The Rise and Fall of Serial Joe
Fans of a certain age in the Greater Toronto Area, and perhaps other parts of Canada, will have certain memories and nostalgia when I mention this band: Serial Joe.
The band received the reaction that a lot of young, teenage male rock bands that rise to prominence typically receive – girls loved them, some guys cautiously liked them, and most guys loved to bash them. Although they initially tried the hard rock-rap angle, what ultimately found them some years of success in the late 1990s in Canada were poppy rock songs.
This piece is about the rise and fall of Serial Joe, my connection and experiences with the band, and what singer Ryan Dennis is up to now.
Ryan Dennis was first seen by the music world as an actor in the Our Lady Peace video for Superman’s Dead. Since Serial Joe and Dennis weren’t known, no one thought much of this at the time, and were floored once the revelation came out years later. This was especially true when it was discovered that he played both a boy AND a girl in the video.
Like Australian band Silverchair before them, Serial Joe were a band of young teenagers trying to capitalize on the post-grudge void filled by Kurt Cobain’s death. The band launched the video for their track Skid Row, a song that was sort of Rage Against The Machine lite. The video won the 1998 Much Music Video award for best independent video, an award that would also be awarded to Alexisonfire, Cancer Bats, and Metric in the future.
The band then released a follow up album containing tunes of a more mainstream, female-attracting type. The track that got repeatedly played on Much Music was Mistake, with a catchy pop chorus that helped them get some attention in the United States. This video earned them a nomination for the 1999 Much Music Video Award for Best Rock Video, losing out to former I Mother Earth singer (and Tattoo Rock Parlour bartender) Edwin.
Serial Joe – Mistake
At this point, I was in Grade 13 (back when Ontario thought we needed an extra grade). I was a few years older than the band members, who hailed from Newmarket, about 30 minutes south of my town. I was in a Politics class and one of our assignments was to study and fundraise for a political cause. My group elected me to decide what cause we would study and fundraise for. At the time, the Beastie Boys were gathering the best bands to play their Tibetan Freedom Concerts to raise money for the Malarapa Fund. I thought it would be cool to not only have a Tibetan Freedom Concert at my school, but to get Serial Joe as the big headliner, seeing as we were practically neighbours. Hindsight might tell me this is not the coolest thing that I have ever done.
I actually don’t recall how the recruitment process started. Back in 1999, band and email contact information wasn’t readily available on the Internet. I think I just got a phone book, and looked up Dennis in the phone book for Newmarket. I do recall talking to singer Ryan Dennis’ mom Debbie, who was the band manager (either officially or by default, I do not know). We actually had lengthy, 30 minute conversations, with her asking me to discuss my future university plans and goals, and all sort of things I wasn’t expecting. I guess she was sussing out my validity as a fundraising leader. After a couple of conversations, I had
fooled her started my career as a festival booker, and landed the hot, young Serial Joe to headline my Tibetan Freedom Concert.
Since this was an educational event, we had members of my group read out information about Tibetans and their plight between set changeovers. As I talked to people backstage, I came to learn that it was singer Ryan Dennis’ birthday. Not only did this band with national exposure agree to come to my high school for free, but they did so on their singer’s birthday – now that’s class.
As I finished Grade 13, the summer of 1999 began. This was highlighted by kissing my friend’s younger sister against
her his wishes (and threats to beat me up), and going to Woodstock ’99. Lo and behold, who landed a slot at the famous gig was none other than Serial Joe.
I felt obligated to go cheer them on, given the favour they did for me (which helped me get 92% in my Politics class, and made my teacher tell my Dad I was making a mistake not going into politics, which is laughable). The band drew probably 500 people, and although I remember nothing about the set, I do have some photos of the gig.
So after the glorious heights of playing a Tibetan Freedom Concert at a small town high school and playing Woodstock ’99, logic would tell you the band should’ve found new fans and grown in popularity exponentially. But, it didn’t happen quite like that. Although the band recruited Spawn illustrator Todd McFarlane to do their artwork for their Serial Joe… album, the album didn’t match the success of previous album Face Down. It still sold a lot more albums than my “Singing in the Shower” anthology.
The band was eventually dropped by their label in the early 2000s, with their last album (Last Chance) At the Romance Dance… being released in 2001.
This was the end for Serial Joe, but not for singer Ryan Dennis. After forming rock band High Kapitol with band mate Ryan Stever, Dennis now works his craft as an electronic artist known as Platypus. When I emailed him to see if he wanted to talk Serial Joe or Platypus, I didn’t hear back. So instead we’ll just make up some stuff.
Platypus, besides being one ugly creature, has a few EPs out and haven’t yet been booked for my high school reunion. I won’t comment on the music – you can listen below (although it might be a mistake – get it?!).
There you go. The next time a Serial Joe trivia contest breaks out, you’ll win…unless it’s against a guy named ‘Platypus’. Maybe you’ll catch the band doing the inevitable Edgefest 2014 reunion headlining tour, too.