Limblifter Are Back to Reclaim Their CanRock Legacy

If you ever owned one of Much Music’s beloved Big Shiny Tunes CDs — and, come on, of course you did — you probably remember Limblifter. A huge part of Canada’s alternative rock boom in the ’90s, brothers Ryan and Kurt Dahle seemed poised for superstardom. With hits “Tinfoil” and “Screwed It Up” spawned from their 1996 self-titled debut, they had Canadian audiences in their back pocket.

But circumstances out of their control sidetracked the band and ultimately led to their breakup. Kurt Dahle went on to concentrate on The New Pornographers while Ryan continued to write and produce on his own.

Now, Limblifter is back to work with a new lineup featuring bassist Megan Bradfield, drummer Eric Breitenbach and keyboardist Gregory Macdonald. With a cross-country tour in the bag and a new album in the works, they’re out to prove they’re far more than just another nostalgia act.

Following Limblifter’s recent apperance at the Toronto Urban Roots Festival, we sat down with Ryan Dahle to talk his band’s alternative roots and the past and future colliding.

So the Limblifter tour is almost over. Did you take the show all across Canada?

We just flew here and there. Hand-picked shows. Just fly in somewhere, play some shows, fly out. So we haven’t really toured straight across. That’s such a huge commitment. It has to make sense. And right now, it just doesn’t. Not for us, not right now. We only want to play shows where it’s fun and we don’t lose money. And it means something to us. We’ve done a lot of touring over the years and everyone has a lot of other things going on. So we want to make sure that everything we do feels special to us.

Yesterday, for instance, we played on The Strombo Show and did a cover of “50 Mission Cap” at [George Stroumboulopoulos’s] house. He’s doing a 30th anniversary Tragically Hip thing. So that was fun. The day before we played the Horseshoe. It was great. Really fun.

What was it like revisiting the material from your debut record? 

We were just copying Sloan who were doing that. I mean, whatever gets people excited, we’re there. We just played the whole first album [1996’s Limblifter], then we’d do some new songs and songs from our second album Bellaclava and from our third record I/O.

It was kind of good to do that, though. It made us make sure we knew that record. I think we’re going to learn the whole catalogue. I don’t mind the nostalgia part of it. I’m not embarrassed to play songs I wrote a long time ago. I’m not Thom Yorke not wanting to play “Creep.” I wish I had that song. If I had that I would play it every fuckin’ night!

Shut up and play the hits!

Yeah. But I can see his point as you want to focus on new material. You just kind of want to move on. If he’s not feeling it for some reason, it would be only his emotions that would gauge it. It’s not all logistics. It’s your own emotion. 

But for the most part I do feel like we should play at least a few of the popular songs. Like if someone selects a song and decides that that’s your “Creep” that’s cool. But we don’t really have that song. That song that was insanely big. We just a had a few small songs.

Hardly small. You had tracks on the biggest-selling compilations in Canadian history, Big Shiny Tunes. You were a big part of the alternative boom in the ’90s. 

Funny because we thought we were alternative to “alternative.” When people talk about us as being part of this CanRock scene in the ’90s, I always think “I don’t think we sounded like any of those bands.” A lot of them I don’t mind at all but others were the antithesis of what we were about. So I don’t see the correlation sometimes. People are so ready to lump music together. “Let’s take a whole era of music and say that that’s ’90s music.” What? There were so many different streams of music.

Who did you count as your contemporaries?

We loved Sloan. We loved Superfriendz. And Flashing Lights. Pursuit of Happiness. I love the Tragically Hip. A lot of things. We were pretty positive about music. But a lot of music we didn’t like. We were using words and using music in a different way than all of the bands we were lumped in with.

So you didn’t relate to I Mother Earth or Our Lady Peace or The Watchmen?

No. Those are bands I never really related to. Musically or as people. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with them. I met Edwin a few times and he was nice. I just never had a friendship with them or really related to their music.

Do you feel pressure to live up to that ‘90s legacy? 

I don’t know. All I can do is live in the moment and the next thing I can do. I really don’t know what affects legacy. I guess maybe if I had died a little bit earlier it would have been a bigger deal. I still love going out and playing and existing.