Album Debut: Striker – City of Gold
While many modern bands can convincingly copy old styles, few have the fortitude and heart to find their own way. Canada's Striker, like High Spirits, have joined a handful of metallers that do right by classic genres without resorting to cosplay.
Striker's previous album, 2012's Armed to the Teeth, was a refreshing romp through powered-up speed metal, recalling Abattoir and Artillery, but not recycling them. Instead, it was almost if Striker were the result of untouched evolution. They provided a direct line back to way-back-then, walking with heroes instead of bowing to them, skipping the kitsch to sweat out fleshed out songs performed in their own voice. Because of that drive to set themselves apart, Striker's music lasted longer than falsely implanted '80s memories and empty 'retro' calories.
The new City of Gold, Striker's third full-length, again showcases a working band working hard at their craft. A hook matters to the group -- the Velcro-sticky chorus of "Crossroads" will play all day in your internal jukebox -- but so does every facet of their metal. Striker know their job is to search high and low for an in-roads with their audience, be it through itch-scratching solos, everyman lyrics, or the rush of seeing a band enjoying themselves on stage. The effort pays off: You don't have to work to like Striker, they've done the work for you, allowing your endorphins to pump unabated. (To put it another way, you don't need an encyclopedia, calculator, and/or flow-chart to make the connection happen.) And, as you can hear above, their love for the material is infectious. Granted, IO isn't the normal home for contemporary power and speed metal, but Striker's truthfulness rings out far brighter and richer than those that can only echo.
City of Gold will be released on September 9 through Napalm Records and it's available for preorder now (physical copies here, digital here). In addition, the band will be touring the US for the first time in October with the well-matched Onslaught and Artillery.
I also had a chance to catch up with guitarist Chris Segger and picked his brain regarding the band's new level of success, juggling real-life with tour-life, and more.
How did Striker start?
The first version of Striker was in 2007. It was just Dan the singer and I, and our friend Ian. We started jamming, wrote the song "Road Warrior," which was the title-track of our first EP that ended up coming out in 2008. That band actually ended up splitting up. Over that summer, a bunch of our friends went to Europe and did the festival circuit as fans to watch bands. Another friend of ours brought all the demos that we did over with him. He was showing the demo to everyone, and it went from one person to one person, and the next thing we know, we had a few offers to do an album from a few different smaller labels in Europe. So then they called me from Denmark and they said "hey lets put the band back together" and then it all took off again from there.
That is crazy.
Why do you think heavy metal resonates more in Europe than it does in North America?
I don't know, I mean it's tough to say. For me I think it's almost more of a population thing. I can't really speak for the US because I don't live there, but in Canada, I think there's probably just the same amount of metal fans [as Europe]. But Germany, for example, would probably fit into Canada about 30 times and they have about three times our population. So no matter where you go, there seems to be a much bigger scene.
That's my theory, anyway. It's much more condensed. It works really well for the festivals, no one is driving very far.
It's just so weird. Obviously we have a ton of people who are into traditional metal here, but it never seems to get the publicity. There's this huge breakdown between what's actually popular and what the music blogs make you think is popular.
Yeah, I would agree with that. There isn't the same kind of coverage here. I still see people who are like, "I heard you play in a heavy metal band, I had no idea that was still going on."
So has playing music always been the dream?
Always. I think for all of us, the dream is to be able to go somewhere and have fans come out to your show. When you're starting off, you're playing local venues, you've got your friends coming out and that sort of thing. Then as soon as you go on tour, especially in another country. . . The first time we went to Europe and had 200 or 300 people at our shows, and they're singing along, that's when you realize how far it has gone from just that dream in the basement to actual fans coming out to your show.
What lit the spark? Was there a certain band or a certain moment that you remember where you were decided metal was for you?
For myself, I think what lit that spark a long time ago was, even when I was in kindergarten. My parents remember the teacher calling home kind of worried, saying, "Do you know that your son wants to be a rock star? He's jumping up and down on the table singing Billy Joel songs." The teacher was concerned and my parents were like, Oh, great, he's excited about something.
I think I first started listening to Metallica and Black Sabbath pretty early, probably when I was about 8 or 9. My brother was into that stuff, and then it went on through Iron Maiden and everything else. And of course the next step after that was, How can I do this myself?
Take me through that. I always think that's an interesting leap, when people go from a "real-life job" to doing the music thing full-time. What obstacles did you have to work through?
A lot. None of us do the band full-time yet, that's still a little ways away. So we're all working full-time jobs on the side to kinda subsidize the band. I think it's the dream of every musician that at some point that will go away and you can do the music full-time.
Is that ever weird, going from playing a major festival and coming back to the office? You've just had thousands of people singing your song and then some guy is like, "Hey can you copy this for me?"
It's kind of a roller coaster. I think the biggest thing was, a couple years ago after we released Armed to the Teeth, out of nowhere we ended up getting a chance to open for Metallica two nights in a row at our local stadium. You're just walking around in this kind of fantasy camp of a venue, right? There are 16,000 people, there's all the crazy pyro stuff everywhere, and the stage is the size of a hockey rink. And that moment we walked in was kinda like. . . if you remember when they fly into Jurassic Park? It's the Jurassic Park moment of metal shows. And so those three days are the greatest, you're hanging out with the Metallica guys and you've got prime rib or whatever for supper and all that stuff, and then you're back to work on Monday morning and just like, What the fuck just happened? It's like that every time you come from a tour.
As long as that Metallica show wasn't like the very beginning of Jurassic Park. Some roadie gets dragged into a cage. "That's just Lars, don't worry about it."
(laughs) Yeah not quite like that.
Did you have a chance to talk to them and figure out how they've been able to keep it going for so long? Is that something you've been able to take away when you've been playing with other bands?
