Striker – Rev Up With UltrapowerTuesday, 2nd January 2024
The heavy, power, and traditional melodic metal landscape is in great shape thanks to bands like Striker producing high quality songwriting year after year. These Canadians continue to explore horizons while still maintaining the endearing qualities that helped put them on the map in the first place since the late 2000’s. Ultrapower is the seventh full-length studio record, and probably their most varied attack to date – incorporating everything from speed/thrash to AOR and old Wild West vibes. We reached out to vocalist Dan Cleary to catch up on the long break between full lengths, while also discussing everything from working with deathcore producer Josh Schroeder to saxophone guest spots, video making to band/music business advice, as well as some deep hair metal talk.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been six years between albums – which may seem like an eternity to some between releasing albums, but it’s not as if Striker has been idle while coming out of the pandemic. Can you discuss the strategy you employed during that downtime, as you released an Alive in the Studio record plus a couple of singles between 2020-2022 in preparation for this latest album Ultrapower. Do you believe the extra downtime allowed the band to regroup and revitalize the creative process plus business practices behind the band?
Dan Cleary: That’s an interesting question. It was a lot more turbulent. It wasn’t planned out really. We wanted to do the Alive in the Studio thing; it was something fun that we decided to record. And then right when the pandemic happened, we had that ready to go. Everybody was unsure of what was going on, so let’s just release this song by song for a little while, then release the whole thing. And then little did we realize it would be a much longer break than that.
Part way through the pandemic, the band was in a weird spot, and we almost broke up. We took a month or two where we were like, oh we aren’t in a band anymore – and then we were like, let’s be in a band (laughs). That was the destabilization, so it took us a little while to regroup after that and be like, what will we do for an album? We were already on the longer side for us of how long it would take for us to do another album compared to the last one. If you add in the extra (time), we are stoked to finally have this out shortly.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it a challenge to figure out what songs to release in the interim? Because these songs didn’t end up on the record…
Cleary: Yeah, we actually did three songs that we just recorded at home and then sent out to get mixed. That was “Deathwish”, “Strange Love”, and then there’s a third song that will be a bonus track on the new record. We did those, and at the time we were thinking maybe we would just release singles, and not do an album. And then eventually we said that we just have to do a whole album.
Dead Rhetoric: Ultrapower is the seventh studio album – and first to feature latest second guitarist John Simon Fallon. What was the songwriting and recording process like for this effort – as there seems to be a lot of diversity as far as incorporating different styles or approaches this time around while still developing tracks that are unmistakable Striker?
Cleary: Yeah. Ultrapower is the amalgamation of so many years of songwriting. That’s something I do regardless of whether we are going to release something, I’m always writing music. I end up with this big pool of ideas – some are good, some are not good (laughs). It takes a while to get through all of them and then decide what we want to do. This album, John Simon and I collaborated on one track that turned out well “Ready For Anything”. We have a big collection – we had seventy ideas, so how do we chop this down and figure out what to do with this? What helped is being in the studio with Josh – we went to Michigan to record with Josh Schroeder, who was very much like a musician’s producer. He had a good guiding hand, and it was nice for us to finally have that third party to say if two guys are saying this song should be on it, he would be impartial.
Dead Rhetoric: What songs took on the greatest transformation from the demo stage to the final recording – and were there any songs in particular you were butting heads about?
Cleary: It was funny. Something got left off the record which some people really wanted on there. Those tracks aren’t gone forever – it had really good ideas, but it didn’t really quite push any songs off the record. That was the main thing, everybody was happy with the songs that made it onto the album. Some people are mad that other songs though didn’t make it onto the album. I imagine those will be released at some point.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the saxophone spot come about for “Give It All”, who did you find to record this part?
Cleary: That one’s funny. Originally in the demo, I was like it would be awesome to have a saxophone here, and I had a plug in that did a saxophone, but it would have been cooler if it was an actual saxophone. We ended up, Josh recorded with a guy whose dad played saxophone – he played with Bootsy Collins and on a New Kids on the Block album. Perfect- let’s get him. We sent it to him, he’s a jazz guy. He thought it would be easy, he finished it within a half hour. Originally there was no saxophone solo on the song – we thought, should there be? Josh was like absolutely, we made extra room in the song to facilitate that solo. We were pretty stoked on that. That track was very much like an AOR, mid to late 80’s song when saxophones took over from the lead guitar aspect.
