There He Goes: Change of Heart’s Smile Turns 25

Nicholas Friesen @Nicholastronaut  July 17, 2017

It’s unknown how many records Ian Blurton has worked on, but it’s easily hundreds by now. Currently co-fronting Public Animal, he’s been the singer/guitarist of influential ‘80s/’90s rockers Change of Heart, experimental popsters Blurtonia, power trio C’mon, and even released a hard as hell to find album (Happy Endings) under his own name. As a producer, he’s worked with the likes of the Weakerthans, Amy Millan and on the upcoming release from Nightseeker (better known as Deaner from FUBAR’s band), a record which Blurton is mixing in Toronto when we reach him over the phone.  

With so many diverse projects on his CV, one has to ask why someone chooses a certain project, and how do they know when that project is done?

“Well, it can be a lot of different things,” Blurton says. “It’s my job, but I like working on lots of different things that I normally wouldn’t have a chance to, if I’m not involved in that scene. It’s interesting to get someone else’s perspective of what’s going on in their culture. But when is a record done? It’s usually when the money runs out. Most projects I work on have a timeframe that’s pretty solid so you’ve gotta get it done in this amount of time. Sometimes you wanna go back, but c’est la vie.”

In the case of re-issues, it means the record is maybe never done. Take Smile, Change of Heart’s classic 1992 epic, coming out on vinyl for the first time July 21 via Label Obscura. Put back together by original album producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda, the record was always intended for vinyl but only received a CD pressing.

“When we conceptualized the record 26 years ago, it was always as a double vinyl, so for this to finally come out is really great.” Blurton says. “Michael literally had to put the record back together and he did a great job.

“We couldn’t remix because it was recorded live off the floor, just stereo left and right. But he had to go back and re-edit what things made up a song. Just figuring that out alone is genius.”

As musicians are often so focused on creating new sounds, they often only revisit past work to re-learn songs to play live (or when reissues come out and require approval). For Blurton, it’s been an interesting trip down memory lane.

“I hate the vocals but I’m really impressed by everyone’s contributions, they’re incredible,” he says. “I feel fortunate to have the calibre of players we did, we had a lot of extra people play on the record.”  

Another Change of Heart album celebrating an anniversary is 1997’s Steelteeth. The band’s final record, released via Virgin, contains 14 tracks of lush, poppy, aggressive, challenging and interesting music. It was this writer’s introduction to the band, blowing the doors off anything else on the radio at the time, and remains a favourite to this day.

“We wrote a lot of songs and we spent a lot of time in the studio on that record,” Blurton says with a sigh. “Went through a couple producers, it was a huge undertaking. There’s a whole other record of unreleased songs just sitting there.”

Using “a couple producers” was apparently the label’s way of trying to make a hit record, and while “It Should Be” and “Little Kingdoms” made waves on radio and MuchMusic, Virgin wasn’t throwing a lot of love the band’s way. While COH was on the road, Blurton recalls that record stores across the country weren’t even stocking Steelteeth.

“I remember somebody in a record store telling us that our record had been taken out of the catalogue and we were out on the road promoting it,” he says. After the tour ended, Blurton retired Change of Heart. “Fifteen years is a long time to be in a band. I’m not speaking for anyone else, obviously they have different perspectives, but 15 years is a long time.”

While Change of Heart had a collection of players over the years (many of which participated in reunion gigs to support the release of greatest hits package There You Go), Blurton has talked the Smile-era players (bassist Rob Taylor, keyboardist Bernard Maiezza and drummer Glenn Milchem) into supporting the LP’s re-issue, playing Toronto July 22 at the Horseshoe Tavern, in addition to a string of dates across the country this fall.

Even though Blurton’s been busy rehearsing with old friends, he’s also excited to talk about the new ones he’s been making noise with these last few years in Public Animal, noting that he never sits down to start a new band with an idea in mind for the sound.

“The people I play with 100% dictates the sound,” he says. “With Public Animal I thought it would be cool to have these four people play together, then let that dictate what happens. Having three songwriters and everyone combining different things, really.”

In the rock meets rockier Public Animal, Blurton is joined by Caitlin Dacey (vocals/keys), Eric Larock (bass) and Ryan Gassi (drums), and the band is currently recording the follow-up to 2016’s blistering thrill ride, Palace Arms. After 30+ years of being in some of Canada’s most important bands, he’s just doing it for the love and thankful for everyone at every show.

“It’s hard without a lot of money behind you these days, it’s hard to get a record through,” he laments. “We just do what we can, go out and play shows, try to turn people on that way. It’s old school, but it seems to work.”

Being the road warrior that he is (and being known for insanely blistering live shows), it’s surprising that none of Blurton’s bands have ever released a live record.

“A recording of a live show is never the same as being at a live show,” he says. “Even the greatest live records of all time have been doctored in some ways, you know?”

When he mentions that he’s been considering the possibility of a live album recently, we question whether it’s a decision of which band to make it with, or the venue. What if the opportunity came up to play, for example, legendary Toronto venue Massey Hall?

“Oh fuck yeah, if I played Massey Hall I’d definitely be putting out a live album,” he says with a laugh. “Live from Massey Hall? There’s no two ways about that.”

Visit labelobscura.com for more information on Change of Heart’s Smile reissue.

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