We learned a ton from them, even in that short time. We didn't know if we'd meet them or if they'd be cool to hang out. We didn't really know what to expect. But they were awesome. We were sound checking the first night and they all showed up and James Hetfield came onstage mid-song and talked to us, and then Lars came and talked to us five minutes before playing the first night. They were all sort of hanging around. I guess when they found out we didn't have a dressing room, Lars reamed somebody out and 10 minutes later we were in a dressing room.
And even just, on a professional side of things, the way they prepared, they were jamming in the back rehearsing for probably a solid two-and-a-half hours before they even went onstage. I think they played the entire set. They were working out kinks and they've been playing those songs for years. So we were thinking, Wow, that's the level of professionalism that that takes. We learned there's a reason the best bands put on the best shows, and it's because they prepare the best.
It's a weird duality: on the one hand, you really have to go out there and be performers, but on the other hand you have to be absolutely truthful to yourself because people can sniff that out so easily.
In Striker, it has been so easy because we have so much fun together. Even though there has been some member turnover in the last couple years, we've almost always been friends first and band second. I think when we're on stage, it just looks very natural, and people come up to us after the show and say, "I've never heard of you guys but I saw you play live and you had so much energy and you just looked like you were having so much fun that I was just grinning and having a blast." It seems real when you're up there and you're actually having fun.
Yeah I just think it's that general sense of truthfulness. You just can't fake it. There's this retro heavy metal thing going on right now and it's just so ironic.
I would agree. I think one thing with this album, whether it was overly intentional, I don't know, but we've always been looped in with a lot of those bands. And not that there's anything wrong with that kind of music, but it's not really where we saw ourselves fitting in. I don't know if it was just the twin-guitar thing and the high vocals. I would always kinda cringe when the word 'retro' was thrown in there, so I think that was sort of at the back of our heads this album. We thought, let's make it heavier, let's make it thrashier, let's try to separate from the pack and be our own band.
So how does the songwriting process go? There's a strong focus on making sure that every song has a legit hook, so how long does that take to that figure out? Does somebody brings that into the practice room, or does it get tested out in a live setting?
A little bit of both, actually. Ever since we started, the bulk of the songwriting has been done by Dan our singer. He's actually an awesome guitar player, as good as Tim and I easily, so he'll usually lay down some ideas. And at that point we'll bring him into the jam space, work through things, rearrange stuff, and then at that point the songs just sort of take off from there. As far as the length of time for doing things, it really varies. There have been some songs that were written in five minutes and never changed, and some songs, like "Crossroads" -- I think the original one was a completely different song and shared maybe one riff. So some change a lot over some time.
How far do you guys push the complexity of the material when you're writing it? Is there a worry that something might be too complex to pull of live or do you just figure that you're gonna be playing it so much that it's just going to come along at some point?
I think with our stuff, to be honest, is pretty easy to play. There's nothing that's too crazy in there. The solos would be the most difficult in terms of the guitar side. There are a lot of riffs changing around, but we're pretty well-rehearsed. So yeah, there's never been the concern of not being able to play something live.
Were you always a guitarist? Was there ever interest in doing something else?
I was always a guitarist. As a kid, I played some piano, but I didn't really get into any other instruments. The only other thing I guess would be the very first Striker rehearsal that we did. Dan was the guitar player and I was the singer, and it lasted about 20 minutes before we switched and he popped up to sing and it stuck.
I love those first band practices because it's like, ". . . what did we just do?"
Hearing Dan sing, because he'd never sang before. . . Once he decided to, he just learned off YouTube videos. He was driving a delivery truck, so he had eight hours a day to try to mimic the singer that he was listening to.
Are you excited to hit the road with Onslaught and Artillery?
I can't wait. We've wanted to tour in the US for so long, and it's a huge pain in the ass as far as paperwork goes crossing the border. So it's months of paperwork and contracts and everything else which is why it has always been so difficult to get over there. In the UK, we have to get a visa, but it's so simple. Then we fly to Germany and we were a little bit nervous because we're going through customs, and they're like, "Hey whats in that box, CDs?" And we're like, Ah shit. They open it up, he's looking through them, and he's like, "Are you guys in a band?" And we're like "yeah." "Cool! What are you playing? Have fun." And that's [European] customs. Whereas in the US, it's like, Where's your visas, lets see your contract, where are you playing, where do you live, what do you do for work, who are your parents, who are your friends, what's this? And then they can still turn you down with the paperwork, so it's a bit terrifying, and that's why we've never done it yet. But we've had so many people who've written us saying, "I can't wait, we're so excited you're finally coming through." And hopefully going over there this time opens the doorway so it's something we can do on a much more regular basis.
Canada has a really rich musical tradition. I always wanted to ask this: Do you think the weather plays any part in that?
You know, I don't know. We had a Spanish friend come up to us the first time we played there and he was saying, "There are no good bands from Spain. Canada has got all these great bands. And it's because it's so nice here. Everyone just wants to go to the beach, no one gives a shit. You guys have to sit inside for like half the year because your weather sucks and you learn how to play music." I never thought of it that way, but maybe it's true. You go to Sweden, Finland, Norway, and all these northern countries in Europe and maybe it's because it sucks so much for them for half the year you need to find another hobby that you can do inside.
I got the same thing from a friend from Sweden: "It's because we don't see the sun." Fair enough.
I can attest to that. When we recorded, it was end of December to end of January, so around the darkest time of the year. Two weeks into the trip, I saw blue sky, and went and grabbed my phone to take pictures to send to everybody so I could say I'd seen blue sky.
A total rarity.
It was hilarious. Everybody ran out of the studio. "Guys, there's blue sky outside!"
An air-raid siren going off: "BLUE. SKY."
Got to alert everybody, time to get your vitamin D.