One of the unique aspects of the North American alt-rock movement of the 1980s was that suddenly bands could be from anywhere, and were unafraid to show it in their music. Before The Northern Pikes, it was practically unthinkable for a group from Saskatoon to make a significant impact, but their debut album Big Blue Sky remains a significant early milestone in terms of Canada’s indie scene crossing over to the mainstream.
Big Blue Sky’s legacy is now being celebrated with a 2-disc/3LP deluxe 30th-anniversary reissue from Universal Music Canada that offers a remastered edition of the original 12-track album, coupled with ten previously unreleased songs, along with along with a 1986 live show recorded at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern.
What still makes Big Blue Sky intriguing after all this time is that it captures the Pikes at a crucial transitional moment, exploring a spare, spiky sound somewhere in between the early work of British bands like The Cure and the more roots-infused approach of bands like R.E.M.
But what resonates most is the underlying angst in the album’s best-known songs, “Teenland,” “The Things I Do For Money,” and “Dancing In A Dance Club.” The Pikes, along with their peers 54-40, The Grapes of Wrath and The Pursuit Of Happiness, arrived at a moment when young Canadian audiences were searching for new voices to represent them. And given that the Pikes continue to command a loyal following despite now being a part-time concern for the original four members, that bond is still intact.
Guitarist Bryan Potvin spoke to us on the eve of The Northern Pikes’ cross-Canada Big Blue Sky 30th Anniversary Tour, co-presented by MusicVaultz, which kicks off Oct. 12 in St. John’s. For more details, go to thenorthernpikes.com.
What makes Big Blue Sky stand up for you after 30 years?
For the most part, it doesn't sound like a typical record from the mid-to-late 1980s. We were trying hard to avoid the production and performance cliches of the time. Most importantly, the songs wear very well several decades later. “The Things I Do For Money” is still the one song in our catalogue that probably means the most to me. It gave the band depth and broadened our audience.
What surprised you most when you revisited the unreleased demos and live tracks?
I had forgotten how good some of them were. I began to recall the “elimination process” of coming up with the 12 songs we were going to track for the album. Our label head at Virgin, Doug Chappell, only requested to know which tunes we were going to record.
The Pikes still work despite you all having separate careers. What keeps it going?
The music keeps the band together. I don’t think it can be the other way around. As previously mentioned, many of our songs have held up quite well over the years. They are still played regularly on radio in Canada, which keeps us engaged with our audience.
What other projects can you talk about that are on the go?
Kevin Kane, who is joining us on guitar and vocals for the BBS30 tour, is also my partner in Kane & Potvin. We made a record a little more than a year ago, and we perform live quite regularly.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
Running home after school and cranking my little stereo in my bedroom. It was all ‘70s hard rock—Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Rush... I had a short window most days, maybe an hour or two before my parents came home from work, so that was my time to rock out on air guitar.