Oh, what a tangled and overgrown (and overblown) path this Vancouver rock band has walked. And stardom, once or twice within reach, has never shone on their messy heads of hair. But there were moments …
Tom Anselmi and Christian Thorvaldson were the singer and guitarist of the B.C. new-punk band Slow when they were teens. Slow, which held some promise, imploded after a weiner-shaking incident at Vancouver’s Expo 86. I was at Expo, but I missed seeing Slow noodles; a lot of other people did see, though, and that was it for Slow.
But Anselmi and Thorvaldson’s sound changed, their pants stayed on, and the band evolved, eventually recruiting guys who looked like 70s porn stars to form Copyright. But here’s where it got stupid: Copyright is a difficult name to understand, lacking the simplicity of The Band but packing a double-dose of the whatthefuckness of The The. To make it worse, the band was originally known as ©. I’m not making that up. In the early 90s, when newspapers and magazines were barely out of the hot-lead typesetting era, Anselmi and Thorvaldson chose a name that could not be reproduced in print — in periodicals, that is, and I speak from experience — without difficulty.
- I know this because I was offered an early show to review, and I went, but ended up writing nothing because the Hastech word processing system at my paper couldn’t produce the ©. I suspect this happened at other papers. Many other papers.
The boys wised up when they landed a post-Nirvana major-label deal with Geffen in 1991. And they deserved it. That early music was really something, a bit of Seattle’s coffee-fuelled scene leaking into some good old West Coast Canadian post-punk. I liked it a lot. I liked their live show. But the self-titled album was not marketed well and sank quickly, and the tour suffered. I suspect buyers thought it was a placeholder in the CD and tape racks, what with the © cover and all. In the end, Geffen walked away.
BMG picked them up for a second disc, Love Story, in 1996. I’ve never heard of it. Again, it was poorly marketed, despite a name change to the slightly more sensible Copyright. Still stupid, though.
In 2001, the band came back with a single that defined 21st-century Canadian rock radio: Rock Machine. Synths over post-goth guitars, punk-opera vocals, dark, dark themes and a catchy set of hooks made it stand out amidst the crap that was 2001 top 40. Of course, it sank without a trace, as did its CD, The Hidden World.
I still listen to that one a lot. It’s a rock operetta, a strange mix of big, booming radio rock with a swirling undercurrent of technogoth and the odd Beatley single. It’s very uneven. But its high points make its low points bearable. Its problem — actually, the problem with all of Copyright’s music — is that these guys seem to be ashamed of their musical ability, trying to lo-fi things as much as they can, while Anselmi goes over the top with his vocals. That doesn’t work. Thorvaldson is a very, very good guitarist, and burying his ability under marching synths while whoever and whoever plod away in the rhythm section creates a jarring contrast that couldn’t click with the average listener. People like me, well, this was made for us. If I wrote reviews the way Copyright wrote songs, it would be something like this.
Copyright is over. There is a MySpace page, but it looks pretty quiet. Anselmi launched some kind of soundscape project called MIRROR this year in Los Angeles, but I don’t know much about it. I know it’s important, because it’s spelled in capitals. What’s with this guy mucking around with names? Keep it simple, folks. It always works. Just ask Prince. Anyway, MIRROR seems like the kind of thing you would never play while working out.
It’s nice to know, though, that despite years of hard work and letdown after letdown, there’s at least some good Copyright music out there. Because interesting music never dies (particularly in this digital age). It just waits.