success on their own terms
After 20 years, legendary Canadian band
borrows as much from Miles Davis as the Ramones
By Ron Anicich
When brothers Rob and John Wright formed Nomeansno in Victoria, B.C., 20 years ago they started a revolution in Canadian music.
?Unique? didn?t begin to describe their stripped-down, bass-and-drum-only approach to contemporary rock music. Over the years their music evolved and inspired many young artists to emulate both their style and instrumental arrangement.
Rob Wright, also known as Mr. Wrong (left) and John Wright (right) play Scrabble with their parents who, we are advised, should only be identified as the parents of the legendary bandsmen who formed Nomeansno.
Today many of the imitators have either given up or faded into hopeless obscurity. But Nomeansno, who make a rare Toronto appearance at the Horseshoe Tavern on March 12 and 13, have remained a constant, delivering albums that have steadily grown their audience through complex musical arrangements and a driving punk-rock aesthetic. Their newer records are easily as rewarding as their classics, borrowing as much from Miles Davis as from the Ramones.
Most impressive, however, is their ability to keep the momentum going after more than two decades of effort.
?Making music is a great experience,? says drummer John Wright. ?We?ve developed a devoted following over the years. When we go to play shows there are always people who are excited to see us. That really gets you revved up.?
The band is aware that the majority of their audience is located outside of Canada. After a long association with Jello Biafra?s Alternative Tentacles record label, this is to be expected. Wright believes that this is a common concern of bands throughout the world.
?A lot of Canadian acts say the same thing,? Wright says. ?If you go to Norway, no one goes to see Norwegian bands but they might do really well in Germany. I don?t think it is really unique to us.?
Another key to understanding the band?s longevity is the unique way in which they define their success.
?We?re very successful in the way we have maintained our independence,? Wright says. ?We?ve been lucky to do things our own way and call the shots our own way.?
Wright sees Nomeansno as a fervently independent group that will not compromise for the sake of a record label or a management company.
?When you are on a major label you?ve got a business to attend to,? Wright says. ?You are not there to showcase your artistic merit, you are there to sell records. We?ve been able to skirt around the business.?
A conventional description of success in music would likely be based on how many millions of units a band sells and how often their faces get on MTV or MuchMusic. Nomeansno, on the other hand, prefer to measure success by their ability to keep doing what they love to do.
?I am living from the music and that?s successful, in my book,? Wright says. ?Not very many people can do that.”