Dead Rhetoric: You worked with producer Josh Schroeder (best known for his work with Lorna Shore) this time – what types of tools, tricks, or techniques did he employ as a guiding hand to make this record that much more special or unique than what you’ve been able to achieve previously?
Cleary: Josh was really invested. Right from when we contacted him. Obviously, he is known as a deathcore producer, and that’s what we thought would be fun. Why don’t we see what just happens? Ultimately, he’s just a great producer. It just happens that the bands that he’s worked with that kind of have blown up, are deathcore. If he didn’t lean towards that so much, he’d still be successful in any other genre. He does do other things too. It was a lot of fun, he’s super interested in experimenting, trying things, it’s not just a business transaction. You could tell he is invested in the songs, holding onto to certain things that we couldn’t change, this has to stay. That’s exactly what we wanted when we were going to be working with a producer, we were super stoked about that.
Dead Rhetoric: It also seems like you enjoy creating video content through multiple mediums – between playthroughs, podcasts, and real videos. Where do you see the importance of this content in building the brand of Striker – and are there any interesting, funny, or surprising stories related to “Best of the Best of the Best” and “Circle of Evil”?
Cleary: Yeah, the video stuff, you have to do it. We used to have a friend that was a video director, but he moved to Berlin. We were left with, how do we do the videos? The budget isn’t that great, especially when you are an independent band. How can we get some videos done? We ended up buying our own camera, we’ve been tinkering around with that and slowly getting better with that. I just feel like our videos are going to keep getting better and better as we get used to shooting stuff.
As for those videos, some of the funny things. With “Best of the Best of the Best”, the Fiero that’s in that, the red car, that’s Tim’s mom’s car. Which is hilarious – there are a lot of comments on the classic car. For “Circle of Evil”, we filmed that at a local video store, which there are not many of them left. Kevin the owner, we’ve known him for a long time, he’s been in the metal scene, he’s a big horror guy. He was down for us to shoot a spooky video there. He has a movie coming out, we have seen a preview of it here, called The Last Video Store. If you get a chance to see it, it’s a great movie.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the Striker highlights when looking at the career arc of the band? Have there been specific albums, videos, tours, festival appearances, or travel excursions that stand out to you that will be forever embedded in the memory banks that you consider special?
Cleary: I was just talking with some friends of ours about this last night. Sometimes I forget about it, it’s been so long, but in 2011 we opened for Metallica for two nights in Edmonton, in the big arena. It was the local band that does the big hero move and gets on the show. We’ve had lots of highlights. We’ve played Wacken in 2022, that was great, the weather was awesome. We had some friends who went this year, and it was a mud pit. The stars aligned for us on that one. Every tour is a highlight. Because it’s been so long since we’ve had a tour – last year we played like two shows, and that feels so strange to us. We are hoping to play as many shows as we can in 2024.
Dead Rhetoric: I remember Tim discussing in a previous interview your abilities as a multi-media specialist for the band. Has it been a long-running interest, do you have any special degrees or training in the field? Also, what are your thoughts on the tools of AI that could help or hinder what is done in this field?
Cleary: Not unlike me being a singer, it’s sort of a necessity. I decided to try it, I have always been interested in music videos. When I was a kid, they had Power Hour on Much Music which is where I saw big production metal videos. I’ve been drawn to edit music videos – mostly I’ve done it for the band, but I just did one for our friends in Traveler down in Calgary. So that’s my directorial debut for something non-Striker.
I don’t know about AI. Right now, AI art looks very obvious. For me, I’ve always thought it was similar to people complaining about editing and drum samples, things like that. People were like absolutely not, and now it’s standard practice. Maybe that will be the same with the AI stuff – once people find a way to use it that isn’t too obvious, maybe it will become more of a factor.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any specific advice or maybe words of wisdom / insight that you could give to newer, up and coming metal bands based on your years of experience through Striker?
