Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet
by Nardwuar The Human Serviette
Discorder Magazine, 1990
A few years ago I said, "Mom, go to Toronto." And she went to Toronto. When she came back she said, "Son, I got you some records." One record was by the band Rio whose members had nice hair styles; my mom though it was a girl band but but it was really a guy band. The other record was a seven incher by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet called "Love Without Words." My mom had gone up to the lady in the record store and said, "I want to have the two hottest records in Toronto" and she was handed these records. When my mom went to England I said, "Mom, bring me back some records." And she brought me back some records. She went into a store in London and said, "Give me the hottest record in the store" and the guy in the store said, "Here is a Bros. record." So she does get the truth when she asks for the hottest records and boy, Shadowy Men are hot, so hot that when they came to Vancouver, 228-2847 was a phone number that drummer Don Pyle did not forget to call.
NARDWUAR: Now, Mr. Don Pyle of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, what are the names and ages of such a famous band as yours?
DON PYLE: Reid Diamond is our bass player, Brian Connelly is our guitar player and our combined ages are about a hundred.
N: You've been on the rock and roll scene for a few years.
D: Six years.
N: You've actually played with The Ramones, haven't you?
D: Yeah, we've played with The Ramones, Hüsker Dü, Jesus And Mary Chain, The Dundrells.
N: Did you learn any weird habits from these stars, Mr. Don Pyle of the rock group Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet?
D: I think we learned not to take drugs from any of them. We saw what long term drug use does to your brain cells.
N: So they had some weird quirks about them?
D: Kinda weird quirks. When we met Dee Dee Ramone, the first thing he said to us before he said, "Hi, how ya doin'?" was, "You got a valium?"
N: You've never said that to one of your opening bands, have you?
D: No, never, never. I've never taken a valium. I wouldn't know how to say that.
N: You are from Toronto, Ontario.
N: What is Toronto, Ontario know for?
D: At the moment, it seems the Cowboy Junkies. Other than that, there are a lot of reasonable places to get tax returns done. And there are some excellent Vietnamese restaurants.
N: Isn't it known that every band in Toronto is basically signed?
D: Pretty much. There's a band called the Manteyes that I've never heard of, never seen play before; they just have an album that just came out. It's real sweepstakes time there now. Everybody's getting signed, everybody who's anybody sort of thing.
N: So I guess the question is, "Why aren't YOU signed?" I mean, you've been around for six years. You saw The Ramones do drugs. Wouldn't it be logical that you would have been signed long ago, to somebody BIG?
D: Well, we ARE signed with Cargo right now who are pretty much as big as we want to be signed with. There's not really any point with us even considering signing with a major label because we know that being an instrumental band and playing the sort of music we do, we have a pretty limited audience. We're not going to sell a million copies of an album. If we got signed by a major label, we would put out one album with them and then get dumped for not selling enough records and that would be the end of that. So if we go with somebody like Cargo, they do a great job. They get the records around. They're very happy with the number of records that we can sell for a company like them.
N: What sort of distribution did you have for your seven inch records?
D: The distribution was all doen pretty much through ourselves. We sold them at shows. More are more, there are no distribution companies for seven inch records... Mostly, those were done like; you have one person who runs a distribution company who heard you on John Peel's radio show or something and finds our your address and writes to you and saysm "Send me fifty records, please."
N: Did they end up in any weird places?
D: We got a lot of letters from Holland... there are people with wooden shoes buying our records.
N: But you got those records out. Remarkable?
D: It's pretty remarkable. For a seven inch, it's even more remarkable now. We're still going to do seven inch records. We're doing two more this summer.
N: You've done very limited runs of seven inch records.
D: We make only as many as we can sell. It's expensive to mail stuff in Canada and a lot of places will take stuff on consignment and won't buy them outright. So you go to Vancouver and a store takes ten singles on consignment, they sell them tne weeks later, you don't get back to Vancouver for a year and a half, and then they say, "Well, we can only pay you for one year from your receipt date." So they don't pay you and consequently you eventually have to stop dealing with almost everybody.
N: But you have some interesting releases such as your seven inch with a nice Jiffy Pop thing. Your motto was, "It's a record, it's a snack, half the fun's making it."
D: It went something like that. "It's a record, it's a game." No, that's the other record. "It's a record, it's a snack, it's a record, it's a snack." I think that was as complicated as the sales pitch got.
