FADER 53: Ladyhawk Feature

August 11, 2008

Our love of Ladyhawk—the most American sounding Canadian band working today—is well documented in the various forms of media we inhabit, but the hugest bummer of all the bummers is that Europe has never gotten a chance to experience the band live on a real life stage. Ladyhawk are coming to you London and Dublin and Groningen and Utrecht and other places (like the non European city of Los Angeles), go see them and buy them beers. Tour dates are below, and then when you are done looking at those, read Sam Hockley-Smith's feature on the band from F53.

08/25 - Beirut, Lebanon - Big Bang Festival

08/26 - Los Angeles, CA - Fuck Yeah! Fest

09/21 - Tilburg, Netherlands - ZXZW Festival

09/22 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Paradiso

09/23 - London, UK - Brixton Windmill

09/24 - Leeds, UK - Faversham

09/26 - Glasgow, UK - Nice N' Sleazy

09/27 - Dublin, IRL - Crawdaddy's

09/28 - Manchester, UK - Roadhouse

09/29 - Bristol, UK - St. Bonaventure's Parish Club

09/30 - Cardiff, UK - Clwb Ifor Bach

10/01 - London, UK - The Borderline

10/04 - Groningen, Netherlands - Take Root Festival

Duffy Driediger sits in the only diner in downtown Vancouver that he likes, talking about how he was so hung over the last time he was here that he had to run to the bathroom connected to the kitchen to throw up. “Everyone was looking at me,” says the guitarist and lead singer of the band Ladyhawk. For Ladyhawk everywhere in Vancouver has a story like this, one that doesn’t really go anywhere and usually involves incapacitation or empty bottles. It’s like the city itself has become a well-worn flannel for them. In a sea of sports bars and shitty pizza joints, the Templeton diner stands out as one of the few places in the area worth returning to, mostly because it’s clean and isn’t frequented by young assholes in baggy Jncos. Across the street is a store that sells Slipknot T-shirts and in the distance ten cranes stand next to the skeletons of future buildings, chipping away at the formerly uninterrupted expanse of Northwest sky.

All four members of Ladyhawk live on the eastside of Vancouver. There were points when they lived together, but now they’ve mostly moved in with their girlfriends—
a sign of growing up, despite the fact that they all deny they are growing up. In their music, Ladyhawk take all the tiny self-discoveries that come with finding your place in the world and then turn them into dirty guitar jams. They are drunken reflections on life’s dissatisfactions: adult in their acceptance of pain, but adolescent in their directness. “We’re a pretty emo band,” Driediger says. “I’m kinda embarrassed. I don’t know if I would be a fan of our band if I wasn’t in it.”

Ladyhawk began, unofficially, in Kelowna, British Columbia, about four hours northeast of Vancouver. Driediger along with lead guitarist Darcy Hancock, drummer Ryan Peters, and bassist Sean Hawryluk spent their teenage years living near each other, but didn’t form Ladyhawk until they all migrated to Vancouver because it was time to move somewhere, anywhere, bigger. After re-recording their self-titled album because they didn’t like how it sounded the first time, they shopped it around, eventually getting signed by Jagjaguwar and releasing it to little fanfare. “There are not that many Ladyhawk fans out there,” Driediger admits. “In every crowd there are like five people that are really stoked, [but] I’d rather play a shitty show in some kid’s basement in Fargo to like 15 super stoked kids.”

Since the first album’s release in 2006, Ladyhawk went on to make Fight For Anarchy, a vinyl-only EP that was recorded under a mushroom haze and virtually ignored by everyone. Shots, Ladyhawk’s new album, is a confluence of their previous work, finding them trying to deal with getting older, but now turned more inward. Instead of the outside world becoming too much for Driediger, he grapples with his religious background through the same boozy lens that all Ladyhawk songs are filtered through. “I went to bible school for a year after high school,” Driediger says. “I used to believe it really intensely and now it’s not part of my life anymore. But it still is. It’s still where I come from.” On “I Don’t Always Know What You’re Saying” he mumbles, And the heavens, they just opened up onto nothing/ And a voice called down and said, You can come if you want to. The song ends with no resolution. Driediger still has questions, but maybe that’s all he needs. Without the answers he can put off growing up just a little longer.

