Photo by Braden Bygrave
Between the years of 1996 and 2009, more than five million Canadians purchased CD copies of a hugely popular compilation series sanctioned by cable TV network MuchMusic. The album was called Big Shiny Tunes, and each volume featured the likes of international heavyweights like Radiohead, Marilyn Manson and Blink-182, balanced with a Cancon-pleasing number of Canadian acts like I Mother Earth, Matthew Good Band and Billy Talent. And like any successful franchise, it reached number 14 before fans lost interest – or in this case, fans realized they could illegally download all 20 tracks for free from Soulseek, once it was uploaded.
In Canada, Big Shiny Tunes was a gateway to discovering alternative rock, and to this day it still resonates with the generations that bought those CDs. (One music journalist is even writing a book about the first installment.) And so you don’t just go and name your band Big Shiny Tunes because it sounds good (because it’s a terrible name). You name your band Big Shiny Tunes because you grew up in Canada listening to those comps and you want to play those songs live. Or at least that was the idea behind a four-piece from Brantford that regularly writes pop-punk tunes under the name Harbour. The members of Harbour unexpectedly formed Big Shiny Tunes in early 2015 when they realized they had a set’s worth of covers, after adding a new one to each Harbour set they played. After a few shows, they chose to name the covers band after the comps to avoid Harbour getting pigeonholed as “that band that does all the pop-punk covers.” We asked singer/guitarist Jamie Mittendorf to explain why this defunct run of CD comps was so inspirational for him and his band.
Noisey: What made you name your band after the defunct compilation series?
Jamie Mittendorf: When you think of Big Shiny Tunes, you think of late ’90s/early ’00s pop-punk, pop-rock, and mainstream rock. We focus on the pop-punk and pop-rock side of the spectrum, but, I think we should learn Nickelback`s “How You Remind Me.” I think people would lose their minds.
Do you remember the first volume you ever bought?
Big Shiny Tunes 4 was the first one I bought in 1999, back when you had to buy a compilation record to hear all your favourite songs on one CD. I remember having to buy a second copy because I wore out my first copy.
What kind of impact did these comps have on helping you define your musical taste?
I would`ve been nine or ten when my parents bought the first Big Shiny Tunes record, so I wasn’t really familiar with a lot of these bands - especially the Canadian bands. I remember listening to “Mistake” by Serial Joe and thinking what an awesome song that was. Little did I know they were from Toronto and probably not much older than I was. It sort of made me realize that bands have to begin somewhere and they don’t start off as these huge rock stars or become so overnight. It definitely gave me the motivation to pick up a guitar, start a band and play shows. I was young but I learned at a young age that anything is possible.
If you could compile a brand new Big Shiny Tunes album what five songs from the past year would you put on it?
This is an awesome question…
What artists do you perform from the Big Shiny Tunes series?
I’m currently on Wikipedia looking up the track listings of each record. We do at least one song off of almost every Big Shiny Tunes record. Like Blink-182, Yellowcard, Green Day, Blur, Gob, Wheatus, New Found Glory, Simple Plan, My Chemical Romance, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Bowling For Soup, the Used, and so much more. I won’t mention song titles because we like to keep people guessing on what they’ll hear when they come to a show.
What is the one Big Shiny Tune that always gets the crowd pumped?
“Sugar, We’re Going Down” by Fall Out Boy and “All The Small Things” by Blink-182. People seem to have the most energy during those songs. We typically end with “All The Small Things” and at the end of the song there are 20 people on stage and the mics are somewhere in the pit.
Seeing as Big Shiny Tunes was a Canadian comp and had to comply with Cancon rules, what are your favourite Canadian songs to play?
Gob is always fun to play, but you don’t see the younger kids singing along. It’s usually the older folks. Simple Plan is fun too. There are always people singing and dancing along.
How strict is your policy about playing non-Big Shiny Tunes?
We typically throw in a couple original Harbour tunes, simply because we can and no one’s telling us otherwise. There are also some covers that aren’t on any Big Shiny Tunes records, but the crowd seems to love them.
Do you take requests?
Sometimes. If it’s something that we know, we will definitely do it. If someone yells “Freebird,” we will ask them politely, yet firmly, to leave.
Big Shiny Tunes play Adelaide Hall in Toronto on September 2 along with Back Throw (covering Sum 41) and Lost Innocence (covering the Offspring). Original music sucks.
Cam Lindsay is a writer in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.