Ladyhawk singer/guitarist Duffy Driediger relaxes in the back of his band's touring van as it speeds along an interstate stretching between Chicago and God-knows-where. As usual, he's in tight quarters with three of his closest friends—guitarist Darcy Hancock, bassist Sean Hawryluk and drummer Ryan Peters. But there's a detachment to his tone that suggests Driediger is always alone no matter how many people surround him.
This existential dread repeatedly pops up in Ladyhawk's music. Lyrically, they're far more morbid than their bare-bones rock framework would lead you to believe, addressing themes of darkness, despair and lost innocence in ways that are typically found in unholy black metal from the coldest corners of Scandinavia.
“I'm just a dark guy,” Driediger laughs.
His bleak perspective might be informed by the experience of playing in the same rock band for nearly five years with relatively little to show for it, other than a pair of excellent, under-exposed albums and a few stories from the road.
All the band members still have day jobs back in their adopted hometown of Vancouver and, after devoting so much time to the group, it's only natural that they might feel disheartened as the years roll by faster and faster.
“I'm getting older. I just turned 30 and everyone else [in the band] is in their late 20s,” Driediger reflects. “I'm just sort of realizing the pointlessness of everything. Things that you suspected when you were younger and now you realize, ‘Yeah, there really is no point.' That's a bit of a trite statement, but you know what I mean.”
Appropriately, Ladyhawk's new album, Shots, was recorded in a crumbling farmhouse located not far from where the band members grew up in Kelowna, B.C. Even though the house may have been literally falling apart around them, there's a celebratory rush to the recordings that displays incandescent sparks of hopefulness, despite their isolation.
Or, you know, it could've just been all the drinking.
“Yeah, we drank a lot of sangria when we were recording,” Driediger says. “All that sugar gave us energy, and maybe you can hear it in the tunes.”
More than anything else, Shots recalls the fuzz-laced rock of Neil Young & Crazy Horse during their mid-'70s heyday. Practically everything written about Ladyhawk is bound to mention this comparison and, for once, the critics will be right on. Sure, there are nods to Archers of Loaf and Superchunk on “S.T.H.D.,” and the female cooing on “Night, You're Beautiful” is copped straight from Lou Reed's “Walk on the Wild Side.” But it wouldn't be surprising if the band revealed that they also spun On the Beach, Tonight's the Night and Zuma nonstop during their farmhouse sessions.
Shots captures the sound of a band belting out drunken confessionals into the early morning hours, spurred by an earnest love for playing music and an overwhelming disillusionment with day-to-day life. These are not rock stars; nor do they necessarily aspire to be. Yet their lack of pretense allows the music to resonate that much more. Still, despite consistent touring, the band has struggled to find a foothold in the U.S.
“When you've been on tour like eight or nine times and you're still playing to nobody, it can get pretty daunting and dark,” Driediger says. “It's funny, because we do really well in Canada. But in the States no one really gives a shit.”
It's hard to believe Ladyhawk hasn't gained wider recognition here, considering several of their songs—like “I Don't Always Know What You're Saying”—would fit in perfectly on modern-rock radio. But radio play isn't what they're after, and their underdog status suits the band far better, anyway.
When Ladyhawk was looking for a distributor several years ago, the band's friends (and fellow Vancouver residents) in Black Mountain suggested sending a demo to respected Indiana label Jagjaguwar. There was no response.
Undeterred, Ladyhawk kept playing shows—including with another Jagjaguwar artist, Magnolia Electric Co., who sang their praises—until the label was forced to take notice. Ladyhawk re-recorded the demo and sent it again. This time, Jagjaguwar gave them the answer they wanted. And, with a proper budget and some label backing, the band took a more deliberate approach in recording Shots.
“This time, we approached it like, ‘We've got an album to record that's going to come out on a label and maybe a few people are actually going to hear it,'” Driediger says. “We went in with more experience, knew how to get certain sounds we wanted and we had more time to do it.”
The more Ladyhawk tours, the better their chances are of gaining acclaim. But, true to his typical fashion, Driediger suspects he might not have much time left. He's not worried about the dissolution of the band so much as he's preoccupied with circumstances beyond his control.
“I'm reading some short-story anthologies and stuff like that,” Driediger says. “Nothing too fancy or thought-provoking—just something to keep my mind off the thought of crashing and dying on the road.” Ladyhawk plays at 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, with Neva Dinova and Team Abraham at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.myspace.com/ladyhawk.