Cleary: There’s lots (laughs). If I was to go back and tell myself things when I was just starting out, one of the biggest things is you can do it. Early on, we were just in a band for fun, didn’t really have any crazy aspirations. Even doing an album, the first time we recorded that it seemed very luxurious compared to recording a demo. You can absolutely just go do it. There isn’t much stopping people these days – you can record an album in your bedroom. When we started, it was early hardware that was pretty expensive, now it’s pretty easy.
Other than that. Just be nice. Try to be nice as much as you can – build some good relationships. Over the years we found that’s such an important thing in the music industry. In a way, it’s who you know, you have to build a network. They always talk about a ten-year, overnight success – I think a lot of that comes from it taking that long to meet enough people that can actually help you or are willing to help you. As long as you are nice to those people, you can get ahead a little bit.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you changed your mind about over the last few years, either in the music business or personally? And why have you changed your mind about that area?
Cleary: It’s still hard to wrap our heads around working with a label! (laughs). What has changed… specifically on this album, we just decided to do whatever we wanted. Not that there was that much pressure before from people. It’s funny, you change your sound just slightly… I wouldn’t say that Striker has changed our sound that much, compared to some bands. We played our first show in Germany, we had released our first album Eyes in the Night, and I had a guy come up to me and say he liked the singing on the Road Warrior EP better because I had a raspier voice on that. Dude, I just didn’t know how to sing, that’s why it sounds like that, because I was blowing my voice out all the time.
On this album, we are guys that like having fun. Taking things seriously, but in a non-serious way. It’s been fun for us.
Dead Rhetoric: I think one of the things that has helped Striker stand out is the ability to pull off multi-part vocal harmonies, as a band, especially in live settings…
Cleary: That’s always been something we love. We love a lot of hair metal – Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, they’ve always had those big vocal harmonies. It’s not a question for us, we have to do this live. We’ve been lucky enough that most of the people we’ve had in the band, they are pretty good singers. Even Pete our bass player, he’s a fantastic singer. At one point I was like, maybe he should be the singer and I’ll take over the bass duties from now on (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state or evolution of heavy metal currently? Where do you see the future of the movement when a lot of the veteran and legacy bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Metallica retire?
Cleary: The future is safe in the hands of Kiss! (laughs). 2027… let’s go! (laughs). It’s a crazy thing to think about. Even for us. Our parents are getting older, things are changing. We saw Judas Priest at Wacken last year, and Halford is old. It’s amazing he’s still up there doing it – and he sounded great. How much longer can that go on? You would hope it would be forever. It will be interesting to see. I hope the touring world doesn’t get too disrupted with the financial cost of everything. We had to cancel going to Europe last summer because we can’t take this big of a financial loss on just going. The first time we went to Europe, it was $5,000 for five plane tickets. Last year it was $10,000 for five tickets – holy smokes. The barrier of entry to get on tour is so high, hopefully that can stabilize itself or else it will be a lot harder for bands to tour in general. We will see.
Where there is a will, there’s a way. Bands will still tour, they will just figure it out.
Dead Rhetoric: You also have a love for 80’s LA/Sunset Strip bands – what are some of the guilty pleasures or underrated bands from that era that you believe people need to do a deeper dive into for their discography or an appreciation standpoint?
Cleary: That’s a good question. One of my favorite, lesser known (bands) is Hurricane. Slave to the Thrill, that album is so good – Doug Aldrich on guitar, he is so sick. I like the obvious ones, Ratt, Lynch Mob, Dokken. Blue Murder – I have that CD and it was in my parents car for two years straight. I love Blue Murder. I really like FM – that’s not a Sunset Strip band, they are from the UK. Strangeways is a good one. I like to dig in and see if there are more bands I haven’t heard of. That list goes on, we were listening to Roxy Blue the other day. XYZ is another band I like, awesome stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months or so looking for Striker in terms of promotion for the new record?
Cleary: I am currently working on a new music video right now, for “Give It All”. We will keep releasing videos, we will get together to figure out an idea and then go do it. We are definitely subscribing to the idea that it’s never too bad to promote an album, it goes up, up, and then dies and no one cares. We’d like to keep the interest going throughout the year. We’ve got a couple of festivals confirmed, and we are looking to get some actual tour dates. One or two shows a year is not enough anymore.