Canadian Bands You Should Know: Change of Heart

Change of Heart was an integral and iconic force in the so-called Can-rock renaissance of the 80s and 90s. The band appeared at a time when Canadian music was in a state of flux, lost somewhere between the bucolic folk-rock of the boomer generation, and the burst of creativity that would propel independent Canadian music onto the world stage over the last decade. Ian Blurton, the group’s one consistent member, has also become an icon of Canadian rock. With his mesh hats, long hair and scraggly beard, his image is almost as well known as the music he creates.

Blurton founded Change of Heart in the early 80s at a time when “punk rock was dying and post-punk was just starting.” The band was part of the Queen Street West music scene in Toronto that birthed a wide array of music from well-known groups like the Rheostatics and the Cowboy Junkies, to heroin cowboy Handsome Ned and punk rockers the Rent Boys. Change of Heart may be the prototypical Queen Street West group however, not just for their longevity (the band lasted nearly two decades) or output (six albums from 1986's 50 Ft. Up to their 1997 swan song, Steel Teeth, in addition to cassettes, twelve inches, seven inches and assorted singles), but for the diversity of their sound that reflected not just the eclecticism of their scene, but the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of their home town.

Early albums, from 50 Ft. Up to 1989’s Soapbox, show a band influenced by 80s underground music trying to develop their own voice. While the songwriting is not as uniformly consistent as on later albums, these records feature a wide variety of experiments as the band comes into their own. Integral to the band’s development during the early years was their relentless touring schedule, that found Change of Heart performing across the country with everyone from SNFU to Hawkwind.

1992’s Smile is generally considered the band's magnum opus. Named after The Beach Boys' legendary lost record, this double album is packed with 21 songs that found the band expanding their sound and including keyboards for the first time. From the gospel-tinged “Coma” to the Stones-indebted “Biggest Wave”, as well as their only Top 40 single, the folky “There You Go”, the album was a unique statement at the height of the grunge era. The album has become regarded as a classic since its release, with Chart Magazine naming it the 41st best Canadian album of all time in 2000.

The band stumbled upon a huge break in 1994 when they won $100,000 from CFNY in a Discovery Disc contest for their single “Herstory”, which they allegedly rushed to the station 15 minutes before the submission deadline. The band used the money to pay off debts and remix their classic Tummysuckle album from the same year, which was recorded prior to the contest. That album continued the diverse yet accessible sound of Smile, from the dubby opener “Theme”, to the 60 second blast of pop-punk “Away Goodbye”, to the phased out vocal effects of the brooding “What My Paws Can”, the album featured a wide array of sounds.

After the disappointing Steel Teeth, Change of Heart called it quits, but Blurton carried on in groups such as Bionic (with ex-Doughboy Jonathan Cummins), Blurtonia (also featuring Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning on bass and vocals), and C'mon, his best known post-Change of Heart project. Featuring a much heavier, fuzzed out 70s hard rock sound, Blurton founded the group with former Nashville Pussy bassist Katie Lynn Campbell in 2003, releasing four albums between 2004 and 2010. Bolstered by Blurton’s contention that “you’re only as good as your last show,” the band was known for incendiary live sets in which Blurton would walk across bar tables blasting five minute guitar solos.  
Besides playing music, Blurton has become an in-demand record producer, a skill initially developed during his association with Toronto’s Chemical Sound studio. Amongst the dozens of artists he has produced are Amy Millan, Tricky Woo, the Rheostatics and the Weakerthans.

Most recently, Blurton reformed Change of Heart for several reunion shows in Ontario and Quebec in the fall of 2012 to coincide with There You Go ’82-‘97, a recent retrospective of the group’s material released on Sonic Unyon. The mini-tour culminated with a series of five shows at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto featuring members from different eras of the band’s history. After 30 years of touring, recording, and producing music, Blurton has left an undeniable imprint on Canadian music. With the recent focus on his legacy, his role in the development of an independent Canadian music scene may become more widely appreciated.

– Mike Roxman

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