Throwing fans back to the 1990s, The Herald catches up with one-half of Canadian pop megastars of the day, Prozzäk
No one force in Canadian pop music defined an era quite like Prozzäk.
Made up of friends and respected singer-songwriters and music scene vets Jay Levine and James Bryan McCollum, a generation of fans of 90s radio hits were more than familiar with the antics of their beloved characters, Simon and Milo, a pair of colourful (literally) and moody characters on a constant quest for love and friendship.
Prozzäk’s 1998 studio debut Hot Show was a mammoth in their native Canada, earning triple platinum status and putting the duo on the map with mainstream crossover hits Sucks to Be You, Strange Disease and Europa.
On the heels of their 2015 reunion, and a highly anticipated Rewind Tour stop in St. John’s, which sees the pair team up with Danish pop superstars Aqua and fellow Dane Whigfield, McCollum caught up with The Herald to reflect on 90s pop, their unexpected return, creating lasting characters and more.
It feels like every kid that grew up and lived through the 1990s were aware of the monster that was Prozzäk. The band took an extended break in the mid 2000s. What led to your return in 2015?
Jay and I had lived in different cities for a long time. The last Prozzäk album we did was 2005, Cruel Cruel World. He was living in New York and I was in L.A and then moved to London, England for five years. We were apart.
It wasn’t until I moved my family back to Canada in 2014. Vice did a story on 90s ‘where are they now’ bands. For whatever reason that caught the interest of the guy putting together a cosplay festival in Toronto, Atomic Lollipop. They reached out of the blue to see if we wanted to play it.
Were you shocked by the huge positive reception Prozzäk received? Granted, the band was massive in 1998-1999, but the pop music landscape has shifted so much since then. Did you think you would be received the same way?
Honestly, Simon and Milo were in a cryogenic chamber in mine and James’ mind. I love it, but we didn’t know if people were still interested in it. It was this amazing thing that happened that we still didn’t understand.
It was bizarre, a cosplay and comic-con event and it was so bizarre and fun that it would be the perfect place for us to come back. It ended up being a great show. We had the fire department there and crowds of people trying to get in because it was sold out. It definitely made me and Jay think ok, the characters are definitely alive in our fans imaginations still and we got really inspired and started writing songs for Forever 1999.
Hot Show was legitimately one of the biggest Canadian albums ever, so it’s no doubt that the Prozzäk brand made a lasting impression. Looking back in hindsight, did you feel at the time that you and Jay had struck gold with the project?
Since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be on stage and make music. With Prozzäk, everything about it has been totally unexpected and almost supernatural. It totally came together the idea to use a character instead of us being a band.
In hindsight what Jay and I appreciate is that the characters are what everyone fell in love with and I think we wrote some great songs too. Simon and Milo, we knew at the time it was a big deal but it was really a whirlwind. It sounds like a cliche when something blows up, but that was the biggest hit we’ve had up until then. It was a whirlwind.
In terms of the live performance aspect of Prozzäk now, how is that for you? You’re a consummate artist with so many different projects and collaborations, but with Prozzäk this is a completely different machine and makeup.
At this point in our lives and having done a million other projects, we both totally appreciate that this was really special. That makes it a lot of fun for Jay and I to get out there, meet our fans, put the show on and play our songs again. We definitely are living every minute of that. We’re appreciating that 20 year, or whatever, boomerang effect.
I’ll be honest, I was a massive Prozzäk fan as a kid, and there’s still that nostalgia curiosity that makes me look back on the band fondly. What do you think it is that really made so many people gravitate towards the brand?
A lot of people who have gone into different music like punk or metal were into Prozzäk for whatever reason. The story is universal and Simon, the character, was an outsider, who I connected with personally. I was a music geek since I was a kid and growing up in a small town I can relate to that. Jay definitely, part of him is Simon. The honesty that he was able to put into a lot of the lyrics and stuff because it was behind a character, people connect to that. When you see a very cute with massive eyes character, I guess it packs more of a punch.
Catch Prozzäk at Mile One Centre in St. John’s on Sept. 19th with Aqua and Whigfield for The Rewind Tour. Tickets available at the box office: mileonecentre.com. For more on Prozzäk visit prozzakofficial.com