Envy of None’s debut album dropped earlier this month and the response has been a tale of two eras. In one corner, we have the lifelong Rush Rats disappointed that Alex Lifeson’s new project doesn’t sound like the second coming of “Moving Pictures.” In the other, we have those willing to give the album a chance based on the quality of the musicians involved and the fact that Lifeson deserves the benefit of the doubt after his decades of service to the classic rock canon.
For me, I haven’t been able to stop listening since I cracked the seal on the CD, but I’m also old enough to have experienced the majesty of Rush live yet still young enough to appreciate the alternative influences such as Nine Inch Nails and Garbage that contribute to the album’s overall vibe.
The bottom line is that Lifeson, bassist Andy Curran (Coney Hatch), guitarist Alfio Annibalini, and vocalist Maiah Wynne have crafted one of the finest albums of 2022 thus far, and you’d be depriving yourself of the opportunity to hear something new if you allow the message boards to taint your opinion.
I caught up with Andy Curran this week to discuss how the project came together as well as why Maiah’s performance has positioned her as a star in the making, so, if my endorsement hasn’t sold you, perhaps his will.
MNOD: I’ve had this album for two weeks now and can’t get enough of it. Given the buzz around Alex’s involvement and fan expectations regarding what his post-Rush work would sound like, what has the response been so far?
Curran: We’re pretty excited about the response so far. This project was four years in the making and it’s really a labor of love. The positive reaction from the public has been nice to see, because there have also been some vocal minorities from the diehard Rush fans that aren’t pleased with the sound. They wanted it sound like Rush or Coney Hatch and this is not that at all.
MNOD: How did the project initially come together?
Curran: Alex and I have been friends since the early ’80s, but we had never discussed doing anything together until this. During COVID, he asked me to play bass on tracks that he was working on that were released in June 2021 and then it ended up becoming something more than that when I started working with Maiah. That really ignited the whole thing. I sent him some demos and he connected with Maiah’s voice instantly. What we love about this album is that there are definite electronic and industrial influences that people probably didn’t expect from us, which is liberating. We’re all music fans at our core, so going into a different style than what people were used to was easy for us.
MNOD: Maiah gives what I consider a star-making performance throughout this album. How did you first come to meet her?
Curran: I agree that she really shines on this album. She was 21 when we met and I knew she was really special. I had been asked to judge an online music contest featuring various contestants that she won and the prize was a Zoom mentoring call. I had no expectations for the call to be anything beyond just mentoring, but then it became a creative collaboration. I started sending her instrumental tracks that I had done and she would write lyrics or compose melodies for them. After quietly working on that for a while, I then sent them to Alex and he was impressed, so they started working together, as well.
MNOD: Because the creation of this album took place during a pandemic, was there a moment where you were all able to be in the same room together?
Curran: Three of us are living in the Greater Toronto Area while Maiah is from Portland, Oregon, so we were only together at the beginning and at the end.
MNOD: This album sounds as if it would fit perfectly on modern alternative radio. Have there been any stations picking up on it to this point?
Curran: I think you’re right about that. Sonically, this album does have that modern alternative sound and there have been stations in Canada that have played it.
MNOD: Dog’s Life is my favorite track, because the guitar is at its most menacing. What’s the story behind that one?
Curran: That’s one of my favorites, too. It was a last-minute addition to the album, because we thought we could use one more track. We had ‘Liar’ and ‘Enemy’ that had a darker edge to them, so ‘Dog’s Life’ fit right into that. I used a bass sequencer to plant the seed for that song. The title came from the idea of working yourself to the bone and also the undying loyalty of a dog. We’re all animal lovers, so the title worked. The song has a very industrial Depeche Mode vibe to it, but it also has that darker ‘Clockwork Angels’ era guitar tone to it that is the closest Rush fans will get to the Alex Lifeson they know on this album. Also, having Joe Vitale play drums on the track was a highlight for me, because I’ve always loved his work on Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and ‘Life’s Been Good.’
MNOD: Before I had even heard the first song, the cover art drew me in. What’s the story behind that photo?
Curran: The album was finished, but we needed a cover. I’m really into going down rabbit holes on the Internet looking for things and I came across a thread of photography from Eli Rezkallah in Lebanon whose work I really liked. He has a gallery called Plastik and I was immediately drawn in. I shared them with Alex and Maiah, and they liked them, as well. We used this particular image for the cover without really having a specific idea of what it was supposed to mean. Alex and I are fans of Storm Thorgerson, who designed covers for Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and those images really have nothing to do with the music on the album. They’re eye candy in a lot of ways and intended to get people thinking about what the meaning behind them could be. That’s really what the cover of this album is.
MNOD: I assume that large-scale touring probably isn’t in the cards, but has there been any discussion about playing a handful of shows in the future?
Curran: Alex has done his share of touring with Rush and I’ve done a bunch with Coney Hatch through the years, but we have talked about playing some shows. We’ve thought about how great these songs would sound live and, while it’s not at the top of the list, it’s definitely a possibility.
MNOD: On the Coney Hatch front, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first album, so I was wondering if you guys have discussed doing anything to commemorate the occasion.
Curran: We’d love to do something. We’re all spread out now, so it can be challenging to get together at times. During the pandemic, I did come across some rarities and old recordings from a show we played at the Agora in Cleveland that would be cool to get out there. We actually have a show in Waterloo, ON coming up this Friday (April 22) and I know we had a show in Buffalo scheduled with Kim Mitchell just before the pandemic hit, so hopefully things align to make that happen this summer. One of the things I did during the pandemic was purge a bunch of stuff that I didn’t need anymore and, while doing that, I found a bunch of band photos and lyrics that I donated to the University of Toronto’s collection. Bands like Rush and Triumph have also done that, so it’s really cool to be able to contribute to that and have the legacy live on.
Envy of None’s debut album is available now on Kscope Records.
See http://www.envyofnone.com for details.