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North stars 

Just in time for the holidays, seminal Halifax band North of America reunites for two shows.

In the post-Sloan Halifax of the late ’90s and early part of the present decade, it was a little tricky for some to pinpoint a band that defined the music scene. Old vanguards were moving to Toronto, while other acts like The Super Friendz, Plumtree and Thrush Hermit were disbanding. The days when music media called Halifax the new Seattle were long gone.

It wasn’t such a tough call for me; I had North of America.

Their spidery guitars, tough rhythms and varied vocal styles---they did, as Mark Colavecchia describes it, “the Halifax thing” of having all members sing---created an instantly recognizable sound that caught on locally, nationally and throughout the world. They came out of the gate in 1998 with melodic indie rock thrills, subsequently incorporating math rock moves into a sound that was always evolving.

On hiatus for more than three years, the band is returning with all five past members---Colavecchia, Michael Catano, Jay LaPointe (only for the Marquee show), Jim MacAlpine and Mark Mullane---to play two reunion shows over the holiday season. “I have no idea if the people who used to come to our shows are even around anymore. But I think it should be pretty fun, whatever happens. We’ve played tons of shows where nobody came,” says Colavecchia, who has lived in British Columbia for the last five years.

The group’s origins go back to the early ’90s, when Catano and Mullane were co-hosting a radio show, The Heat, on CKDU and performing in The State Champs, a band that specialized in a slacker brand of indie rock. After enlisting LaPointe to play bass for a late incarnation of The State Champs, they were able to corral Colavecchia---a regular listener to The Heat---from the audience at LaPointe’s debut performance.

The ensuing years saw many highs and some lows. There were numerous tours across North America and Europe and a wealth of excellent recordings released on a whole slew of international labels. LaPointe left the group following their amazing 2001 album This is Dance Floor Numerology to focus on other musical pursuits---which now includes being one of Halifax’s most in-demand sound engineers. He was replaced by Colavecchia’s high school chum Jim MacAlpine, who didn’t have to think twice about quitting his golf course job in Calgary to join the band.

Following 2003’s Brothers, Sisters, North of America went on an indefinite hiatus, interrupted only by a three-week tour in 2005. “It was me pushing for that 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,” says Mullane, who has served as a director on numerous CBC programs.

In hindsight, MacAlpine sees this as the right decision for the band, but still feels it would’ve been nice if things could’ve continued. “We fucked it up, I think. There’s bands in the position that we were in then touring now. There are a lot of shittier bands doing more than we ever did because they get out there and play.”

Mullane still speaks fondly about North of America and what it has meant to him as a person. “It defined me. Pretty much everything I’ve done in life has been a result of this band. I’ve met some of my best friends through this band. I think that it’s definitely impacted me in where I choose to live and the career choices I’ve made. I owe so much to this band. It’s made me who I am today.”

Catano makes his allegiances clear. “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. I would drop everything and totally screw my life up.”

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