Play to Win is the latest album from Canada’s Striker. Our writer Mike Huck caught up with the band towards the end of their North American tour with Unleash the Archers, and spoke with guitarist Tim Brown and singer Dan Cleary about touring, recording the new album, and bicycle crashes.
Mike Huck: I just read that you were named the Metal Artist of the Year by the Western Canadian Music Awards.
Tim Brown: Yeah, three in a row now, a dynasty!
Dan Cleary: We’ve had so much support from Alberta and Western Canada, it’s nice to receive the recognition. It’s good validation.
You do all your own producing, what’s the process like for you, without having someone who’s like a grand overseer?
Dan: Sometimes we wish we had that, because it can be everyone’s opinion versus everyone’s opinion, and if you reach a standstill it can be tough. A third party would be nice, but we’ve had a good run of just doing it ourselves. Everybody who has a song to contribute does a demo of it, and we all listen to them and rank them as to which ones we like the most, and kind of whittle it down until everybody’s happy with what we’ve got.
So you all contribute on the songwriting front?
Dan: Not everyone, but everyone is involved in choosing which songs we end up recording and stuff like that. Except on this album, Adam (Brown, the drummer), unfortunately he, uh, fell off his bike – bicycle, not motorbike, don’t give him too much credit! – and broke his arm, so he wasn’t able to record within our timeline. He might’ve been able to, but it would have messed up his healing.
Did you have to bring in someone else in to lay down the drum tracks?
Tim: Yeah, Randy Black, who is an amazing drummer, plays with Annihilator.
But Adam is on tour with you now, correct?
Dan: Yeah, he’s better now, but he needed that break to heal up.
Tim: Kids at home, don’t ride without your hands on the handlebars!
How do you determine which tracks make the album and which don’t? Do you write just enough for a record, or come in with a ton of songs and riffs and whittle it down?
Dan: We have so many songs that we’ve just passed on, even some of the material on Play to Win was leftover from, say, Stand in the Fire, where the song maybe wasn’t quite not the right tempo, or we wanted to change parts of them, so some of the new stuff is old stuff we’ve reworked into something better.
Tim: Some songs are like fast food, and you can knock them out in a few minutes, and others are like fine stew, and they can stew around for years.
I notice on Play to Win, at times keyboards make an appearance, or a heavy melody from a synth. Do you guys elaborate on that when you’re recording it, or is it already like that in your head?
Dan: I think we’re just having fun, trying some new things. A lot of albums we really like have stuff like synths in them. If you listen to Ozzy, No More Tears era, and of course a lot of 80s metal, layers everywhere, and that’s something where we used to think “No, we’re not going to do that, we don’t have a keyboard player and don’t want an extra guy in the band,” but it’s kinda dumb to leave those parts out just for that reason, so we may as well try it.
You don’t play the keyboard parts live, though, right?
Dan: No, we don’t do that. Maybe eventually we’ll try, because people always run background tracks, and we’ve always been kind of anti-track, because we do everything live – all the members of the band sing live – so we want to make sure people don’t think “oh, we’re doing like backing tracks.”
Tim: There’s a lot of cheaters out there.
Any specific influences on Play to Win?
Dan: Kim Mitchell…
Tim: Well it’s sort of like our whole list of what we’ve been listening to for so long.
Do you all have sort of the same taste, or is anyone way out there?
Tim: We’re pretty similar, I think.
Dan: Yeah, everyone’s pretty similar, I think some of us are into the heavier side of things and some more into the AOR stuff, but I think we’re all receptive to those types of music. We use to be more like “we only like this kind of metal,” which is funny because I feel like everyone I’ve ever met who was like “I only love ’80s speed metal,” but then “I also like hip-hop,” so like oh…
Tim: I think we’ve grown as listeners, I think now it’s so easy to go online and listen to whatever you want, there’s really no barrier to listening to anything.
You guys have been at it for a long time now, I can hear the influences in your music but no straight rip-offs, like a riff from an older song or anything.
Tim: That’s good, that means we’re digging deep enough.
Dan: I think it’s more like we want to take the vibe of a band more than what they do, and then work it out ourselves.
Tim: There’s been times when we’ll do fun songwriting exercises just to be creative, in the basement, like “I’m gonna write a song that’s just like this Metallica song,” then you write it and it’s completely different. It’s so far off the mark from what you want but it’s cool, it’s like a point of inspiration.
What’s the reception been like on this tour?
Tim: It’s been crazy actually.
Dan: We didn’t know what to expect, but when we did the first show in Seattle, it was sold out or almost sold out, there was an hour-long lineup at the merch table, and we thought it would be a one-time thing, but we’ve had tons of people out at every show. It’s such a good package with Unleash the Archers.
Tim: And here in Alberta Calgary and Edmonton are both sold out, and we’ve got WMD and The Order of Chaos opening for us, so a major Western Canadian metal bill.
Has it been like that for most of the stops, you try to get local acts to open the shows?
Dan: Well we had Helion Prime on tour with us in the States, who are really great, and then occasionally some local acts.
You’re going to Europe in November, correct? You’ve been there before a few times?
Tim: This is something like our fifteenth tour of Europe.
Dan: Fifteenth? No, it’s like eleventh.
Tim: We’ve been there at least ten times. I was counting the other day.
Dan: There you go, maybe it’s been fifteen.
The band is pretty well-received over there?
Tim: We have a great time every time we go to Europe, it’s a great metal scene there.
Dan: The homeland of heavy metal!
What’s the metal scene like in Edmonton?
Dan: It’s really good, but we’re sort of not there very much now. Although when we come off the road after a month or two, kind of the last thing on your list is to go to a metal show, so we don’t see too many bands. But hopefully we can get back into that scene a little bit and see what’s going on. I know there’s a lot of cool bands coming up, but we haven’t had a chance to check them out.
Thanks for taking the time to chat! Anything you’d like to add?
Tim: New album out October 26, North American tour wraps up October 14th and then we’re off to Europe. For all your Striker needs, check out our website.
Dan: Big thanks to everybody who’s come out to the shows, it’s probably the best tour we’ve ever done!
(interview published October 25, 2018)