Mark Mullane has a job to do: For the next month, the former North of America singer and guitarist has his work cut out re-learning chord progressions and guitar tunings that, 20 years ago, in the midst of a whirlwind punk career, he hadn’t quite written down. Or if he did, that is, between European tours and EP recordings, they weren’t kept in any fashion that could be referenced, say, in the event of a long-awaited reunion. Like the one North of America is having in a few weeks, here, in the city where their music dreams began.
“I’m kicking myself for not making videos of me playing the songs,” Mullane jokes, speaking by phone with The Coast, “but they’re coming back to me pretty quickly.”
For the first time since 2010, Mullane will join his old bandmates in Halifax for a hometown reunion show. North of America is playing a pair of concerts at Dartmouth’s Woodside Tavern on Nov. 17 and 18, with a third show still in the works. Tickets sold out for the first two shows, but there’s a waiting list for the third. (Guitarist Jim MacAlpine was deadpan in his show announcement: “Well there’s a poster so it must be happening,” he wrote on Instagram.)
It’s a concert six years in the making, according to Mullane:
“We did a bunch of reunion shows back in 2017: We played Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton one weekend, and then Toronto and Montreal the next weekend. And the idea was to play Halifax the next weekend—but it never happened. So we definitely feel like we owe it to all of our friends and everyone here who wants to see us play.
“The emotions are just pure, unadulterated excitement at this point… the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
It would be impossible to tell the story of Halifax’s late ‘90s music scene without North of America. In the wake of bands like Sloan, Thrush Hermit, Plumtree, The Super Friendz and jale—who graced the first-ever cover of The Coast in 1993—the band helped to define Halifax’s next musical era after the pop explosion that briefly gave the city the moniker “Seattle of the North.” Their style was, at once, chaotic and inviting: It pushed you from behind into the mosh pit and said, “Let it out.” All of the band-members sang—“and none of us can sing,” drummer Mike Catano joked with Ox Fanzine. (Vice’s Adria Young described NOA’s music as “logical but melody-driven, almost-screamo math rock.”) Credit college radio for the band’s origins: In the early ‘90s, Mullane and Catano, high-schoolers and bandmates in The State Champs, co-hosted a show on CKDU 88.1 FM called The Heat.
“It was a lot of My Bloody Valentine, Swirlies, Pavement, Fugazi, Shellac… that kind of stuff,” Mullane says. “We just couldn’t wait for [CKDU] to get new records in every week. We’d be looking in the general manager’s office, like, ‘Can we take this for our show?’ And they’re like, ‘It’s not catalogued yet.’ We were so psyched just to hear things.”
It was thanks to their radio show that Mullane and Catano were able to recruit bassist and drummer Mark Colavecchia, a regular listener, to join the band along with J. LaPointe. From there, North of America was born. What followed was a dream run: The band released eight albums and EPs between 1998 and 2003, touring North America and Europe from Halifax to Kentucky to Munich.
“We did way more than our fair share of sleeping on floors and playing to nobody, or having two great shows in a row and then a really bad show. But just learning how to navigate that and live with each other—and I think it’s a testament that we’re still friends and want to do these shows [today],” Mullane adds.
LaPointe left the band after 2001’s This is Dance Floor Numerology. In came MacAlpine, a high school friend of Colavecchia’s, who was working at a golf course in Calgary at the time. The offer to join North of America and play shows across the UK, France, Germany and Italy was an easy sell. But by the time of 2003’s Brothers, Sisters, the band’s tour schedule had begun to take its toll. They went on a hiatus that has lasted… well, pretty much until now. Other than 2010’s 1234567890—a nine-track cassette of unreleased material from over the years—North of America hasn’t released another project.
“It was me pushing for that [hiatus],” Mullane told The Coast in 2008, “just because I felt I needed time to work on my job—and it’s hard to do both when you have a band wanting to tour all the time. And I always want to be touring, too, but I was married at the time and trying to do stuff with television.” (Mullane, now a realtor in Dartmouth, spent 14 years producing and directing shows ranging from This Hour Has 22 Minutes to Street Cents.)
Since NOA’s disbanding, the band has relinked and split and relinked again for reunion shows more times than a well-loved and mended jacket—and each time, with the same warm reception. But those reunions are harder to coordinate these days: Mullane and LaPointe are the only members who still call Halifax home, and Mullane is married with a son. (He also plays in the Dartmouth punk band Cryptorips, self-described as “the thoughtless mindfulness of truth, power and rock’n’roll.”) Catano spent several years between Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, working as a bike builder and podcast producer. He now lives in Toronto, where he and MacAlpine still make music together—the two play in the bands Kestrels, Natural Light and Vanishing Hand. Colavecchia works as a labour lawyer in Vancouver.
“Everyone knows to come prepared,” Mullane says. “You’ve got two days to rehearse. But we’ve already started working on things at home, and there’s a lot of muscle memory involved.”
The kinship is certainly still there. “If one day those guys—regardless of me having a really successful career in this fantasy land where I have a great job and satisfying life—if they said they wanted to do another tour or make another record, I’d probably do it at the drop of a hat,” Catano told The Coast in 2008. “I would drop everything and totally screw my life up.”
For now, Mullane and his bandmates are content to get together, once more, in the city where it all started—and put on a show to remember. All five of the NOA members will join the reunion. There are plans, even, to play songs from the catalogue that they’ve never performed live before.
“I think we’re going for more good vibes than technical proficiency,” Mullane jokes. “That’s going to keep us on our toes.”
Mostly, it will be a joy to get together once again.
“Even though we’re all doing different things in life, I think we’re all still relatively the same people that started the band,” Mullane says. “We still like to play music. I think in a lot of bands, some people go off and never pick up their guitar again. We’re not that band. All five of us have continued to play throughout our entire lives. And I think that’s rare.”
—With files from Andrew Robinson and Stephanie Johns.