Much has been made of the gap between the release of Ladyhawk’s 2008 sophomore LP, Shots, and its recently delivered follow-up, No Can Do. Despite that four-year stretch, the Kelowna-bred band didn’t shut down completely. The last couple of years have seen Ladyhawk perform in and out of town occasionally, though the quartet’s members admit that everyday life has gotten in the way of playing live shows.
“It didn’t feel like we took any significant time off,” drummer Ryan Peters says while sitting with his bandmates at the group’s East Van jam space the night before the start of a Canadian tour. “We still played four times a year, but it was always in Toronto, or Calgary. It wasn’t planned either, the break—it just happened. You get really into doing normal-type things: nurturing relationships with loved ones, working and making money.”
While it seemed to some as if Ladyhawk—Peters, singer-guitarist Duffy Driediger, guitarist Darcy Hancock, and bassist Sean Hawryluk—was put on ice following the promotion cycle for Shots, the band actually began crafting No Can Do as far back as 2009. Lo-fi versions were recorded of the title track, as well as “Footprints”, “Sinking Ship”, and “Eyes of Passion”. All appear in slightly altered form on the finished product.
After the demo session, however, a surge of activity took place outside of the outfit. Peters and Hancock issued an LP with their detuned grunge trio, Sports. Hancock also signed on with punk unit Hard Feelings, while Peters got drafted into Lightning Dust’s live show. Driediger delivered a fast and fuzzy pop platter under the name Duffy and the Doubters in 2010. Hawryluk, meanwhile, has been holding down the low end in brutal doomcore band Baptists, as well as with ’90s-style pop-punks Slow Learners.
Despite the lengthy drought of Ladyhawk proper, things started looking up for fans last year when the group teased them with some fittingly low-budget videos for a couple of demo selections. The slinky “Footprints”, for instance, was treated to an ill-lit and smoky clip featuring a female figure gyrating around a phallic obelisk, while the psych-jangler “No Can Do” stars a barfing stop-motion pumpkin. Not long after, Hancock booked some studio time with the group’s long-time producer Colin Stewart at his Burnaby-based Hive Studios.
A sigh of relief can be breathed now that Ladyhawk is back, but listeners will notice the band has undergone some sonic restructuring since Shots. Gone are Crazy Horse–indebted anthems like “Came in Brave”, which paired Driediger’s easygoing croon with Hancock’s blistering fretwork. Also absent are country-flavoured, backwoods-bar rockers like “Drunk Eyes” and “Faces of Death”. Speaking for himself, Hancock explains that he’s just not into flashy guitar heroics anymore.
“I stopped enjoying rock ’n’ roll guitar and solos and stopped listening to that kind of music,” he offers of his shift away from cranked-amp pyrotechnics. “That was really important to me for years—I’d just listen to Thin Lizzy or whatever else was on in the van. I just like pop music. Depeche Mode has always been my favourite band, so I guess I just kind of thought of it as a keyboard line on a guitar. It was kind of scary at first.”
Despite his newfound outlook, you won’t mistake Hancock’s more textured approach for synth patterns off Depeche Mode’s Speak & Spell. Though the guitarist’s ambient washes on “Footprints” come across like deep-sea cries, he revs things up on the punchy punk stomper “Rub Me Wrong”. Hancock gets especially minimal on the paranormal “I’m a Witch”, which finds Hawryluk’s melodious in-the-red bass rumble pushed to the forefront. Elsewhere, “Sinking Ship” and “You Read My Mind” rely on Driediger’s famously crammed arrangements, but the songs also feature Peters’s no-nonsense, nervous metronome tick.
“I just started writing shorter, faster songs. It wasn’t a conscious effort,” Driediger notes of his streamlined collection of self-described “stupid jingles”.
Another change in the Ladyhawk camp is Driediger’s move to Summerland with his girlfriend this past September, a pilgrimage prophesied by No Can Do’s “Bedbugs”. In the song, which is one of the more laid-back tracks on the album, Driediger sweetly delivers disdainful lyrics about Lotusland, such as “There’s no hope, this is a terminal city, but don’t they make it pretty?”
The vocalist’s departure from his home base of the last eight years hasn’t worried the other members of Ladyhawk.
“I don’t think it negatively affects our band, just because of the way we’ve been doing things for the last several years,” Hancock says. “When we have something to do, we do it.”
“When we started, we played three nights a week and we would jam for three hours every time. It seems ridiculous now,” Peters adds. “The poor other people in our lives at the time.”
Ladyhawk plays the Biltmore Cabaret tonight (November 1) and Friday (November 2).