Last Friday, prairie rockers The Northern Pikes released their ninth studio album, Forest of Love. To say it has been a long wait is quite the understatement, given that the band's last album of new material, It’s A Good Life, was released in 2003.
To get an update on things Pike, we interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bryan Potvin, who frankly admitted "I was never sure we'd ever do this again."
A catalyst for the new record and the rejuvenation of the group has been the introduction of a new member, Kevin Kane. Formerly with another popular band from the West, Grapes of Wrath, Kane was initially drafted to come on board to help the Pikes tour in support of the 30th anniversary reissue of their breakthrough album, Big Blue Sky, in 2017.
Prior to that, and since the departure of founding member Merl Bryck in 2006, the Pikes had stayed active performing as a trio comprising Potvin and fellow co-founders drummer Don Schmid and singer/bassist Jay Semko.
Looking back, Potvin notes that "we had always seen ourselves as a fourpiece band, At its peak, when we found our own identity, we were a band with three singer/songwriters.
"With the loss of a member it felt like we were hobbled a little. We never really talked that much about it, but to go out and do the Big Blue Sky tour properly, we did need a fourth member. I recommended Kevin, and when he came aboard things started to sound natural fast. It felt like that strength we had, something that set us apart from other bands, had returned."
That is evident on Forest Of Love, an album that effectively showcases the group's penchant for melodic rock given variety by the presence of three different vocalists and songwriters.
Aiding Kevin Kane's integration into the band was the fact that he has collaborated extensively with Potvin in recent years. The pair put out a well-received duo album, Kane & Potvin, in 2016, and toured it extensively.
"Kevin and I had time to get to know each other and we had a lot of fun, doing the duo thing," Potvin explains. "We are very proud of that record. We actually had a chat relatively recently about that project and have elected to just park it indefinitely. With Kevin's permanent inclusion into The Pikes now, it would just create confusion in the marketplace, but it did serve as a great launchpad for his participation in the band now."
Potvin notes that "Kevin has literally and figuratively travelled the same roads we have, so it is not like we brought in a rookie or a 40 year old unknown. This is someone who has lived in the same kind of ecosystem as we have, so it felt normal and good."
"It is an interesting new shot of adrenalin. Merl had an excellent skill set as a musician but Kevin brings this guitar prowess to the band. I think I'm a decent player and Kevin is too so I feel we're a bit more beefed up in the guitar department now. we have more tools at our disposal."
To record Forest Of Love, The Northern Pikes set up shop at the National Music Centre in Calgary, producing the album themselves, with recording assistance from Graham Lessard.
Potvin explains that "the way it unfolded at the NMC as we were working on this was we would just show up. Jay, Kevin and I were expected to bring some material in so we would have something to work from. We'd sit in the control room in the morning and exchange some ideas - 'I've got this song, what do you think of it?,' and we'd strum it out on acoustic guitar. Kevin had some more polished demos for us to work on together, and then we then started cutting it."
"We had nine tunes and on the last full recording day we had no prepared material, so we sat in the hotel room and wrote the last song on the record, Don't Give Up."
As wth Canrock peers Sloan, The Pikes use the presence of multiple singer/songwriters to their advantage. "I think Sloan and the Pikes have a similar political structure. We understand the strengths of diversity ," says Potvin.
He recalls that in the formative years of the band, "Jay was getting uncomfortable with the pressure of coming up with material. Merl wrote a few songs here and there and I took it upon myself to see if I could do it. I was never met with any kind of discouragement or interference. Now everyone is properly represented."
In retrospect, the mid '80s to early '90s period is being viewed as a golden coming of age era for Canadian rock, with The Northern Pikes considered part of that. Asked for comment, Potvin responds that "I am hesitant to talk about this subject as I never want to name names. But I do feel there was this wave of artists in the mid to late 80s, like Blue Rodeo, 54-40, and the Pikes, and then with The Hip and Crash Test Dummies, there was a second wave coming up behind us .
"I don't know if those bands could have come from anywhere else but Canada. This was a shift away from a kind of cookie cutter rock that was going on prior to that, which really emulated what was going on in the US and to a lesser extent the UK. I don't know what happened, but there seemed to be less pressure on bands to conform to a certain sound and look."
The Northern Pikes play select festival shows across Canada this summer, and have a Nov. 2 show at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern. Itinerary here.