Walking through Vancouver from downtown towards Peters’ apartment, the city quickly dissolves into a dense cluster of flagrant drug use: addicts shoot up in alleys in the middle of the afternoon or shake from withdrawal outside of community centers. There’s something unquantifiable in the area’s fucked-upness and how it affects the rest of the city, whether its residents choose to acknowledge it or ignore it completely. It has turned the character of Vancouver into something similar to Seattle in the grunge years—a total mess of dirty, unhinged music and working-class people trying to meld their ruminations on life and death and relationships and everything else into something tangible.

At Peters’ attic-like apartment he’s tall enough to nearly hit the low ceilings. Driediger and Hancock slump in their chairs, and Hawryluk is at work in the woods. He might come by later, but he’s also deep into a particularly engrossing game of Dungeons & Dragons, so no one really knows when he’s going to show up. Although all the members of Ladyhawk have some sort of day job (Driediger does shirt screenprinting, Hancock works construction but used to cut hair, Peters bartends at a dive called Pat’s Pub and Hawryluk is a forester) they avoid them as much as possible, usually practicing once a week and spending the rest of the time with their girlfriends or hanging out with each other. “At this point, us even playing music is a miracle,” says Peters. “All of our friends from high school have houses and kids and mortgages and shit like that. This is literally all I can do. I have no skills, but it makes me happy. And I have to be happy.”

Not too long ago, the Vancouver music scene was thriving. Stephen McBean was creating druggy rock monoliths with Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops, the New Pornographers jumped into the wake of Hot Hot Heat’s quickly rising (and then falling) star just as Dan Bejar went off to create epically verbose songs as Destroyer full time. Plenty of smaller bands were kicking around, developing the Vancouver sound—grimy dive bar rock that is catchy in its darkness and drunkenly self-defeating. At some point, most of those bands got too big for the city or broke up. “It seems like a wasteland,” Driediger says of the community now. “I don’t want to say it’s dead, but there isn’t a lot going on.” Hancock echoes this sentiment, “It’s a small city that the rest of the world barely pays attention to. At least within itself you think it could be something.” But it isn’t, and it maybe never really was. Still, Ladyhawk is here, looking for chances to leave the city for any reason, yet always coming right back.

With Shots, they went home to Kelowna, choosing to record the album in a gutted farmhouse. As with all their previous recorded work the whole process was a struggle. “I always had this feeling of impending doom, that this is it, I might not ever be able to write any more songs,” Driediger says. “I didn’t feel like it was flowing.” But eventually Shots was finished, despite the constant presence of a camera crew filming the band for Let Me Be Fictional, a documentary by Ladyhawk fans Mona Mok and Rob Leickner that, while compelling, is mostly unnecessary. But it makes sense that it exists, as those who care about the band do so passionately. In typical self-doubting Ladyhawk fashion, the band is worried that it exists at all. “It’s a panicky feeling,” Driediger says. “You like to have some degree of control over how you are portrayed. I don’t think it portrays us in any bad light, but I’m just like, People will think that we are so boring. It’s lame to be a band that nobody knows or cares about that has a movie about them.” For all the band’s nervousness and confusion about why the film even exists, they don’t really need to worry. It captures the most basic essence of Ladyhawk: four dudes who happen to make shredding music together drinking and hanging out. And in my two days with them, this is exactly what they do, too. They see folky Seattle bleaters the Cave Singers play a show, they eat ultra dense Chinese food, they drink carefully portioned well drinks and complain about the Canada pour laws, and on a late night walk through Vancouver, Peters says he wishes they had Netflix in Canada, expressing near shock that there is actually a service that sends your movies to you.

One night while Hancock sits in the mostly empty Pat’s Pub and Peters works behind the bar, Driediger comes in and slumps down with his BLT. At the next table over is a group of old men who look like they’ve been there forever, and don’t plan on leaving any time soon. A couple of them get up and head to the glassed-in smoking area in the middle of the bar, which makes them look like they’re in the reptile house at the zoo. Soon members of Black Mountain and Blood Meridian show up, necessitating a move to a long bank of tables. Hancock leans over and says, “You want to see the Vancouver music scene? This is it.” Everyone here is friends with everyone else, and although the circle has dwindled, there is still a warmth in the room. Amid the fears and self-doubt and lack of career confidence, Ladyhawk will always have each other to fall back on.

Earlier in the day, walking through the city, Driediger said, “I’m 30 years old, I have a shitty job and I’m basically exactly the same as I was when I was 17, but at least I got a band.” And maybe that’s enough for now.

FADER 53: Ladyhawk Feature