The Northern Pikes’ Bryan Potvin still plays air-guitar to the Tragically Hip



By Steve Newton

“Never judge lovers by good-looking covers,” warned Phil Lynott on “Romeo and the Lonely Girl”, a track from Thin Lizzy’s classic ’76 album, Jailbreak. Bryan Potvin of the Northern Pikes didn’t heed Lynott’s advice and paid the price, as evidenced by “She Ain’t Pretty”, the first single/video from the band’s latest album, Snow in June:

I had two jobs I had dishwater hands/And on the weekend in a rock ’n’ roll band/One Friday night in my hometown bar/In walked a girl who looked like a movie star…I fell in love with a model from hell/It took some time for my hormones to tell/That chasing her has been a grave mistake/She ain’t pretty she just looks that way.”

The rambunctious “She Ain’t Pretty” is sure to be on the set list when the Northern Pikes play the PNE Exhibition Bowl  in a show that’s free with PNE admission this Monday (August 27). As Potvin explained from a Husky truck stop en route to Montreal recently, the tune is based on an actual incident that occurred while he was still working as a dishwasher at the Keg in his hometown of Saskatoon.

“There was this great-looking girl who had this perception that I was a wealthy rock star and drove a Porsche,” he says. “When she found it wasn’t true she didn’t want to have anything to do with me. In retrospect, I wish I had pointed out in the song how stupid I felt about chasing after her.”

While Potvin admits that his run-in with the prairie gold digger “obviously left a lasting impression”, he and his mates in the Pikes have managed to make light of the encounter with the tune’s comical video, which utilizes some effective clay animation by Toronto’s Total Eclipse to show the true colours of the lady in question. The tune itself is a crunchy, simple rocker that sounds like it was laid down quite effortlessly. But, as Potvin explains, the brunt of Snow in June was much harder to get on tape than past LPs such as Secrets of the Alibi and Big Blue Sky.

“It was more fun—we were really confident and we had a good time—but it was also pretty painful sometimes, because we were brutally honest with ourselves in trying to maximize the songs, you know, squeeze as much blood out of each one as we could.”

Snow in June is the first Northern Pikes album to include a large portion of songs by Potvin—he wrote the words and music to four songs himself, and co-wrote another with bassist/vocalist Jay Semko. Few people had the privilege of reviewing Potvin’s songwriting talents prior to the new album.

“The only people I play my songs for are [Northern Pikes members] Jay, Merl, and Don, and that’s only when I feel comfortable with an arrangement that I like; when it gets close to being a finished product. Until then it’s pretty personal, you know. It’s my own, and that’s the way it stays.

Considering the fair amount of success that the Pikes have garnered in recent years, one might expect them to be hometown heroes in their native Saskatoon, but Potvin says that’s hardly the case. “We were more or less hated for the first number of years—not so much hated as really ignored. It’s the small-town syndrome. You’ve got to make it somewhere else before anyone back home gives you a glance. But it’s starting to happen a bit.”

Potvin is very keen on Kingston, Ontario’s Tragically Hip, although it took him a second glance to realize that. “It was pretty funny,” he recalls. “I went and saw them two nights in a row in Saskatoon at a university bar. I went in the first night and really couldn’t figure out what all the stink was about.

“So the next night came up and, being Saskatoon, there’s not a whole lot to do. So we ended up there again, and they knocked me off my feet—they were really hot that night. I ran out and bought the album right away after that. It’s one of the few records that I still play air-guitar around the living room to.”

But unlike the Tragically Hip, which is currently reaping the benefits of a world-wide recording contract with MCA, the Northern Pikes are currently trying to negotiate a new distribution deal for the crucial U.S. market. Potvin gets a little hot when describing the band’s recent break-up with its former Stateside distributor, Virgin America.

“They gave us an option this time. They said, ‘We’re going to work this album as much as we worked the other two, or you can walk—one or the other.’ I guess maybe we came at them strong, saying [in a hard-line voice] ‘Look, we’ve invested a lot of time and money in this album and we think this album can sell and we want some commitment from you guys, blah-blah-blah.’

“But we weren’t gonna sit and try to figure out what they were gonna do or what their priorities were. We just thought, ‘Okay, good, let’s just get outta this.’ ’Cause that’s been sort of a priority with this band from the beginning, always to try to surround ourselves with people who actually care. If you’ve got people who think they can make a quick buck or something you’re not gonna maximize what you get from them—or yourself. It’s very uninspiring working with people like that.”

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