If you’ve watched any of the big-scale music documentaries of the past few years, or at least seen a commercial for one (and we’ve all witnessed Katy Perry’s media onslaught for Part of Me), you’ll probably have noticed that most of them follow a similar format. The artist/band is shown at the peak of their fame and success, and then tactfully broken down into ‘normal person’ status before again being elevated into an icon. Their modest qualities are brought forth to equate them with the audience, but are contrasted by their extraordinary talents. (Yes, you may have also grown up in a small town in Ontario, but could you play four different instruments before you turned six?). We can’t say this format doesn’t work – because let’s face it, we all loved Never Say Never – but what about the band or artist that has yet to sell out Madison Square Garden or land the cover of the Rolling Stone? Is their story any less compelling because our typical measures of success haven’t been met yet?
Brendan McCarney’s new documentary, Ages & Stages, inadvertently provides insight to these questions and many more as he profiles one of Toronto’s most overlooked groups, the Meligrove Band. We spoke with McCarney around the time of the film’s premiere at NXNE, to hear why he wanted to create this film, what his goal was, and how he hopes it might change things for the band.
Loosely drawing inspiration from the 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back, McCarney went into the project with the intent of “finding the story” rather than knowing exactly what the final product would look like. He came out with footage of 40 different bands and musicians sharing their thoughts, stories and love of the Meligrove Band. Some artists respectfully questioned their diligence, while others saw their situation as simply “wrong place, wrong time.” This may be the best explanation of the Meligrove Band’s perpetually underground status, as they have been part of the scene for nearly 15 years, released four albums, gained a devoted following, but have never quite been able to ‘break through.’ And with the number of indie bands that have gone from being Toronto’s best-kept secret to being celebrated across the country or even the world with only a few releases, it’s difficult to see why the Meligrove Band haven’t had the same luck
But while the band’s struggle may be one of the central themes of the film, it is never dwelled on. The personalities of the four guys are always the focus, whether we’re being guided through their cramped tour bus in an MTV Cribs style or brought to the top of the CN Tower for a performance by the band. It’s simply an honest look at four friends who have devoted most of their lives to making a significant impact on the Canadian music scene, one which McCarney poignantly describes as “incestuous.” If the film also shines a light on Toronto’s highly collective musical landscape, McCarney assures us this is merely “something that happened on its own,” but with the unrestrained approach taken with the film, these are the kind of happy accidents that you treasure.
So what exactly does McCarney hope viewers take away from this “no bells, whistles, or bullshit” documentary? Nothing more than a rediscovery of the music these four guys have worked so hard on: “There are so many bands around these days that it’s easy to lose track of a lot of them. The Meli-dudes have had some rough luck with label trouble, touring trouble, van trouble, etc., so it’s easy for someone to forget about their mind-blowing rock abilities.”
And lastly, if you were a singing animal what would you be?
I would be a hippo – baritone.