Ladyhawk flies the rock flag

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, APRIL 2, 2008

By Steve Newton

Rock ‘n’ roll is a dangerous game. It can be, anyway. Up-and-coming local indie rockers Ladyhawk learned the risks involved when they rolled their gear-filled van just outside of Kelowna last year. The vehicle was toast, but no one was injured. They were shaken up like a James Bond martini, though.

“It was really terrifying,” recalls singer-guitarist and main songwriter Duffy Driediger. He’s speaking from an unsmashed van that has just crossed the Canada–U.S. border en route to London, Ontario. Ladyhawk has just completed gigs in Madison, Wisconsin, and Fargo, North Dakota, and heading due north puts it in line for increasingly treacherous road conditions.“Even now, riding in the van I have pretty bad anxiety,” adds the bearded rocker, who turns 30 this month. “I was worried about this trip, going through Ontario and stuff, ’cause it’s still pretty wintery there.”

But it’ll take more than slippery highways and wrecked vans to stop Ladyhawk from completing its appointed task: rockin’ the free world with a raggedy yet majestic guitar noise. That feedback-laden racket is effectively delivered on the band’s new CD, Shots, which was recorded over two weeks in Kelowna with producer Colin Stewart, just before the Coquihalla wipeout. Stewart also helmed the foursome’s self-titled 2006 debut; according to Driediger, he knows how to fulfill the group’s every loud desire. “I can go, ”˜Colin, I want this guitar to sound like a million bags of microwave popcorn exploding in the sun,’ and he’ll be like ”˜Okay, gotcha.’ ”

The recording of Shots was documented in Let Me Be Fictional, an 82-minute film directed by Rob Leickner and Mona Mok. It shows the quartet laying down tracks in a gutted Kelowna farmhouse with no heat or running water, and includes numerous shots of the members of Ladyhawk emptying hefty pee buckets into the yard.

“If you had to do anything more than that, you had to go to the gas station across the street,” offers Driediger, “so for two weeks it was pretty primitive. But it was fun—it was like camping or something, almost.”

The rustic vibe lends itself well to the rough-hewn songs on Shots, which have been positively compared to those of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Driediger and his cohorts—lead guitarist Darcy Hancock, bassist Sean Hawryluk, and drummer Ryan Peters—are huge fans of the Can-Am rock legend, although Driediger downplays the similarities between Young’s music and theirs.

“In every kind of article and press release that I’ve ever seen about us, it mentions something about Neil Young and Crazy Horse,” he says. “We all definitely love Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but other than the loud guitars and guitar solos, I don’t really know how much we even sound like that.”

Although the six-string bluster on “I Don’t Always Know What You’re Saying” and “Night You’re Beautiful” won’t disappoint disciples of the Godfather of Grunge, Shots is best filed in the Alternative section of finer independent record stores. The languid and jangly “Fear” sounds like Merge during the glory years, while the solemn “(I’ll Be Your) Ashtray” suggests the boys in Ladyhawk might find a sympathetic drinking buddy in Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam. Not surprisingly, Driediger admits to having a thing for ’90s indie rock.

“I listened to bands like Silkworm and Pavement when I was a teenager,” he says, “and then a lot of old ’60s stuff, everything from psychedelic rock to garage rock.”

Although Driediger has been immersing himself in the Grateful Dead of late (“I get a lot of flak for that from people”), the band as a whole has been listening to a lot of ’80s synth-pop, stuff like New Order, Pet Shop Boys, and Depeche Mode, as well as ’80s Canadian pop-rock acts such as the Northern Pikes and the Grapes of Wrath. The latter band is particularly well thought of in the ’Hawks camp because its former member Kevin Kane—who contributes pedal steel to the haunting Shots track “Faces of Death”—hails from their hometown of Kelowna.

“He’s the kinda guy that you see around and you’re like, ”˜Oh my God, that’s Kevin Kane from Grapes of Wrath!’ ” relates Driediger. “He’d be at shows and stuff, and finally Darcy worked up the courage to go and talk to him one day. It was kind of an honour to have him play on our album, and a tip of the hat to our musical forebears in Kelowna.”

Like Ladyhawk’s first album, Shots is distributed by the Indiana-based Jagjaguwar label, which is also home to Vancouver indie-rock superstars Black Mountain. Driediger explains that his band is planning to hook up with Black Mountain in Winnipeg, then accompany it westward on a tour that includes a sold-out Vancouver show. But what he isn’t planning on is blowing his labelmates off the stage anytime soon. “I don’t think that’s possible,” he says with a chuckle. “Those guys are a couple leagues above us, you know.”

That’s only his modest opinion, of course; one could argue that Ladyhawk’s new music is just as compelling as the ’70s-prog-rock-inspired creations on Black Mountain’s latest, the much-ballyhooed In the Future. At any rate, there probably won’t be any competition between the two bands—unless someone jumps up backstage and hollers “Sangria-making contest!” Let Me Be Fictional comes with the recipe for Ladyhawk’s “ghetto sangria”, which uses cheap wine, Sun-Rype Apple Orange Passionfruit juice, 7Up, and ice.

“It’s like the perfect drink,” claims Driediger, which leads to the question of whether that’s sangria he and his bare-chested bandmates are playfully spewing at each other on the back cover of Shots.

“That’s beer,” he explains, “and a little bit of urine, too. Just kidding.”

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