N: It was an actual Jiffy Pop with a seven inch record in it and one of the tracks was you shaking the Jiffy Pop.
D: It was actually Brian shaking the Jiffy Pop, but we don't need to get technical. Yeah, it was real Jiffy Pop. We went to the Jiffy Pop factory and got them. We saw Chef Boyardee products being made We saw them making Bits-n-Bites and Fiddle Faddle. The same people who make Jiffy Pop make those things. We got a dealer's rate on it because we bought so many.
N: How many did you buy?
D: The first five hundred came like that.
N: Did you ever think of throwing some LSD in with some of the popcorn for a bonus that some listener or reader might get?
D: No, we wouldn't know where to find LSD.
N: How about throwing in some -
D: - Sominex or -
N: - some local XXX type drug that would kill somebody. Wouldn't it be great to start a Tylenol-type scare only with a Jiffy Pop record?
D: No, if people are going to be nice enough to buy our record, I'd like them to live.
N: You also gave away a few free EPs
D: We did two singles which were giveaway things. Both were giveaways for shows we did at the Rivoli in Toronto which was where we did our first show. One was a live single of stuff we recorded at our birthday show the previous year. The other one was out bass player doing a medley of Neil Diamond songs which we also did for our birthday show.
N: And this was on a 46 rpm record. It really was 46 rpm?
D: It was approximately 46. It might have been 49. But it was definitely more than 45. Some people without pitch control had to play it at 45, but those that did got the real sound. We have a really crappy independent record making company in Canada called Worls Records which I'm sure a lot of people even in Vancouver probably know about. They mastered it too slow for some reason, maybe because they felt like it, so we had to get this rubber stamp made that said "46 RPM" on it.
N: So it turned out to be a great thing.
D: Not if you don't have pitch control.
N: But it was a great marketing ploy.
D: It made our voices sound deeper.
N: You linked up with the highly intelligent K label by playing Olympia, Washington with Calvin "Beat Happening." How did you link up with Estrus Records?
D: Estrus was the same thing. Dave Crider from the Mono Men on Estrus wrote to us and he had heard about us through other bands and had our singles and even had the Mono Men do a couple of our songs. I haven't heard them yet. We're going to hear them in a couple of weeks.
N: What if they are bad versions of your songs?
D: I'd still be flattered. We do a bad version of a Cher song. She hasn't given us any trouble about it; it's free territory. I am very flattered that they're doing our songs at all.
N: But you linked up with those "pulp city losers hell bent on Tequila" Estrus Records amd there is something in the works?
D: They're coming out with a boxed set of four records and eight bands on it; we each have one song on it. It comes in a lunch pail.
N: Is this your biggest tour yet? Is this the most famous you have ever been? You have a full length record out. Are they appreciating you in Saskatoon?
D: We're playing here three nights. Last night they weren't too much. The first night they were appreciating us even though we played terribly.
N: What is an example of an "appreciative evening."
D: Clapping, dancing and smiling: the three signposts of rock appreciation.
N: Who is Sir Isaac Brock?
D: I have no idea. I know who Sir Isaac Newton is.
N: He is a Toronto-ite.
D: I don't know him!
N: Aren't you a Toronto-ite, Mr. Don Pyle?
D: Yes, but I don't know Art Engleton and he's our mayor. You can't talk me into it. I don't know!
N: Sir Isaac Brock. He had his head chopped off. He's the most famous Canadian ever.
D: No, he's not as famous as Moe Berg.
N: Another Toronto-ite.
D: No, he's an Edmontonian.
N: A moved-over Edmontonian.
N: Just like some members of your band are moved-over Calgarians, aren't they?
D: Yeah, sort of Calgarians, Edmontonians, Manitobans.
N: Who are some of the most underrated instrumental groups of all time?
D: I would say Sharkskin, Pell Mell, Love Tractor... Sharkskin are a new band from Toronto. Pell Mell aren't. They're from Washington and they've been around for ten years. Love Tractor are from Georgia and they've been around for about ten years.
N: How about the older genre. How about the Ventures?
D: The Ventures are far too overrated.
N: How about the Wailers from the Pacific Northwest?
D: I don't know them.
N: You don't know the Wailers from the Pacific Northwest?
D: No, I know the Wailers from Jamaica.
