Neither before nor since has a band captured the essence of Montreal, and Me Mom & Morgentaler plan to leave one last splash of blood on the floor
The word "quintessential" is one that many toss around with little regard for its meaning. It seems that most anything can be quintessential these days, which reflects the dilution the word has endured. Knock those first five letters off, though, and it’s plain to see that the most important part of any quintessential thing is that it is, indeed, essential.
Me Mom & Morgentaler is the quintessential Montreal band in a way that no other band can really ever be, because it was essential during a time when Montreal’s now-vaunted music scene was still crawling out of the ooze. In their heyday, Morgentaler represented the city better than any band, and possibly better than any band has since.
While 514-nurtured acts like the Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and The Dears garner well-deserved fame the world over, their Montreal-ness never seems to be the story. With Morgentaler, their Montreal-ness seems the most critical part of it, informing every aspect of who they were, who they are, and why they never mattered more anywhere else than they did here. To a certain degree, this same reason is also probably why they never lit up the charts the way similar acts like No Doubt did.
Today, almost 20 years after they first took the stage at a Marianopolis College talent show, Me Mom & Morgentaler are back in the thick of things, reuniting for the first time since 1999 to play a trio of shows that coincide with the re-release of their only studio album, Shiva Space Machine. While they’re no longer the cat’s meow of our scene, the imprint they’ve left on it – commemorated nicely by the Tribute Award they received at the 2007 GAMIQ Awards – is both deep and undeniable, and their influence is unmistakable. In the words of a colleague, "If there was no Me Mom & Morgentaler, there would be no Arcade Fire."
Talk about essential.
Second flight of the space machine
Even after years of not being a functioning entity, cover-model-gorgeous Morgentaler vocalist Kim Bingham still thinks that her band is bigger than Jesus, and possibly the grandest group in the history of modern music. It’s the joke we’re running with while she describes why the good ship Morgentaler has once again put out to sea.
"Over the years, even since the last reunion, even at the last reunion, Shiva Space Machine was not in print, and since then we’ve kept on hearing from people saying, ‘We’re looking for Shiva Space Machine and the only place we’re finding it is in this rare record store and they’re selling it for 80 bucks or something.’ Just nutty things like that. We didn’t even have our own copies of the record anymore.
"It was just a matter of doing something more definitive. It feels good to be doing these shows in support or in celebration of the re-release of Shiva," she continues. "This isn’t just a straight re-release, where we just remaster the thing and send it out. We’ve chosen some alternate mixes to the original, so to us the record sounds really fresh again, and with the remastering job, it really does sound great."
And in the darkness, light
Morgentaler guitarist/vocalist Gus "Van Go" Coriandoli, on the phone from New York, gets nostalgic when talking about his erstwhile band. "It was such a formative time for us," he says. "We really became the people that we are during those, whatever, seven years that Morgentaler existed, so when we get back together, it’s really amazing for us, because we get to be the same crazy 20-year-olds that we were back then and regress to a certain extent."
Those crazy 20-year-olds started something. Call it what you want, but in being a thorough representation of Montreal – male and female, black and white, French and English – the irregular eight-piece was the undisputed heavyweight champ, locally, for a while. But Montreal then wasn’t like Montreal now.
"What was really different back then was, of course, the support in the industry for Montreal bands. That did not exist," says Coriandoli. "There [weren't] any cool, smallish labels like Indica or Bonsound. There was no way in hell that an Arcade Fire or a Malajube could exist out of Montreal back then."
"I guess there’s a sort of globalism that exists right now, and Montreal just got lucky because a couple of really great bands came out of Montreal, like The Stills and The Dears and Malajube and Arcade Fire, and then boom, you have an [internationally relevant] city. But back then there was nothing for us. We were completely roaming around in the dark."
As Bingham recalls, the climate in Canada as a whole wasn’t really conducive to a band like Morgentaler, who were unapologetically big-hearted, theatrical, multicultural and multifaceted, genre-wise, when such things were anathema, or at least uncommon. As such, merely existing became a full-time, uphill struggle.
"We dealt with the racial thing at the beginning, and through the years, playing around Canada with skinheads and rude boys and all that kind of stuff, and getting beer bottles thrown at us because we had a couple of dark members in the band," she says, while maintaining that the band had no political mandate. Though Morgentaler’s very essence was representative of inclusiveness, tolerance and separate communities coming together to achieve something, Bingham asserts that the band was "not conscious of being ambassadors of anything except for fun."
Raising the bar one last time
The question of influence is one that some bands shy away from. Not Morgentaler. They know that they influenced and continue to influence countless Montreal bands with their mishmash of styles and over-the-top theatrics. Contemporaries like GrimSkunk and Groovy Aardvark also slot in well here, and yet Morgentaler’s influence seems, if not deeper, more noticeable. At the end of the day, says Bingham, knowing that you’ve influenced others to go further and try harder is a nice thing, but it also engenders a responsibility to give that clichéd 110 per cent every time out.
"The great thing about the band is that we always would play the same full intensity show," she says. "I think it was in Oshawa, there were eight people that showed up, or something. Like, back in the day. And we were like, ‘Aw, man. Do we have to put on the costumes? Do we have to?’ I remember that. And we did. We were like, ‘No man! We gotta rock! Blood on the floor!’"
"It was just a matter of us trying to step up to our own expectations of what we’re trying to do, and it’s nice to be recognized for what we did. We still have the same M.O. This is our second reunion, and I just noticed every time we get back together in a room everyone knows what the expectation level is. Of ourselves, within ourselves."
Regardless of the expectation level, and the band’s storied past, present and near future, Bingham knows that the upcoming dates could be the onetime Montreal supergroup’s last hurrah. If so, she says she wants to go out with a bang.
"We know if we don’t do it now, we’re going to get too [old]. Someone’s back is going to go out in such a way that they won’t be able to jump across the stage," she laughs. "There are kids being born, some band members are married with children, and lives go on and it’s going to get more difficult and we know that this was it."
"It’s an amazing thing, not to be taken for granted. And because we can do it one more time, we are."
Me Mom & Morgentaler
At Club Soda (1225 St-Laurent), Nov. 14 (w/ One Night Band), Nov. 15 (w/ Les Handclaps) and Nov. 17 (w/ Bloodshot Bill); all shows start at 8 p.m.