The award-winning Canadian traditional metal combo hit us last year with the self-titled album, their 5th full-length release overall, and it doesn't seem like they're planning on slowing down. The feedback the album has received from critics and fans was (no surprise here) strikingly positive. Known for their dynamic live performances the band joined Sonata Arctica on their last tour, which included a string of shows across the UK. We felt kind of obliged to include Striker in our come-back issue so, we asked the band's axeman Tim to give us his insights into the last album and their happy label-less life.
You released your 5th full-length album beginning of this year. With a string of top quality releases under your collective belt, was it hard to come up with equally as good ideas this time round?
A lot of people think that you almost have a limited amount of creativity, that after you write three albums or whatever you've spent all your creative energy and you're just used up after that. I think that's bullshit. If anything, we are writing better music than ever before. Every song we write is practice for writing the next song. We look at it as continual learning; we are always listening to some kind of new music to learn and understand what is going on it. We all love music and most importantly writing music. Lots of bands look at writing and recording a new album as a chore or work, but not us. After a hard day at work or whatever, we crack a beer, pick up a guitar and shred, not sit our asses and watch T.V.
The album is an explosive mixture of old-school heavy metal with some thrash elements like in "Pass Me By" or modern metal touches like in "Over the Top". Looks like you guys still like to mix different genres into your music?
Yea, we love all kinds of music. There's something interesting about every kind of music. People like different genres for a reason. Find out what that is, what that good stuff is, and try to inject it into your own music. That's what we do. We are a musical blender, throw everything in and see what comes out. We aren't afraid to put peanut butter on our grapes, so to speak, we try everything and every combination. If it's good it's good.
What's the idea behind that short instrumental piece? Sounds more like an intro or outro but you placed it in the middle of the album...
Well originally, I wrote that piece as an intro to the following song, "Shadows in the Light", but I wanted to be able to get right to heart of the song. So, we split that up into two separate songs so that you could skip it if you wanted to. We decided where we wanted "Shadows in the Light" to go in the album order and then stuck the instrumental right before! In my head, it all made perfect sense, but I can definitely see how it has confused some people. So, you are right, it does sound like an intro because it is one!
"Striker" is the second album you released independently. Do you think being your own bosses you can do better than having a label's support with all their contacts, distribution deals etc.?
Absolutely, 100%. Unless you are selling 25,000+ albums for first week sales, you don't need a label at all. Even then, if you have your shit together you can still do it yourself. Labels have been propagating that lie for ages. In the past, yes, you needed a label, but in the modern music industry, you can write and record a great sounding album in your basement for cheap and have it on iTunes the next day for the whole world to hear. Labels want you to think that artists need them so that they can take your money, simple as that. We are living proof that you don't need a label to be successful. Our money is just as green as anyone else's, so when we go to a promo company or a distributor, they are just as eager to work with us as they are to work with anyone else. The music industry is a rough place and no one is turning away potential clients these days.
Why the simplified cover art this time around? You've always had painted covers before...
For this album our aesthetic was simplicity. Simpler, shorter songs and track list, simpler cover. I think we wanted an album that was unique as well, where someone would say it's different, and we had never had an album cover that was like that, especially with all the white space. We wanted a summary of our work up to that point musically, and if you add all the different colours of light together, you get white light... for a white album cover... That's my answer and I'm sticking to it!
I suppose you've heard this question before, but Metallica's 5th studio work was self-titled too and had a very simple cover art with a snake... Doesn't look like a coincidence, ha-ha!
Actually, I totally forgot about that snake in the corner... Good artists borrow, great artists steal.
The video-clip for the opening track "Former Glory" is quite simple too. Did you just want to make it match the cover?
Yes, we wanted to match the aesthetic from the album cover. Simple, black and white. Let the shred do the talking.
And how were you able to do the video-clip for "Second Attack"? Looks like a huge production, especially for an underground metal band?
That was a huge production! We actually built everything you see in that video. That took a month to build sets and film, and it was filmed in a giant potato warehouse outside of the city. We won a grant to film that. Look at what all that art funding can create! Never thought grant money would go towards building keg robots and a Styrofoam city.
We've mentioned Metallica; how did a young metal band manage to get a support slot with them? You played two gigs with them in your hometown, correct?
We played two sold out shows with them here in Edmonton when they were filming their "Through the Never" movie! Called up to the big leagues! We won a radio contest here at home a few days before the show. We entered basically as a laugh, they weren't going to choose some speed metal band... but they did! Yea, it was very cool of Metallica to do that. We are even in the special features on the DVD! They certainly did not need to have a local band opening for them, but they are gracious and generous with their success and decided to share something with a younger band. I've seen Metallica do stuff like that a number of times, I think just recently a Metallica tribute band had all their gear stolen and Metallica bought them all new gear for example. Metallica is a big inspiration for us, not just musically. They run their own independent label now, and have re-released all their old material on it as well as their newest album. They do a lot of things right and it's inspiring to see what you can do if you put your mind to it.
When you were starting you were one of the very few young metal bands playing traditional old-school metal, while nowadays they're springing up like mushrooms. Happy to see that?