N: The W-A-I-L-E-R, the Wailers from the Pacific Northwest with the songs "Tall Cool One," "San-ho-zae," "Wailers House Party," and "Mashi."
D: They never made it to my local record store.
N: They are the ultimate group. They started the instrumental move.
D: Oh yeah? Do you know who the Esquires are?
N: The Esquire is a guitar.
D: No, the Esquires are a famous Canadian instrumental band of the '60s that were signed to Capitol Records. They are pretty fabulous.
N: They are one of your favorite underrated groups.
D: This week.
N: What about other "wordless groups"? Do you consider your group a "wordless group"?
D: Seeing as we're instrumental, probably. We have a few words. We'll have a few words with anybody who will talk to us. We're not totally wordless. We're "word dry." We're "word bare."
N: What other "wordless group" have records out these days? Jon and the Nightriders?
D: I don't know them.
N: The Dragsters?
D: Oh I've heard the Dragsters. I think they're pretty stinky too.
N: Are you Toronto's first post-hippie wordless group?
D: Probably. Oh no, I forgot about Manteca. They're an instrumental band and they were around before us. Leona Boyd, too. Neither of them do anything like what we play.
N: You are the kings of the Toronto wordless scene.
D: Us and Sharkskin ARE the Toronto wordless scene. They have stuff out on their own label called Driving Records.
N: The people from Kids in the Hall! They write lyrics for your songs.
D: No, we write lyrics for some of THEIR songs. I mean, we write songs for some of their lyrics. They don't write lyrics for any song that we've already written. A couple of things like "Daves I Know," everybody seems to think is one of our songs. It's a comedy skit and they said, "We're doing this thing and we need some music." They ask us to come up with something within the guidelines for anything with songs, but all the other stuff is just instrumental stuff in the show we do on our own, without having any input at all.
N: You've probably answered many questions regarding Kids in the Hall.
D: Mostly just the one question, "How did you get hooked up with them?" Usually people don't go into too much depth about it.
N: Do you feel it is your claim to fame now?
D: A lot of other people think it's our claim to fame. It's a great thing to be working on and I would say we are proud of it, proud to be working on the show; it certainly has given us a lot of opportunities that weren't there before. I wouldn't say it was our claim to fame. It's one of our claims, something we could put on our resumes.
N: Have you ever heard of Kimm Rogers?
N: Kimm Rogers, some lame fat folky lame-ass shit? Have you heard of her?
N: Well, she has a song called "The Soundtrack of My Life." Do you think that could be a possible Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet song?
D: I would have to hear it first.
N: What other ideas have been pushed upon you?
D: We're thinking about writing a tribute to the eastern food dish Baba Ganoush. That's our latest project. We're reading the David Essex story right now which might come out in our music later.
N: Who is David Essex?
D: You don't know who he is? David Essex is an English pop star. You know who Sir Isaac Brock is but you don't know who David Essex is?
N: David Essex is on 24 Essex Drive.
D: No, David Essex wrote "Rock On" and "Lamplight" and he starred in the English production of Godspell.
N: He's a very famous guy but not as famous as Sir Isaac Brock.
D: He's famous enough to have a biography written by George Tremlett who also wrote the David Bowie biography and the Osmond story.
N: And your next venture will be a tackling of the David Essex story.
D: Just the book; I don't know if it will be a song or not.
N: Do you have to use special equipment to get that unique Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet sound?
D: Mostly stuff that plugs in. How am I supposed to know? I'm the drummer. Brian has a Fender Super Reverb, I have purple Gretsch drums and Reid has a Traynor amp.
N: Traynor? Isn't that blasphemous?
D: Why is that?
N: This is so modern.
D: Traynor isn't a modern company and even if they were, there is nothing wrong with modern things.
N: And moving forward.
D: Where appropriate.
N: Have you ever tried spelling your name in abbreviations?
D: Yes. "SMOASP," is that what you mean?
N: Yes, and if you rescramble the words backwards, you almost get the word "Samoans." Were you influenced by the rock group Angry Samoans?
D: I liked one of their record covers. No.
N: I noticed that you contributed "Good Cop Bad Cop" to the It Came From Canada series put out by Mr. Deja Voodoo and Mrs. Deja Voodoo. Why did you submit that song? I heard that you were going to submit another song. Did you hold back a better song for them?
