Our Lady War & Peace: Q&A with Raine Maida


Raine Maida was at Sheridan earlier this month. This is why he came. Click to read print version.

Raine Maida was at Sheridan earlier this month. This is why he came. Click to read print version.

by Ryan Bolton

Raine Maida is a man who really doesn’t need an introduction. But he’s going to get one nonetheless. The frontman of Canada’s long-lasting alternative rock band, Our Lady Peace, Maida’s emphatic voice and cryptic lyrics have touched our generation. We all know him and his band’s songs. But something a lot of us might not know about Maida is twofold. One, he does a lot of behind the scenes work with numerous Canadian indie bands. Even with Avril Lavigne. But of more interest to us, and why he’s coming to Sheridan to chat about respect, is his work with the international charity, War Child. Just a warning: He has an explicit view on the choices you make after you graduate.

TRAVIS: There are myriad NGOs within Toronto itself. Personally, I work with Free The Children. Why did you choose to align yourself so tightly with War Child?

My life is really defined by people. And people running an NGO are quite vital to the life of a child. The people at War Child and I have become very good friends and I got to know them intimately and how they run their programming. Not to sum it up in one statistic, but 90 per cent of their funds go to actual programs. That’s a big step for a majority of NGOs out there. But anyone doing that kind of work is doing good; I’m not throwing punches at all. I’m just incredibly impressed with War Child and that even as they have grown as a charity that they haven’t made any changes to that percentage. For someone who has never been involved in it, it’s gratifying; and for someone who is just giving $40, it’s an emotional moment.

Well, since we are on the subject, you have traveled to places like Darfur, Iraq and Ethiopia to shoot documentaries with War Child. I assume all these places touched you in one way or another, but what really stands out in what you saw and learned in these countries?

You see the power of smaller grassroots charities making headway, especially in Darfur, Sudan. Whether it’s CARE or UNICEF, there’s a whole community there because it’s definitely been a hot spot over the last five years. It’s really interesting because we went there – it was just myself, War Child and George Stroumboulopoulos – because War Child Canada hadn’t had a program there. War Child just really involves itself with local projects, and what that does is it sets up an infrastructure for when they pull out. It does sound cliché and it’s a buzzword, but they provide sustainability once they leave, and that can’t be said for a lot of the big charities. That’s another thing that really attracted me to [War Child]. So that’s what we did, we interviewed lots of different people who are in Darfur and found the right NGOs that are still there, but a lot of people have unfortunately fled the community because of the violence. Especially in a situation like that, in an IDP (internally displaced person) camp there’s a lot of children that aren’t able to go to school. But War Child really works on the social development, and they don’t have the funds and resources to drop bags of rice, but on more of a social level what they are out there doing is extraordinary. And it’s really amazing to see people like CARE funnel some of their own money to help support War Child and their social programs, because they are so impressed.

Being able to travel the world over and see some of these issues, in your opinion, what is the biggest humanitarian crisis that we currently face as a global community?

I think human rights issues. In this day and age, we are 10 or 12 years since globalization became a buzzword and same with global village. But there’s a really unbearable sadness that you see in these countries. Like in Darfur, there’s not a lot of attention being paid. I mean it gets a little buzz every now and then. It’s a blip on the radar and you get CNN talking about it. But really, you’re talking about – I don’t even know what the numbers are anymore – but a few million people displaced and the death tolls are whack and not even close to what they truly are. It’s just so disheartening to see what’s going on with the Janjaweed and the word really isn’t getting out there. I just don’t know what it is – I guess it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” It’s tough. The awareness issue is a very real problem for human rights.

I am very fortunate to be able to travel. It’s more of a gift, the fact that I have been exposed to that. The first time landing in Iraq, that was a defining moment in my life. In a very profound way it changed the direction of my life. I think you’re right, if a lot of people had that chance to go, obviously it would have a similar effect on them.


The Interview Continued. Click to read print version.

The Interview Continued. Click to read print version.

