Toronto-based band Blue Peter has just released a new EP entitled Up To You. Last time they played at Ballinger's I talked to Chris Wardman, guitar player and songwriter for the band.
CKMS: Why did you call the EP Up To You?
WARDMAN: We thought that would show that people are responsible for themselves. We were trying to hint at that in a subtle way.
CKMS: Do you think that music can influence or change people?
WARDMAN: Not really. I think if people are barraged by a lot of propaganda that they'll subtly pick it up. So we're just trying to counteract that.
CKMS: So yours is alternative propaganda?
PAUL HUMPHREY: (lead singer) I want to say something about propaganda. They're the type of lyrics that make people shy away from propaganda. and make people perhaps start cutting the strings that make them puppets.
WARDMAN: It's alternative propaganda.
CKMS: Do you write that kind of music because it's what you like to do or do you feel that as a rock band who people are going to be looking up to and idolizing, perhaps. that you hove a responsibility to people to try to point things out to thorn?
WARDMAN: I feel there's a certain responsibility and some songs take that into account, and then there's other songs that are just written, but they're usually apolitical.
CKMS: What do you mean by apolitical?
WARDMAN: Songs like "Around You" which are just romantic and don't have any specific message.
CKMS: Do you think your political songs will ever get very specially political, about specific places and people, like some of the Clash's songs and some of UB40, or do you want to keep it more general?
WARDMAN: I like to be subtle about it. I think blatant political songs are fairly obnoxious - the politics are usually very watered down and no one really wants to hear it.
CKMS: So you keep yours so that they can be interpreted by whoever's listening.
WARDMAN: Yeah, and people who are against it might still like the song.
CKMS: How do you feel about Paul interpreting your lyrics? Do you find that somtimes he doesn't take them the way you wanted them to be taken, or that he doesn't understand what you're trying to say in a song?
WARDMAN: A lot of the time.
CKMS: Does that bothter you?
WARDMAN: Not really. When I bring a song to the band I sort of surrender it to them, and they can interpret it the way they want.
Sometimes I try to take a song back but it's usually too late by then so I just have to try and drop it.
CKMS: I that why you drop a song from your set - because it hasn't gone the way that you wanted it to?
WARDMAN: Usually the rest of the band will drop it because they don't like playing it or it's not going over very well, but I'll try and drop a song because I don't like the message anymore.
CKMS: Do you wish that you could be doing the singing, or more of the singing?
WARDMAN: Not really, I don't sing very well , and I don't like the responsibility.
CKMS: A lot of your songs deal with war or aspects of war, in various shapes and forms and different time periods but you don't yourself have any experience of war.
How did you get so Interested in its effects? Have any of your family ever been in a war, for instance?
WARDMAN: Well that phase is over. I was just watching a lot of war movies. Actually after AWOL was released I found out that my dad had gone AWOL from England in about '58 - he was like a draft dodger from England .
CKMS: I he English then?
WARDMAN: Yeah. that's why he came to Canada. I forget what war it was, Palestine or something like that But I didn't know about that until afterwards.
CKMS: So if that phase is over, what's the next phase?
CKMS: But no new lyric phase.
WARDMAN: Not really.
CKMS: Did you get all your production experience from working with Blue Peter, or did you have any from outside?
WARDMAN: It was mainly Blue Peter I did demos for a couple of bands, but it was mainly just from being in the studio with Blue Peter - and I the only one that would take responsibility for what was happening.
CKMS: Did you get into that because they were your songs that were being done?
WARDMAN: Yeah I think so. I think that when I'd write a song I would know how it should sound, and so I would try and pursue that to the end , in the mix and things like that.
CKMS: And how did you meet up with Kevin Doyle. because that's a partnership that seems to work very well, at least for Blue Peter?
WARDMAN: He was the engineer for Ready Records. the house engineer or whatever, when they first started out, and he did our first EP. At the time he would come out to our gigs and say,"l'm Kevin from the studio." and we wouldn't know who he was, because when you meet people in the studio it's hard to relate to them when you meet them outside.
But then he did the album [Radio Silence], and we ended up sort of producing the album, and it just went from there.
CKMS: At one time you were talking about getting in an outside producer for your next release, this was about when Chinese Graffiti came out. Paul said that you wanted to get somebody in from outside who could do a real bang-up job on everything. Eventually you decided not to, but are you glad now that you did it yourself?
WARDMAN: Yeah. I always contended that we could do it better than a second-rate producer, which is what we probably would have had. We wanted to get a top-line producer, someone like Chris Lillywhite or Chris Thomas, but it's just not economically feasible at this time. But in the future we're still looking for that.
CKMS: So is that probably the last self-produced album that Blue Peter will put out?
WARDMAN: Not necessarily. We would go either for the top or do it ourselves. because I think that we can do it better than any of the American producers or anyone like that, because we understand the sound a lot better. We know what we want.
CKMS: Did you have any formal guitar training or musical training, and do you play any other instruments besides the guitar?