D: No, we were on two volumes. "Good Cop Bad Cop" is on Volume Two. "Faster Santa" is on Volume Four. We put "Good Cop Bad Cop" on because we thought it was our best song, but it turned out so shitty on that album that we redid it for one of our singles. We gave them the best.
N: What are the worst Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet records so people don't buy them.
D: Probably the last free one we did, which is why it was free.
N: Did this lose money at all?
D: Of course. You can't give records away and make money.
N: But you earned a lot of fans by doing that.
D: We haven't really polled them on it.
N: Does a band starting up record an eight track, then make some popcorn, then give away some free records, then dance around on TV, then get signed to a big Canadian label and then tour to Olympia, Washington? Is that what will logically happen to a band?
D: They would if you were following in our footsteps.
N: But there must be some advice you have. Is it worth it to put out a single?
D: Yes. I would say the best think can do is stuff for themselves. Don't get a stupid manager who is going to make you do stupid things.
N: What is Casa Loma like?
D: Casa Loma's like your rich uncle's house that you never want to go to who's always inviting you over for Christmas just to show off the place.
N: Is it the coolest place in Toronto to hang out in?
N: But it's a big castle.
D: No, it's a "casa." It's a fake castle. It's like the chocolatey coating on cookies. It's not chocolate. It's a "casa," not a castle.
N: What is the coolest place?
D: I don't know. I hang out at my home a lot.
N: Have you ever played the Railway Club before?
D: Oh yeah, that's why we're coming back, because we like the Railway Club.
N: Because it's small.
D: Because it's small and it has the nice little train that goes around.
N: Because you've bumped into stars before.
D: No, we're playing at the Railway Club because we bumped into stars at the other place, what's it called, the Town Dump.
N: The Town Pump, yes. What stars did you bump into there that you won't bump into at the Railway.
D: Bryan Adams.
N: You really bumped into Bryan Adams?
D: No, but I saw him there on MuchMusic once.
N: Who is Don Pyle of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, the greatest Canadian ever?
D: I thought you said Sir Isaac Brock was the greatest Canadian ever.
N: No, he's not.
D: Oh I get it, he's the greatest Canadian to lose his head.
N: Who is the greatest Canadian ever?
D: Ken Priestley. He's a friend of ours. He's a graphic artist. He's a part-owner of a record store in Bowmanville. He was our singer when we first started.
N: Bowmanville is the home of World Records.
D: As a matter of fact, it is. Although Ken lives in Bowmanville he has absolutely nothing to do with the band at all now, although we did play at his record store a few weeks ago.
N: And you had lots of people dancing.
D: Yeah, on the street. And the police came by and asked if we knew any Charlie Pride. We said no, but we know George Jones.
N: And you played...
D: ... none of those.
N: And then you cut into your brand new tune...
D: ... "Baby Elephant Walk."
N: Which will be coming out on...
D: ... K Records.
N: And it will be a great...
D: This is just like one of those lazy person's greeting cards.
N: It will be a great record because it wasn't pressed at...
D: ... World...
N: ... Records.
D: Well that's not the only reason. It'll be a good record. It has four songs and a skit as the engineer who worked on it said.
N: Who are the other hot non-wordless groups in Toronto.
D: Non-wordless? You did a double negative there, you threw me off. You mean, who do I like or who are the most popular?
N: Well you mentioned The Pursuit of Happiness and the Corndogs and...
D: I never mentioned the Corndogs.
N: Well you wanted to mention the Corndogs.
D: No I didn't.
N: Because they are your favorite band.
D: I don't even dream about the Corndogs.
N: Your favourite band is the Corndogs. You'd love to get a hold of their super-duper mic that was used to record their album.
D: I would say my favourite band right now in town is Change Of Heart.
N: Why? Because they are on Cargo Records?
D: No, as a matter of fact that was totally coincidental. There is another group in town called Scott B. Sympathy who are really great who almost put out an album on Cargo and it was just coincidence and that was one reason we said Cargo is a pretty great label to go with because two of our favourite bands in town are going to be putting out records with them.
N: And you like the Asexuals and Ray Condo, too, probably.
D: A like Ray Condo very much.
N: Because they're on Cargo Records too.
D: No. We've know Ray Condo for a very long time.
N: Thanks, Donny, and keep on rocking in the free world.