Let’s change gears a little bit. Something a lot of people probably don’t know about you is that you do a lot of work with a boatload of Canadian indie bands. Such as, Die Mannequin, Billy the Kid, People in Planes and the Australian duo, The Veronicas. How important is helping out upcoming talent to you?

I don’t know if I see it as having a responsibility to do it; I do it because I really enjoy the process of working with these younger artists and helping them. I remember being in that position and there was a moment where I wish someone would have stepped in… We had the worst musical contract in the world and we could have used some advice. There are a lot of questions that they have, besides the music and the writing, and that part of it is where I help out as well.

In your bio, you wrote something that caught my attention. You said, “I feel as though I am a witness and the armed robbery is life happening right before my very eyes.” What are you saying here?

Having been to Iraq, a lot of times you sort of feel helpless. I mean, I’ve been involved as an advocate of human rights abuses in Darfur for the last five years. But essentially nothing changes; actually things have gotten worse. So no matter what time and energy I put in and no matter what programs that have developed there, the situation is still worse, so eventually you feel like you’re stuck watching something before your eyes and you can’t do much about it. It gets to be a little dark sometimes, but I find a lot of strength and inspiration from the people that do it everyday.

Like K’naan, who is also coming to speak at Sheridan about respect, you’re a lover of spoken word. Sometimes more so than music you have said. Why is this?

I think there’s something very relevant and poignant about spoken word. I think what they put in a poem or a spoken word piece, there’s really so much there. Nothing is compromised; it’s very relevant. A friend of mine will be on the bus writing something in the afternoon and he gets on stage that night and just gives this performance, and songs rarely work out like that. You just can’t be as relevant as a spoken word poet. Their whole purpose is about being timely. You just feed off the energy, whether it’s politics or social and that’s why I kind of gravitated towards in the last five years. You can’t help but get chills, and I did get that with music when I was younger and still do sometimes, but every time I see a spoken word artist, I’m blown away. I’m truly blown away.

As a long-lasting professional musician and a social activist, how important is the topic of respect to you?

It should be something that is inherent, ingrained. It might sound lame, but something like respecting your elders. Culturally, where we have gotten to, we diminish the importance of elders. Obviously, environmentally, we don’t have a lot of respect for that either. It’s all encompassing. Respect is such a monumental word, really. I think you’re finding a new generation that is understanding that a little bit more and starting to take care of that word a little more and maybe absorbing it a little into their soul, into their character. And I see it when I talk to schools and communities. I see it in volunteering. I was at a debate last night for a bi-election in Toronto and I saw a lot of younger people there, really getting engaged. I think the more intelligent youth that are engaged, the better off this country and world is going to be. 

We were just talking about a whack of stuff there with the environment, human rights and respect, but what is your answer to a lot of the bullshit that is happening in the world today?

The only way to make change is to get people engaged. And I really think that your generation really holds the candle for the hope of the future. Yeah, so what year are you in at school? Are you in your final year?

Yeah, I just finished up my last year. I now work with Free The Children.

So yeah, you have to decide where will you go. When you leave school, are you going to challenge the status quo? That’s really the most important thing. The only hurdle you really have to answer to is, ‘What kind of life are you looking to lead?’ Is it about getting the stable job and mortgage and maybe a wife and kids by the time you’re 30? Because if those are your goals, and that’s what modern society is going towards, then you’re not going to see any change. Because as soon as you start to take on those responsibilities, they begin to chip away at your ‘fuck you attitude’ that you guys have when you’re young. The challenge is to get wisdom, but to keep that attitude – and that’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve seen many people worn down by that. I don’t want to say they gave up the fight, but definitely stopped. I hate to use war as an analogy, because I’m not a proponent of war, but it really is war. It’s a war of words and a war of ideas. And I haven’t left the ‘fuck you attitude’ – I don’t like to use that word – but it really is that. You need to have that. You have to have that rebelliousness that drives you from not taking “no” for an answer.

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