A Whole Lotta Kids in the Hall

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Shadowy Men: Now (Jan. 31 - Feb. 6, 1991)
"Shadowy Men come to light with surfing sound"

By Tim Perlich

Through a stroke of blind fate, the popularity of local instrumental rock trio Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet continues to rocket.

Much more effective than a video, having one of their songs used as a television theme song for the weekly Kids in the Hall comedy series is arguably the most direct route possible into living rooms all across Canada and now the United States.

The best part of all is that this incredibly sweet scam didn't require the slightest bit of planning to execute. Like virtually everything Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet do, it just happened.

"We didn't even have to record the song Having An Average Weekend for the Kids in the Hall to use as their theme," enthuses Shadowy bassist Reid Diamond.

"It was one of the first songs we recorded back in 1985, which was around the same time the Kids in the Hall formed as a comedy troupe. Brian (Connelly, Shadowy guitarist) and myself grew up with the Kids' Bruce McCullough [sic] in Calgary, and they picked the song to introduce their club shows. That's how the song later got to be used as the theme song for the Kids in the Hall television program. And that's how we won a Casby award this year for a song that's five years old."

With twangy reverberations of their song introducing each show, and having worked with the Kids in a live capacity as the house band for theatre performances, the Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet would appear the obvious choice for the television soundtrack. But Saturday Night Live mastermind Lorne Michaels, who holds the reins to the Kids in the Hall series, wasn't convinced

Cheap Music
"Lorne Michaels didn't want us involved with the television series at all," says Shadowy drummer Don Pyle. Assuming the voice of Michaels, he continues, "'They're not studio musicians - why, they're not even musicians!" He said we sounded like cheap strip music. He didn't have an idea about what the music should be like. I think he wanted something with a saxophone, to sound 'New York.' After it was finally decided that we were going to be doing the music, we met Michaels in the parking lot. All he said was, 'You find that this show will make you a lot more popular.' That was it."

Thus far, performing the between-skit filler music for the program, which is filmed before a live studio audience, has been a full-time occupation for the group. Although they've been able to earn a comfortable living with their 30-second noise spurts, contrary to what many might suspect the Shadowy Men aren't looking at Palm Springs real estate just yet.

"We've got what we feel is a really good contract that allows us to maintain ownership of all the music we compose for the show," explains Pyle. "We actually just license our songs to them. So we get residuals each time a program is shown, on top of our weekly wage for working on the show. I think we bought a 12-pack of beer with the first royalty cheque.

"People probably think there's big dough involved, but we could make more money as dry cleaners. We're really happy to be able to make a living from the show, but we want to keep our own identity. We're still a touring band, and we're still making records."

No Revival
With six years of booking their own gigs and as many EPs issued by their own Jet Pack label, touring and cutting records are two areas where the Shadowy Men have considerable expertise. With characteristic spontaneity, the group formed in 1984 on nothing more than a dare to open for the Sturm Group.

"There was no real decision from the beginning to be an instrumental group," recalls Pyle. "We didn't have a P.A. when we started and no one really wanted to sing. Being that we were all from the punk rock scene, having having the required chops to play instrumental music never was a concern.

"What we do wasn't really inspired by surf music or instrumentals of the 50s or 60s. There was never a sense of 'revival' with out music -- we just didn't have a singer. Our idea was to do instrumentals in a contemporary way. We brought the aggressive approach we learned from groups like the Damned and Fleshtones, as opposed to mimicking the way things were done in the 60s."

The basis of the Shadowy Men's reputation is derived from their longstanding tradition of innovative theme shows. Staging performances with an art auction, a bake sale and the infamous "Laserman" show, using flashlights and smoke, is anything but typical.

"The them shows started," says Diamond, "because we were worried people wouldn't have much tolerance for instrumental music -- besides the natural fear of going on stage after not having performed for so long. One of us was so scared of doing that first gig," he adds, beaming at guitarist Connelly who is grimacing, "that he spend the whole day before in a tranquility tank.

"Our solution was to use as many distractions as we could think of. So we hung a bunch of rockets and other decorations from the ceiling and had our friend Suzi come out on roller skates carrying big signs with our song titles. It was all done so people wouldn't look at us and notice that there wasn't much going on. Imagine our surprise when people actually liked it."

This past summer, Shadowy Men re-released Savvy Show Stoppers on Montreal's Cargo label. The compilation of their 7-inch recording originally released in 1988 on the UK Glass label, which subsequently went bankrupt.

The group hasn't given up on the swinging single format yet. In fact, besides this month's end appearance of a split recording with Change of Heart, the Music For Pets calendar/EP should be available in time for their Toronto School of Art benefit show at Bronco's. As cagey as ever they prefer to keep the details of the evening's shenanigans under their 10-gallon hats.

"Well," allows Diamond cautiously, "being that Bronco's is a cowboy bar, we'd better not show up without at least a little red on our necks -- even if it's just make-up."



 Trista Lycosky

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