Celine, Shania, Chantal and Bryan.
Tune into Toronto's MIX 99 or Montreal's CHOM-FM and you'll no doubt hear some chirpy DJ raving about See Spot Run, Canada's latest rock sensations, comparing them favorably to such young upstarts as Our Lady Peace, Moist or the Barenaked Ladies.
Brodbeck, guitartist/vocalist Randy Bowen, drummer Bruce McQueen, and guitarist/vocalist Reggie Bennett can only wish things had been so easy. At a time when the record industry is focusing on one-hit wonders and forgoing the time, efforts and money to break new talent, See Spot Run and their label, Loggerhead Records, are the epitome of an indie record act: a band prepared to play anywhere at anytime to deliver one of the liveliest stage acts in the business.
Whether its java and jam at a Toronto Chapters bookstore, a free gig in a neighborhood mall in aid if a radio station's Christmas fundraising efforts or an early morning wake-up call on Canada AM, See Spot Run has gone to great lengths to circumvent the apparent apathy of Canada's major booking agencies.
Had See Spot Run recorded Weightless for a major label, they might have been content with the single's initial, decent Top 10 showing on the country's rock radio charts. But Loggerhead chief Paul Church had a gut feeling that the more influential CHR charts would bite if the song was softened a bit.
"The rock record lasted longer on the charts than we thought it would," notes Brodbeck. "It fought its way into the Top 10 and the bounced around, but never went below 50. The Record [Canada's national music industry publication] has this rule that a song can only be in the charts for 30 weeks before it gets relegated to their Current chart. So we were ready to go with [second single] "Terrified" when we had this idea to remix "Weightless" and see if any CHR stations would bite."
Remixed by Justin Gray at Mississauga's Metalworks Studio, the more finessed arrangement took on a renewed life with key Toronto stations like the MIX, The Edge, CHUM-FM and eventually KISS-FM, giving "Weightless" heavy exposure.
"Suddenly Weightless took off like a bullet. It entered the charts at 18 and now it's at 5 (as this story is being written)," enthuses Brodbeck. "Then we did a French translation for the Quebec market and they played it as soon as it hit their desk. They literally inhaled it."
With cross-border airplay seeping into America, Loggerhead are set to release both the album and single stateside, as well as working on a U.S. tour this month and hoping that a major label will take the bait.
"We've had some nibbles from major labels but nobody's biting just yet so we decided that we would force the issue," explains Church, a former marketing product manager for EMI Canada. "If we can build our story in the U.S. and get the band out live, then who knows what could happen. It's a game plan the Barenaked Ladies have already executed very well."
Like BNL, See Spot Run have spent the past two years building street credibility by criss-crossing the dominion, first in support of their debut album, Ten Stories High, and more recently with Weightless, which was launched via a splashy release party at Toronto’s Air Canada Center.
"When we first recorded Ten Stories High, MuchMusic jumped on the first single, "Au Natural" and we thought, Great, we're away." boasts Brodbeck. "I remember us playing at some bar in Northern Ontario when our video came on TV and we actually stopped the performance so the bar patrons could watch us n monitors. But after that we found out just how difficult it is for an indie band to break in this country. We didn't get the big gigs we needed for exposure."
Instead, See Spot Run payed where the gigs were available, achieving surprising success at local high schools. "The kids couldn't believe an actual band was playing at ther school," Brodbeck notes. "They're so used to DJs and pre-recorded music. Then we show up, put on a serious live performance, and hang around afterwards to sign autographs. The kids couldn’t believe it and they've stayed our most loyal fans. Some of these kids were ordering CDs from their local gas station because they couldn't get them in the shops."
The genesis of See Spot Run goes back to the mid '80s when Brodbeck and Bowen were in rival bands in Montreal, each trying to steal the other's personnel, They were both fans of local group the Pinups, fronted by Sass Jordan, which deftly combined original material with covers.
Phoning the number at the bottom of a Pinups poster, Bowen made contact with Music Market agent Paul Church. Brodbeck did likewise, contacting Lynn Moffet, whi had worked for the Donald K Donald talent ageny in Mointreal.
"I thought Randy was really weird when I talked to him on the phone because he was so damned polite," recalls Church. "They were trying to play originals in a market that demnded covers and it was really difficult for them. They couldn't get much work in either Montreal or Toronto."
It was Moffet who came up with the idea of merging Brodbeck and Bowen's talents. The nascent lineup gelled when Winnipeg drummer Bruce McQueen came on board. They eventually found guitarist Reggie Bennett in Newfoundland.
"I remember being in high school and listening to Kiss frontman Gene Simmons doing a radio interview," recalls Brodbeck, whose live show is strongly influenced by the glam rockers. "he said, If you're coming to hear perfect sound, stay at home and listen to your albums. But if you want to see a show, we'll give you something you've never seen before!"
"I've always believed that the live show is everything. If you entertain people, they'll always come back, and I believe we've tried to do that wherever we've played."
See Spot Run's live reputation came to the attention of Church and Andrew McCain, heir to the McCain's frozen foods empire. He had recently launched his own indie record label, Loggerhead records, initially to help out old friend Wayne Nicholson (formerly of Maritimes group Oakley) who was trying to lunch a solo career.
brought See Spot Run in to open for Wayne on his eastern tour," Church recalls, "Because they had built a solid live reputation on the road and we found them a pleasure to work with. When it came to expanding our roster, signing See Spot Run was a no-brainer."
With Moffet's brother Gary (formerly of April Wine) producing, See Spot Run had a debut album by the summer of '97. A few false starts on the distribution side hampered the initial launch but Loggerhead showed enough savvy and financial commitment to survive the purge of their distributor, Polygram Records, after it was taken over by the Universal Records monolith last year.
With the initial success of Weightless, again produced by Moffett, it seems See Spot Run has justified that faith of not only their label but also themselves.
"It's been a struggle but we've never lost faith in our objectives to provide a quality live performance," reflects Brodbeck. "We've been around long enough to see one-hit wonders come and go and we've just kept on working and believing in each other. This way, when we do break through, we'll be ready for it. It's been a long time coming and we feel that it's time to capitalize on whatever recognition might come our way."