ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 14, 2007
By Steve Newton
ROADIES DON’T NORMALLY earn applause for slipping and landing flat on their backs while lugging gear down ramps, but when it happens to one poor sap at the Virgin Festival’s second stage, a small cheer goes up among the onlookers.
Witnesses to the wipeout include Pride Tiger guitarists Sunny Dhak and Bob Froese, who seem impressed that the stagehand has protected the white Fender Telecaster he now holds aloft, like a rescued infant, over his supine body. Electric guitars are precious commodities to guys like them, easily worth sacrificing your spine for.
A few minutes later, Dhak and Froese have traversed the wet ramp themselves, along with bandmates Matt Wood and Mike Payette, and are testing their instruments as the political-punk noise of Rise Against carries up from Thunderbird Stadium. Drummer-vocalist Wood, hopping around in a black hoodie and munching on a banana, surveys the audience of precisely four people who have gathered in front of the Future Shop stage. Then he wanders back to adjust the custom maple Yamaha drum kit that he bought–used, and on the installment plan–from Long & McQuade.
When the band’s 6:10 p.m. showtime arrives, a CFOX representative tries her best to instill rowdy enthusiasm in the rain-soaked festivalgoers hunkered within earshot. “Get away from the tents and get over here,” the MC commands, “these guys are gonna rock!” Then she goes on to list various bands that she presumes Pride Tiger is indebted to, wrongly naming Motorhead and AC/DC before Wood reaches for his mike and pipes up with “Thin Lizzy!”
The mention of the ’70s band most might only know from the song “The Boys Are Back in Town” doesn’t galvanize the crowd, but once Pride Tiger starts previewing tunes from its forthcoming major-label debut CD, The Lucky Ones (out June 19 on Capitol EMI), the similarity to Phil Lynott’s underrated outfit is undeniable. Wood’s vocals are often coloured by Lynott-style phrasing, while Dhak and Froese’s harmonic fretwork is the epitome of Lizzy’s soaring, twin-guitar sound.
Yet these scruffy, indie-looking guys–none of whom were even born when “The Boys” hit the airwaves in ’76– also manage to inject a street-smart vitality and contemporary hard-rock vibe into the proceedings. It sounds like Pride Tiger has managed to concoct a killer sound capable of winning over everyone from 20-something Main Street hipsters to 50-year-old CFMI die-hards. In other words, they could be freakin’ huge!
Five days after their inauspicious late-May Virgin Fest gig, the members of Pride Tiger convene at Pat’s Pub, a needle’s throw from Hastings and Main. Around back and across Cordova Street, Downtown Eastsiders bake in the afternoon sun at Oppenheimer Park, which resembles a mini Woodstock, if only because of the unabashed drug use. The languid blather of junkies on the sidewalk drifts through the pub doors as the story of Pride Tiger unfolds.
Turns out the guitar team of Dhak and Froese came together in Vanderhoof, a town of 4,000 one hour northwest of Prince George, where they formed a punk-hardcore band called Incrementum. “It was a middle-of-nowhere town,” Froese recalls, nursing a beer, “but we had a really healthy scene going up. Thinking back about it, we had probably one of the better scenes goin’ for B.C. towns. We’d bring bands up there and put on our own gigs, and had, like, a straight-edge hardcore sorta scene. It was great. There’s still a lot of people from that town involved in music.”
One of those people is Jamie Hooper, vocalist for East Van headbangers 3 Inches of Blood. For those not up on the local indie-metal scene, 3IOB has developed a rabid following through thrashy, mythically tinged tunes like “Curse of the Lighthouse Keeper” and “Destroy the Orcs”, which it delivers via outrageously entertaining live shows.
Froese, Dhak, and Wood were all members at one time but quit over “a whole bunch of little things”, according to Froese. “We had this band [Pride Tiger] sort of going on the side,” he says, “and having so much fun with it, and at that time, with 3 Inches, we weren’t having a very good time. There was member changes, not a lot of money, we did a recording in Chicago, we were stuck there, we couldn’t pay our rents back home, and people were getting evicted. I mean, we love those guys, and we had a great time doin’ it, but we just wanted to get out of it and stop singin’ about Orcs.”
The three current Pride Tiger members played on the 3IOB album Advance and Vanquish, released in 2004 by powerhouse New York metal label Roadrunner Records. (Coincidentally, 3 Inches has a new album coming out on Roadrunner a week after Pride Tiger’s debut hits stores.) The connection between the two bands runs deep, back to when they all lived in the Blood House, “a crazy old punk house” near the intersection of Boundary and Kingsway.
“We had about eight or nine people living there in probably a three- or four-bedroom house,” Froese recalls. “I think the lowest we paid was about 100 bucks a month, and that price was good at the time. Matt was in [local metal act] Goatsblood then, and our 3 Inches of Blood tour got cut short, and we’d all given up our places, and Matt was like, ‘Come, you can chill here.’ So we moved there, met him–didn’t even know he could play drums–got to know him better, and that’s how we formed this band.”
When the Pride Tiger rhythm section shows up to shoo the guitarists away from the fast-dwindling supply of domestic draft, Payette, the oldest member at 30, looks a little the worse for wear. Turns out the native of Cornwall, Ontario–he moved to Van when he was 18–is hung-over from getting “wasted” at the Cobalt the night before. He plays on the Cobalt baseball team, which has spiky-haired bar manager wendythirteen tending the mound. “This is the fourth year of playing,” he says, “and we’ve never won a single game. I’m not even joking.”
