High-school gigs led to deal with Madonna

Dakona doesn't mind being the underdog. In fact, the Langley-based band is used to it.

"When we got signed to Maverick, we got a decent deal," says vocalist Ryan McAllister, interviewed at a downtown coffee bar. "And then Lillix signed for a far less substantial amount and they were front-page news on all the papers."

"And it was nearly a year after our signing," says guitarist Brook Winstanley. "The headlines said 'First-ever Canadian band signed to Madonna's Maverick Records, Lillix,' and we're like 'What about us? We've been signed for eight months! We heard about them thinking about Lillix when we were sitting in the offices signing the papers!' "

That a big deal wasn't made out of Dakona's signing might prove beneficial, since it means the story is still fresh enough to accompany the group's years-in-the-making Maverick debut, Perfect Change. Forged from sing-along choruses and frat-friendly soft/loud dynamics, the songs are low on angst for all of their modern-rock sheen.

Recording the album turned out to be a bit of a nightmare, however.

"It involved a lot of ups and downs," McAllister says. "A lot of these songs we knew inside out. And when we went to Toronto we started overthinking stuff." After five months in Hogtown with Our Lady Peace overseer Arnold Lanni, the singer and his fellow Dakonians realized they "were so inside of it we didn't really know what was good or bad". After a two-week break they returned to the studio to find the tracks didn't have the magic they wanted.

"There were a few songs that hit it," Winstanley says. "But on other songs we realized we just needed to get in a room and play them. A song that takes three minutes to run through live shouldn't take three months to record."

An example of a recording that went right is "Soul for Sale", the album's most straight-ahead rock track, which was laid down as an afterthought in Seattle. "Certain producers vibe off certain songs and not on others, and Arnold wasn't vibing on that one. He thought it sounded too much like Rick Springfield." Wisely, the band decided to do it themselves and recorded the song in a mere 12 hours.

With the record in the bag and a hometown show at Richard's on Richards on Wednesday (February 18), Dakona is ready to reclaim the title of Madonna's first Canadian discovery. However, the question isn't so much why the signing was ignored as how the quartet got there in the first place, without any local press or radio attention. And the answer is solid, old-fashioned dues-paying that saw the band build a buzz by, as McAllister puts it, "playing everywhere between here and Salmon Arm".

"We gigged a lot of high schools in the [Fraser] valley," says Winstanley, recalling the first half of the five-year-old group's career.

McAllister adds: "It's the biggest untapped resource for independent bands. Don't worry about getting your 10 percent of your door cut at the Pic when it turns out to be about 20 bucks. Go and play for free, for 500 captive people who never get entertainment for lunch hour. These kids just sit in the cafeteria and talk about Survivor. Give 'em something to see."