Max Webster: Zen Archery For The Well-Rippled Mind
By John Lamont
It's 1969, okay? The place: Sarnia, the spleen of the Chemical Valley, where
it smells funny to this day. Nevertheless, the rock 'n' roll is amazing,
courtesy of such Michigan mammals as Mitch Ryder, Ted Nugent, SRC, MC5, and
the Stooges. These creatures gnawed the adolescent minds and bodies of eighty
percent of the Max Webster membership.(No wonder they turned out to be such a
This knowledge adds new vistas of meaning to, "Get a little savagery in your
life," which stands as Pye Dubois' most noble lyrical suggestion to date. But
before we get ahead of ourselves, perhaps a short history of who and what Max
Webster is should be advanced for the unacquinted.
Max Webster is the best Canadian rock band in existence, including Rush, Moxy
and all the others. (Those of you who disagree can write me care of this
magazine and tell me why I'm wrong. I'm not going to answer any of them, but I
will read them all and try not to laugh.) The group was started by Kim
Mitchell, the lead singer and guitar player. Kim writes chord sequences and
melodies for the songs. Lyrics are provided by Pye Dubois, who does not play
with Max Webster onstage, but qualifies as a member nonetheless, due to his
function as stimulus and creator of statements. Together they are the core of
Terry Watkinson plays keyboards and writes songs by himself. He also sings and
does the paintings Max occasionally uses as concert backdrops. He is the only
member not from Sarnia, but he's been with the group long enough to have
caught the disease, and actually has a warped background of his own. He's an
excellent player. I'd take him over Keith Emerson anyday. Plays better
synthesizer than Eno, and he paints better too.
Gary McCracken drums, and does it intelligently. He has great strategic
thinking abilities, and defended Rush drummer Neil Peart's lyrics without ever
losing perspective. Smartest drummer I've ever met.
The most recent addition is Dave Myles, bassist, replacing Mike Tilka, who
moved to the producer's chair. Dave has a superior sense of line and phrasing
to Tilka, and he fits right into the band. He gave up a promising future in
business to join Max Webster, positive proof that his mind is still alive and
The group has released their third album, Mutiny Up My Sleeve, recorded
at Phase One in Toronto. The album is remarkable but, by all accounts, was an
ordeal of the first order. The pressure of expectation from every quarter was
incredible, particularly since it was the first for their new label, Capitol,
who expect an international success from Max. They've got it (the album, that
is), but it was a helluva shot to make with all the changes (bass player,
label, studio) and the move into the big leagues.
Sessions began at Sounds Interchange. "It was a new studio for us. (The first
two albums were recorded at Toronto Sound.) We were working on the bed tracks,
getting them to feel good, when this uptight vibe started happening, it was
just nuts," Mitchell recalled, obviously still a bit exasperated by the
"Halfway through, we switched studios, co-producers. Terry Brown, our
co-producer, picked up on the ugliness and quit. Forty-eight hours later he
was back, saying he'd put up with the weirdness. By that time, we felt
strange. So we shut down for two weeks."
Asked about the symptoms of the problem, Mitchell started mockingly chewing
his nails. With studied calm, Pye Dubois explained, "At times there were overt
differences of opinion. It just never seemed to get started."
"General sounds," Mitchell contributed. "The sounds of the studio monitors. It
didn't sound like us for some reason. Black Sabbath went through the same
thing when they came in. We had some beds down and were doing overdubs in
another mixing room, and they would come in, freaking out, checking our
"But Phase One is really nice. The halls seethe. Max has really found their
element in Phase One. Nice atmosphere, a really nice place to record. The
monitors are great, the people are great, and there's enough room.
"The tapes from Sounds Interchange that didn't make it, we canned, and just
went on to different stuff. We wrote for a week... and now it's done."
"Everything has changed from day one," Dubois added. "Everything is an
alternative. We even considered changing the title. Even our middle names are
"I'm just glad it's done."
The sessions were particularly rough for Dave Myles, as one might well
imagine. He made the decision to join a scant two weeks before the sessions
began, so his sterling playing on Mutiny is particularly impressive.
"He's working out great," Kim enthused. "Although he's still alittle scared.
He came from Sarnia, moved himself and his girlfriend and all his furniture
and everything, and plopped himself into this band. He left a solid career
where he could have owned a dog and a lawnmower and stuff. Then everything
started going weird. He's a new member of the band, recording an album and
we're freaking out. You can imagine how he felt.
"But he's onto it now. He's just worried about the firecrackers and the
bullets in the States."
Max Webster, in a big push for major stardom, will be touring constantly in
support of Mutiny Up My Sleeve. Kim has tasted the grind of touring
before, and seems up for it. "The only thing I really hate about it," he
admits, "Is the driving. The rest of it I can handle. It has its crazy
moments, because you're constantly around crazy people who think you're weird
all the time. At a point when maybe you're having a bad day and feeling a
little weird, someone will come up and lay that shit on you. It gets
"But the rest of the time, it's neat. It's a great way to make living, playing
for crowds of 16,000 blitzed-out, bloodthirsty puntors. You've got to deliver
Actually, at the majority of Max gigs, the audiences aren't bloodthirsty at
all, but this is the kind of thing the other Websters tell Dave to make him
feel at home in his new job. No sense in letting him have a moments peace.
This is rock 'n' roll, and Max Webster rock 'n' roll in particular requires a
fine and precise madness of its perticipants, human energy focused with
Look at it this way. Max Webster is like the zen archer, whose entire mind is
devoted to the target totally, enabling exact accuracy. The songs are the
arrows, aimed into the pool of consciousness formed by the audience members.
Each arrow penetrates to the bottom of the pool, releasing attention to the
whole Max Webster concept.
What's all this mean to you? Don't ask me, Jack, I'm just a reporter. All I
know is those arrows fly with an awesome grace, and they make very nice
ripples out there. Beyond that, it depends what arises in the mind's eye.
"Forget that fear of gravity/Get a little savagery in your life," conjures all
kinds of possibilities.