A conversation with Duffy Driediger
Interview by Adam McKibbin
Photograph by Steven Bedard
Circumstance can be everything when it comes to connecting with music; bad songs can often be born anew by attaching themselves to positive memories and good friends. There is obviously also the potential for songs to reach a deeply personal level that the listener doesn’t even want to share, but, for the most part, a song that reminds you of glory days is probably going to get more love than a song that reminds you of today. Accordingly, to get from Bob Dylan to Bonnie “Prince” Billy in this writer’s iTunes, you first have to travel past (among others) Body Count, Bon Jovi, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
It remains to be seen how Ladyhawk will fit into the soundtrack of my life, but their eponymous debut clearly is custom made for the trouble side of midnight. (I’m pretty comfortable there, so they should have plenty of chances to make a lasting impact.) The Canadian quartet starts with the sort of earnest, riff-heavy, rough-around-the-edges that is most typically associated with the South and Midwest in the States. By the time they’re finished, they’ve alternately been reminiscent of The Replacements, Wolf Parade, and Okkervil River—yet haven’t aped any of them.
The Red Alert caught up with Ladyhawk singer/guitarist Duffy Driediger on Halloween, which the band was spending on the road. He talked about life on tour, the reasons for re-recording their album, and the secret external influence on the upcoming Mushroom Session release.
Well, happy Halloween! What are you guys up to this evening?
Oh, we’re just driving. We left Fargo and we’re moving onwards toward Chicago. We’re playing Chicago tomorrow night, so we’ve got a ways to go.
Did you fit in some Halloween madness over the weekend or did you miss out?
We pretty much missed out. We played a Halloween party in Edmonton a couple nights ago, and that was pretty fun.
What’s the touring lifestyle like for Ladyhawk? Rock and roll decadence, or a little more controlled?
It’s probably in the middle. We let loose a bit, but it’s usually just beers and stuff. We party when we can, but we’re pretty responsible about getting to the places we need to be.
No Axl Rose stuff.
(laughs) No, nothing like that.
Then there are bands who embrace the debauchery on the road, but then go buttoned-up and professional when it comes time to write and record. How do you guys handle that shift?
We approach recording the same way we approach playing shows: we go in, have fun, and get as much done as we can. We don’t generally have a lot of extra folks hanging around the studio, but friends will stop by, and that’s cool.
How long were you in the studio for Ladyhawk?
We all worked during the day, so we would do long sessions at night and on weekends. It took about three weeks in total.
And you finished the record, then ended up going back and re-recording, right?
Yeah. We saved up a bit of money that we made from playing shows, and we went in for three days and hashed it out and recorded it all pretty much live, right off the floor. The end result was okay, but it was a bit monotonous. We wanted a rocking, live-sounding record, and we got that, but it was too same-y. We sent it to Jagjaguwar, and they liked it, but they were like, “Would you guys consider redoing it?” We all kind of had second thoughts and things that we would have done differently, and they gave us a little bit more of a budget and we were able to spend a little bit more time to redo it. We’re all happier with the outcome now. It was kind of hellish to have to record it over again, but the finished result is a bit better.
You guys started from scratch, then?
We used sort of the same basic tracks for a couple of the songs, but we basically re-recorded everything.
Did you wind up with a lot of excess material? Or do you see most of the ideas through?
We see most of it through. By the time we re-recorded our album, we already had enough material to record our next album, which we’re still waiting to do. We’re hoping to be able to record that within the next few months. In the meantime, we went back into the studio and did some recording just for fun, and that’s an EP that will come out hopefully in the spring. We approached those songs in a different sort of way.
That’s the Mushroom Session?
Yeah, yeah. We approached it from a different…state of consciousness. (laughs)
Ah-ha! No need to ask about the title, then.
“The Dugout” was the lead single and subsequently the song that has been most discussed on mp3 blogs and everything. How did you decide which song was going to be the ambassador for the rest of the album?
I don’t know. That one seemed like an obvious single to people; not necessarily to us, but sort of to everybody. It’s one of the most instantly catchy songs that we’ve got, so it seemed like the right choice.
How much of the songwriting is collaborative and how much is done individually?
Well, I usually write the core melodies and lyrics, then show it to the guys and everyone writes their own parts and then we sort of jam on it until we’re at a point that it’s ready to come out and be performed. Over the course of playing the songs live over the next few months, it tends to evolve on its own. By the time it actually gets to being recorded, it’s pretty different than when we first started.
Once you arrive at that “finished” version of the songs, do they continue to morph when they’re played live, or do you stay pretty true to what we hear on the record?
We don’t change drastically, but we definitely like to play around with them—otherwise we’d get really bored with playing the same songs all the time. We try to mix it up and see if it will morph into something different.
One review that I read suggested that to fully appreciate Ladyhawk, the listener should get it on vinyl. Do you agree with that assessment?
I tend to agree. CDs are great, digital music is great and convenient, but there’s something about opening a record, pulling out the record, putting it on…there’s a whole process involved. The sound of vinyl is more special, you know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s true that it’s best listened to on vinyl, but I think it’s a different sort of vibe.
It seems like people have been talking about that a lot more this year, probably because Dylan came out and said that CDs sounded like crap because of the compression. Of course, even CDs are biting the dust.
Yeah, I think that CDs are not going to hang around forever, but I think that records will be around forever. People don’t want to let go of them. Having that format and size and cover art—it’s just better holding that big, flat piece of cardboard and plastic in your hands.
Now speaking of newer technology, there’s a pretty interesting video for “My Old Jacknife” floating around YouTube. How did that originate?
That’s kind of funny. A friend of ours had a videotape with a bunch of stuff recorded on it. I don’t exactly know where that footage came from, but a friend of a friend was at a nightclub on its opening night, videotaping Kelly Osbourne, and ended up interviewing her and pretending that it was going to be for some TV show—which was total bullshit. We found that footage, and a friend of ours edited it together to the song.
It’s oddly poignant.
Yeah, it’s…interesting. Before my girlfriend ever saw it, she was really against it. She was like, “I don’t like it. It seems like you’re making fun of her.” I said it wasn’t like that, and then she saw it and was like, “No, you’re right.” It’s not meant to be making fun or anything like that.