Early January, 1992 found Toronto’s Change of Heart booked into Toronto’s Reaction Studios to record their fourth full-length album, the ambitious and sprawling twenty-one song Smile. Initially released through Cargo Records only on compact disc, Label Obscura is delighted to finally reissue the album as initially intended – a double LP set.
The group that recorded Smile ended up being drastically different than the Change of Heart which created their previous effort, 1989’s Soapbox. Shortly after Soapbox’s release, longtime band pal Bernard Maiezza joined full-time on keyboards, synthesizers and sounds. “Bernard’s not really a normal kind of keyboard player. He was always into the noise aspect of it,” says bassist Rob Taylor. “He’d always kinda been part of the band, in certain aspects, right from the very beginning. From the four-track recordings in the basement, he was there mixing with Ian and adding tons of reverb.”
Just before the recording of Smile was to commence, the band went through another major upheaval when original drummer Ron Duffy decided to leave. “We were like ‘who do we call?’” explains Taylor. “So we called up Glenn Milchem and in two weeks he basically learned all of the songs, we did a show and then we went into the studio.” Milchem was already well known in the Toronto scene for his solid style, performing with Vital Sines, Groovy Religion and in Andrew Cash’s band, amongst others. It would end up being Milchem’s only album with the group, as he was actually asked to join Blue Rodeo while the Smile sessions were underway.
With the core nucleus of the band together, they started making plans to record the album. “We had demoed two songs from the record, pre-production, getting ready to go into the studio before Ron had basically had enough,” says Taylor. With Milchem aboard, they had ten finished songs fully rehearsed and the plans laid out for much more before heading into Toronto’s Reaction Studio. The plan was to have longtime producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda produce once again, but due to financial constraints, the album was going to have to be made on a pretty strict schedule.
“We had a budget of $3000 from Cargo Records to do the album, hence the whole ‘let’s go and do it live’ thing, because we didn’t have the money to do extensive studio tracking,” explains Taylor. “It cost $2400 to rent Reaction Studios for four days,” adds co-founder/guitarist/vocalist Ian Blurton. The majority of the album was recorded at Reaction, with any incidentals captured at the Gas Station Recording Studio by Dale Morningstar.
With the decision made to try and capture the songs live, the band had to come up with ideas of how to properly capture the sound they wanted. Taking time to record multiple overdubs was out of the question, so instead they asked friends from Toronto’s musical community, including Don Kerr, John Borra, former CoH percussionist Mike Armstrong and cellist Anne Bourne, to join them at Reaction for the sessions, expanding the core band to include seventeen musicians. “Basically, anything that we would have had to have overdubbed we had people play,” says Taylor. “Instead of overdubbing another keyboard part we would add another keyboard player, or another guitar player in a couple of situations. Any overdubs would be another person playing the part live instead.”
“It was insanity, really, when you think about it,” jokes Blurton.
Just before their January studio time the band did a New Year’s Eve show at Toronto’s Rivoli with the entire ensemble that would be in Reaction, with the exception of the horn section. It put them in a good position for heading into the studio. “It was pretty awesome,” says Taylor of the Smile sessions. “It was very exciting to do the record live in the studio. It was also very intimidating – for me at least anyway. I just had to be on top of it all of the time – knuckle down kind of time.”
“We would record the songs over and over again until we had a good take of the song,” says Blurton.”Or, if we had say the first three-quarters of the song, we would do another take and Michael would take the last bit of that take and cut it in with the previous version.” There are a few edits, here and there, but there are almost no overdubs except for two: the ‘sing it out’ choral vocal section in the song “Coma” and a gong hit done by Triumph drummer Gil Moore that was recorded specifically for the project by Bob Wiseman at Moore’s Metalworks studio. That was it.
Looking back on the recording of the record, Blurton thinks that Michael Phillip Wojewoda should have been credited as a musician on Smile as well. “We would play the song, Michael would have to figure it out because he would have to mix it live. So if there was a push in a part he would have to tape it off and learn all of the parts. He actually should have been in the liner notes as a musician because he was actually moving things around while we played: soundboard technician.”
The twenty-one songs that ended up compiling Smile were recorded over four gruelling days. “We were there pretty late. It wasn’t like these were eight hour sessions,” says Taylor. “It was four days of fourteen-plus hours.” “The last day we were there until after five in the morning,” adds Blurton. “It was light outside when we finished.”
Never completely satisfied with the 1992 compact disc version of Smile, Wojewoda recently revisited the album, carefully piecing together the tracks, carefully re-editing and remastering them specifically for this vinyl release. It may have taken twenty-five years for Smile to finally see its vinyl debut, but as you can hear, this was most definitely worth the wait.
- 50 Ft. Up (1986)
- Slowdance (1987)
- Soapbox (1989)
- Smile (1992)
- Tummysuckle (1994)
- Steelteeth (1997)
- There You Go ’82 – ’97 (2012)