Yea it's very cool! It's a fun style of music. I think metal has been very dark and grim for a long time. It's time for a change and bring back some of the fun stuff. After enough time passes, people forget about everything around certain genres of music and all that's left is the music. Metal, especially hair metal, got massacred in the early '90s by grunge bands. It was just overblown garbage. Like what the fuck is Poison? That is the worst pile of trash band ever, bands like that sunk heavy metal. But everyone has forgotten about the rivalries and whether it was cool or not to like certain types of music. The hype is gone, no one cares anymore. But now people can listen to Whitesnake and Slayer, it's OK to like them both. There's no rivalry, it died long ago. Metal is one big happy family these days, just look at the line ups at Wacken or Hellfest. All kinds of styles and everyone loves it. I think the stigma of hair metal is gone and people are re-examining the genre and seeing there is lots of good stuff buried under the garbage.
Your original guitarist Chris left for a few years but he's now back in the ranks. Were there any particular reasons behind his absence?
Well, as with our other original guitarist Ian, he left to get married! It's tough living on the road and sleeping on random people's floors and shitting in nasty truck stop toilets, not knowing when you'll get to eat a real meal again or have a shower. Sometimes people want a taste of what normal life is like. Then you can realise that only shred is real and all other things in life are false, and re-join the band! Shred!
Your drummer Adam has a degree in business. Does it help with managing the band's business?
Yea we all pitch in to help with business duties. Adam has been a great asset especially in getting us grants and things like that. Running our own label means we have to be very professional, otherwise we will sink our own business. If you are on a label you can fuck around and be lazy. It'll get you nowhere, but it won't ruin your life. We can't afford to be lazy; all the bank loans are in our name, if we slack off its curtains for us.
I've read somewhere that Dan learnt to sing while driving a delivery truck? A few words of explanation please.
Well we all have "real jobs" outside of Striker. Dan, along with many past and present Striker members, works at a local lighting store and does a lot of deliveries. A good way to practice singing is cranking some tunes in the car. As good a place as any to get your chops up!
You've gathered a nice collection of various music awards. Do you care about the awards at all?
The awards are nice, but I think more than the trophies it's the support from the various music communities. If you are winning or nominated it means that those people are behind you, and for some of these awards there are some very important people picking who wins. It's all a bunch of people patting each other on the back, and I don't know if it has much to do with the actual quality of your music, but being recognised for all the hard work we do is certainly rewarding. It means that someone else understands what we are doing and trying to achieve, which is nice because so many people have no clue what it means to be an artist in the music industry.
Do you put your music out there on iTunes and other digital platforms? As an underground metal band do you see any income from the digital sales at all as compared to CD and LP sales?
Yes, our music is on all digital retailers, iTunes, Amazon, Apple Music, Spotify, you name it. It's also in brick and mortar actual physical music stores, those that are still around at least! Digital is the way to go for sure. CDs and vinyl are more like collectables now. Digital is great because there's basically no costs and it's everywhere instantly. If you could get a million iTunes downloads that's pure profit basically, whereas with CDs you need to actually print and ship all those units, which can be expensive. If you are buying our stuff, then yes, we see the money and greatly appreciate that support! It helps us stay on tour and keep putting out albums. If you are streaming it on YouTube, especially not on our channel, or Spotify or whatever, then we really don't see too much off that. You need millions of listens to generate any real income off of streaming. We are getting there but it's a slow process!
How important is the social media presence for you? You guys all seem to be very active there.
Social media is a blessing and a curse! It's great that you can reach out and connect with fans and share so much with everyone. On the other hand, it's all click farm bullshit fake news and the industry loves competing over numbers. Who has more likes, views, engagement, whatever. It simultaneously means everything and nothing. What's more important, writing music, or writing engaging Facebook posts? That answer is not so clear, especially depending on who you are talking to. No one will remember about the Facebook posts though. It's frustrating when things like that start to take precedence over what really matters.
Did you enjoy your UK tour with Sonata Arctica earlier this year?
That was one hell of a tour! 42 shows over 7 weeks across Europe. The UK was very interesting. I learned all about rain, moisture, being damp, and clouds ha-ha! We don't play the UK too often so it was nice to get out there. The UK is where metal started so it's always important to shred up the original metal heads. We have some great fans out there as well and we can't say no to fish and chips!
Being the big beer fans that you are, what's your opinion on the British cask ales?
We quite enjoy a lot of British beer! The tiny beers that are 3% or 4%, not so much. We call those children's beers because they are so tiny and weak ha-ha! But every day before our shows we would go for a wander in the various UK cities and usually stop by a local pub and check out what local specialties they have on tap. Traveling the world is all about finding the unique and interesting things that make each area special. We stay away from McDonalds and Budweiser like the plague. You can get that anywhere! Everywhere has their own style and way of doing things, and there's something great about each style.
Your last two albums were released only a year apart. So, can we expect a new release in 2018? Anything else you'll be working on over the next few months?
Just finished tracking rhythm guitars for the next album actually! You can bet your ass there will be a new Striker album out in 2018. This one is Toto meets Slayer. I know bands always say this, but this is our best album yet. If I had to pick just one album, this one is probably going to be my favourite Striker album ever. We've learned a lot and done a lot over the last few years, and the Striker shred train is just getting started. We are all extremely excited for the next album, and I really think it will blow people away. If you thought our previous stuff was good, you'll love the next one. It's not even mixed yet and I can't stop banging my head to it.