WARDMAN: I had a bit of jazz guitar and classical guitar. but it never really applied to rock guitar. I would take jazz lessons and just go and jam with my teacher for half an hour and that would be the lesson and then I'd go home, and that would be that.
CKMS: So do you find that it didn't do you any good, that you don't use what you learned?
WARDMAN: It did me good. but I wouldn't consider it formal training.I would just consider it experience with other musicians, more than anything.
CKMS: And do you play any other instruments?
WARDMAN: I play a bit of everything. not very well, including saxophone and keyboards
CKMS: What influences would you say that the music you listen to has on your writing? How did you end up writing the sort of songs that you do?
WARDMAN: Which songs?
CKMS: Well, any of them. They all have a sort of distinctive stamp, different styles.
WARDMAN: I think I'm influenced generally by what's going on at the time, but that by the time the band finishes arranging a song or putting it through our musicianship that it's not recognizable where we stole it from.
CKMS: How important is what you're doing to you? I this something that you intend to do for the rest of your life?
WARDMAN: I think so. l think that If I wasn't in a band I'd still be recording in my living room, still writing songs.
CKMS: When did you decide to start a band and how did Blue Peter come about?
WARDMAN:I've had bands since ... grade three. Just always getting whoever owned a guitar, and the first band would be just two guys w1th just the bottom strings of the guitar, and things like that, and we'd just try and play it. Do "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" and things like that.
CKMS: And then gradually as you got older you developed that into Blue Peter?
WARDMAN: Gradually, yeah.
CKMS: So do you usually have final say on who comes into the band, because there have been quite a few changes since it first started. Is that usually your decision?
WARDMAN: I guess so. It's usually put to the band, but I guess it comes down to me
CKMS: Why did you decide, then, to add a keyboard player?
WARDMAN: When we were recording the EP we brought In a lot of session musicians. We wore sort of backed into it in a way. in that we had to reproduce what was on the records a little better Also, we were getting really tired of just guitar, bass and drum banging out the songs - it was getting to be a little passé. AIso we wanted to free Paul so that he wouldn't have to play keyboards as well as sing, so he could jump around more.
CKMS: On the cover of Up To You the picture is just of Paul by himself, and it's land of an an inspirational sort of picture, but does that mean that the band's image is going to be focusing more on Paul from now on? Before you've always had all four of you on the cover and no one person outstanding, and this time it was just Paul and none of the others appeared anywhere except in the written credIts.
WARDMAN:That was more of a design concept than anything.
CKMS: You don't think people will get the wrong impression from that?
WARDMAN: They probably will, but that can't be helped.
CKMS: What are you planning next for the band?
WARDMAN: We'll probably be touring to support this record. and then doing an album that will be out next year.
CKMS: Are any of the songs that you're doing now live going to be on that album, or are you busy writing new material for it?
WARDMAN: I'm still writing stuff, but we could do the album tomorrow.
We've already dropped about an album's worth of material because we didn't get in the studio in time.
CKMS: And you just got tired of it before you got a chance to put it down?
WARDMAN: Yeah. A lot of songs will just never come out But I hope that doesn't happen with the songs we're doing now.
Blue Peter wall be playing in this area for the next month or so. Andy Crosbie of Ready Record says that the EP Up To You is the fastest selling album Ready Records has ever had, and he's looking forward to great things from and for them. Catch the band live before they leave to tour other parts of Canada and the US., and try the records too.
Blue Peter: Up To You
At last there is a major release from Toronto-based band Blue Peter, and the six·song EP Up To You has been well worth the walt.
Like their previous releases. Up To You was produced by the band's songwriter and guitarist Chris Wardman, with the help of engineer Kevin Doyle. The production, like everything else about the band, has matured a great deal since the last album, Radio Silence.
The songs are more complex musically and the arrangements more sophisticated They no longer rely primarily on guitar, bass and drums alone but have added synthesizers and horns to some songs. This results in greater variety in the sound and mood of the songs: tho smooth. soaring synthesizer accompaniment in "Around You" contrasts sharply with the bright, bouncy horns in the funky title song.
The lyrics are vivid and fascinating as usual. The song "Up To You" is full of images of mindless urban panic - "static in the wires/slogans on the air/servants on the TV/dollars in our prayers" - following each other like sharp punches. "Guilty Secret" is perhaps the best anti-war song Chris Wardman has ever written.
The frighteningly clear thoughts and pictures of war get the message across without belabouring the point or handing out some catchy but trite slogan.
The EP is not pessimistic - " Around You'' is a touchingly hopeful love song. innocently optimistic - but neither does it offer a pat solution to anything. It is. after all, called Up To You. It is also one of the most exciting releases of tho summer.
Thought-provoking poetic lyrics, complex and varied music, danceable beats, and a unique style developed over three or four years of self-production: this is no plastic-producer bandwagon band.
Up To You is Blue Peter's best work so far, and it is excellent . but in it they open up so many new directions it is obvious they can still go a long way.
Watch for a new album from Ready Records early next year. It could be history.