TORONTO - The past decade hasn't been an entirely peaceful time for Our Lady Peace.
Frontman Raine Maida concedes that diminishing record sales, a hobbled industry and an occasional feeling of creative aimlessness brought the Toronto band closer to the brink of a breakup than they've otherwise been in nearly 20 years of playing together.
But Maida says the venerable alt-rock quartet stayed united in large part because they could sense a creative breakthrough was around the corner, and he feels they've found it with new disc, "Curve."
"I think the last 10 years were probably the most tumultuous, and we never broke up because even when we were really on the cusp of it — of walking away from this — because we hadn't made this record," Maida said during a recent interview in Toronto.
"I think we all really knew in our hearts we hadn't got there yet."
Maida feels the band has finally nailed its target on "Curve," largely doing so by blocking out commercial ambition.
The transformative process began the first time the band got into a room with producer Jason Lader (known for helming discs by Maroon 5, Rilo Kiley and Elvis Costello), who was blunt in summing up his thoughts on some of the material the band was working with at the time.
And Maida said it was crude candour, not tact, that the band needed.
"It's like when you're in a relationship for a long time with someone — it gets harder and harder to pull the right things out of people," he said. "I can only push Jeremy (Taggart) so hard as a drummer and he's only going to say certain things to me as a lyricist ... it's all baby steps.
"But then we brought Jason in and it's like no baby steps. No filter. 'This sucks. You guys don't listen to this kind of music, why would you make a record like this? Let's challenge you.'"
For Maida, the process meant revisiting records that inspired him — early Peter Gabriel and David Bowie — to draw inspiration. The band pushed to find deeper grooves, unusual rhythms and new textures, adding keyboards (or guitars that sounded like keyboards) and new vocal wrinkles to subtly tweak their sound.
It was important to Maida that the band not stray too far from their traditional sound — "we're not going to go hire an orchestra or a tuba player or a bunch of other people to make this eclectic," he says — but instead push it forward on the new record.
Largely, the new tunes sound a little subtler, a little funkier. The supple "Window Seat" — inspired in part by time spent peering through panes while enduring tour travel — slowly heats to a boil, "Fire in the Hen House" dances atop a nimble bassline while album-closer "Mettle" mixes spoken-word recordings over delicately plucked guitar strings.
The recordings in question came from conversations conducted with 74-year-old Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo. Maida — a lifelong fan of boxing and mixed martial arts — went to Chuvalo's home with a tape recorder to talk about the boxer's life (a sepia-toned image of the durable pugilist adorns the album's cover), which was racked with hardship. Chuvalo lost three of his sons to suicide or addiction and his first wife also took her own life.
"There's so much depth to George," Maida said. "He's a fighter in and out of the ring."
Maida drew comparisons between Chuvalo's struggles and the lean years that the band has been through.
The rockers peaked commercially with 1997's "Clumsy," a diamond-certified smash in Canada that racked up platinum sales south of the border as well.
In the years following, the group didn't show much interest in trying to capitalize on that album's marquee sales, issuing the more experimental "Happiness...Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch" in '99 and the downright esoteric "Spiritual Machines" a year later.
The three albums that followed — 2002's "Gravity," 2005's "Healthy in Paranoid Times" and 2009's "Burn Burn" — each managed at least gold sales in Canada, but Our Lady Peace had relinquished its status as a reliable alt-rock hit-maker, particularly in the U.S.
And somewhere along the way, Maida felt that the group lost the trust of its record company.
"There have been times where we pretty much said it was done, times when we fired a producer, a producer quit, there's been a lot of struggles. When I look back on it, on the last 10 years, it's been a bit of a battle," said Maida, clad in a dark denim jacket, with a toque pulled down over his forehead.
"Throughout our career up until the last two records on Columbia ('Gravity' and 'Healthy'), they kind of us let us do what we want ... but then as things got more serious and profits slipped for them, all of a sudden they're like: 'We don't hear a single.'
"And we hadn't heard that before.... There was a bunch of singles that we had that werne't conventional. All of a sudden we got put in this box."
Now, the band releases its albums independently with major-label distribution.
The arrangement has been freeing, Maida said.
"It's just a really interesting thing when you're finally away from it. We thought we had our independence (before), but there was still these subconscious pressures affecting what we did."
Maida, clearly, is thrilled with the band's newest record, the culmination of what Our Lady Peace has been working toward for much of the past turbulent decade.
But if, as Maida says, the band stayed together in part because they were subconsciously searching for "Curve," where do they go next?
"Now that we're able to get here, it's like now we understand the next 10 years," Maida said. "You can see that landscape in front of you.
"It's more exciting than ever. Because we just feel like now we touched on where this band can go, and I think everybody's already excited really just to get back to the studio."