Payette doesn’t mind that the team’s pitcher is no Sandy Koufax or that “she’s always got a drink in her hand”; he regards wendythirteen as the most respectable music promoter in town. “She’s like the only one that pays well,” he claims, and Payette should know, as his former thrash-punk unit S.T.R.E.E.T.S. (Skateboarding Totally Rules Everything Else Totally Sucks) was regularly booked at the grungy Main Street hangout. He describes that now-defunct group as “a bunch of art kids inspired by skateboarding”, and says they broke up when frontman Dr. Jonny Molson met a girl on their last tour, fell in love, moved to New York, and got married.
Though he’s the only Pride Tiger member who hasn’t played in 3 Inches of Blood, Payette is quick to defend the metal outfit his bandmates deserted. When Wood suggests that the overall chances of commercial success are better with Pride Tiger than his old band, the bearded bassist bluntly asserts that 3 Inches has been doing “pretty fucking good”, pointing to the fact that it has opened for metal giants Iron Maiden. “Yeah, as far as a metal band could go, they’re doin’ really well,” Wood concedes, “but that wasn’t really my reason for leaving. I just wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band and didn’t want to be in a heavy-metal band forever.”
Whether or not Pride Tiger becomes the next multiplatinum rock band out of Vancouver–and who isn’t hoping that Nickelback’s shameless plundering of Pearl Jam fades soon?–depends mostly on public reaction to The Lucky Ones. The 13-track disc was produced by Matt Hyde (Slayer, Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu), who had the quartet ensconced in L.A.’s Sunset Lodge Studios for two months. “We were one of the first bands to ever record there,” notes Payette, who, between sessions, hung out at L.A.’s Rainbow Bar & Grill, where he’d occasionally spy Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister playing video poker. “It was probably the smallest studio I’ve ever recorded in, so it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it just goes to show that you can record a kick-ass album in a small studio.”
The North Delta–raised Wood explains that one of Hyde’s main goals as producer was to simplify Pride Tiger’s guitar-based music–most of it written by 26-year-old Dhak–and to encourage lyricist Wood to sing more. The thing is, isn’t it tricky as hell to play drums and sing at the same time? “Yeah,” he agrees, “lots of practice was involved, but I love it, so the fact that I have no singing ability kinda works with playing drums at the same time.”
Wood might not be overly confident about his vocal skills, but he doesn’t need to be. Pride Tiger’s riff-based music doesn’t require a Freddie Mercury to pull it off; it’s a simple, invigorating noise that uses ballsy rhythms and unbeatable licks to incite outbursts of air-guitar-playing and cause people to drive fast.
Wood explains that most of the tunes on The Lucky Ones were inspired by things that have happened in his life during the past year or so. Judging by the lyrics in the uplifting title track, rollicking good times have been a major part of that experience. Against an exhilarating backdrop of double-barrel guitars and get-yer-ass-up bass and drums, Wood sings joyfully: “Everybody’s comin’ over/Come on and put that record on, yeah/Turn it up a little more/if you’re not dancin’ then there’s somethin’ wrong, put that record on.” Two minutes in, Wood orders “Now turn it up!” and a spiralling lead solo lifted directly from the Scott Gorham Instructional Guitar Handbook appears, leading you to wonder if Pride Tiger’s embrace of the Thin Lizzy aesthetic might be a tad too obvious. “It’s just common knowledge,” Payette says with a shrug.
“That’s kinda the whole reason why we’re doin’ this, too,” Wood adds. “Like Mike said earlier, Thin Lizzy got kinda forgotten about, and it’s like, ‘Can you believe that no one knows who this band is?’ I like every single thing they’ve ever done. So, hopefully, somebody listens to us and then picks up a Thin Lizzy album.”
From the righteously rifftastic “What It Is” to the midtempo charger “A New Jones”, there are indeed moments on The Lucky Ones when Pride Tiger sounds more than capable of matching Phil Lynott shot for Jim Beam shot. But as much as Wood and company have an obvious affection for the era of feathered roach-clips and airbrushed panel vans, they’re not afraid to mix things up.
The rollicking “White Witch Woman Blues” serves up Hemi-powered swamp boogie, while the metal-fortified “Forget Everything” suggests that Froese and Dhak haven’t killed off their inner headbangers. And as much as the two guitarists come on like they subsist on cheap wine and homegrown weed, they aren’t afraid to take things down to a delicate acoustic lull on “Wizard’s Counsel”.
Whether you’re talking the platinum-selling ’70s-indebted hit machine that is Wolfmother, the spandex-clad dandies of the Darkness, or Queen-fixated screamo upstarts My Chemical Romance, young bands blatantly allying themselves with groups from the golden age of guitar rock has been a trend for much of this decade. Three months ago, Pride Tiger found itself on a sold-out bill at the Plaza Club with Priestess, the high-flying Montreal quartet with a serious Sabbath/Zeppelin fixation.
According to Froese, the success of his retro-minded buddies in Priestess gives him reason to feel confident about Pride Tiger’s immediate future. “We’re such good friends with them,” he says. “They bring us onto their tours and give us so much support. And they’re just doin’ so well. They’re really paving the way–where I guess maybe Wolfmother had gone a bit before them–and, hopefully, we’re next.”