Strike the drums, tickle the synths

Armed with their thundering drums and palpable synths, the band who say they believe in Bruce Springsteen anthems and Beach Boys harmonies are coming to Clark Hall Pub next Thursday

When Darryl Smith was feeling a little apprehensive about putting music on hold for law school, he banded together with his mates from summer camp to conceive Writers’ Strike.
When Darryl Smith was feeling a little apprehensive about putting music on hold for law school, he banded together with his mates from summer camp to conceive Writers’ Strike.

It’s not often that bands get their start at summer camp singing “Kum Ba Yah” around the campfire. But that’s what happened for Halifax-based indie group Writers’ Strike, with three of the members, Conor Hancey (guitar, bass, vocals), Darryl Smith (guitar, bass, vocals) and Matt Davidson (guitar, bass, vocals).

“Matty, Connor and I used to all go to summer camp up north together for forever,” Smith explained. “We all came from all over but we all ended up at the same summer camp. It’s sort of complicated but we all ended up there.”

It wasn’t until years after that the band formally came together, adding in synthesizer and keyboardist Amy Bollivar and then-drummer Craig Koziar, after Smith’s previous band fell apart and he was facing a career change.

“I was planning on going to law school, but was a little apprehensive about not having a band anymore, so I concocted this plan of getting everyone together,” he said. “We had all played camp songs together and now we have a real band.”

The influence of summer camp did not only bring the quintet together, but was the inspiration for their original band name, First Aid Kit.

“My friend Connor and I had been sitting in a bar in Glasgow … we were thinking of things from camp, others things were like The Dining Hall,” he said.

The band changed their name due to confusion with a band of the same name from Sweden, but that allowed them to create a new name with an allusion to the 2007 writers’ strike.

“We probably came up with like 30 [names] and liked 15 of them, but most of them are taken,” he said. “The writers’ strike stuff, it sounded really cool, I found it was like a cool cultural moment … if people stop making stuff, things get really bad really quick.”

The band’s MySpace shares that their sound is an infusion of Bruce Springsteen and the Beach Boys, which creates the band’s unique brand of pop-rock fusion.

“It’s ultimately pop songs, but sort of pop songs that have meaning; not candy pop, pop songs that resonate,” he said. “I don’t think they’re really glossy, I’m singing about things that really matter to me. It means something to the audience, it washes over them. I don’t want them to be cute. They reach someone and make them listen; to feel something, not just be like, ‘that was nice’.” The band’s version of pop comes in part from Smith and Davidson’s different methods of song writing.

“We usually write pretty independently,” Smith explained. “He will listen to songs and he is immersed in pop songs, [he] thinks about what makes a pop song … really follows structures and stuff like that, but we do that and then it sounds nothing like that. For me I sort of sit around with a guitar plugged in and playing melodies … There is never a specific inspiration. Matty is much more aware of trends and mine come from more inside me, I’m not trying to do something.”

Though the band now resides in Halifax with new drummer Tynan Dunfield, Smith originally came from California and uses the influence of his American up-bringing in his music.

“I have a pretty big obsession with America,” he said. “I’m very interested in the nuances, there is a specific American confidence, it’s a delusional confidence that weirds me out … Canadians have a very specific modest kind of thing, I’m really intrigued by those nuances. I’m really interested in old song writers … some of those songs are full of Springsteen references and how his interpretation of America is still relevant to us. Is “Born to Run” still relevant to us?”

The band has released two EPs, Rocket Summer in 2007 and Still Standing in 2009 and is now working on their first full-length album.

“Some of the songs we are going to steal from the old EPs … our hope is that this record will reach a lot more people so we might as well put our strongest tracks,” Smith said.

“The songs that are most popular from our old albums, the pop albums, but we are going to try to have some slower songs. The other big thing is we want to make it sound the way we feel it should sound.” It’s unknown when this album will be finished, but in the meantime the band plans to release another EP.

“It’s fun for us because the studio stuff is really meticulous, this is more scrappy,” he said.

Smith is a Queen’s grad and said he’s excited to be coming back to Clark Hall where he played his first show with a previous band. Like most Queen’s students he has many memories of all the antics of his undergrad days.

“It’s a really pretty city, the winter there is really pretty, a postcard winter. I also think of some of the shit I did, one time I had to ban myself from the Grad Club,” he said with a laugh. “I have a lot of fond memories.”

Smith has come a long way since then and is looking towards the future, listing Joe Strummer as his dream collaboration and a fellow Canadian group as his nightmare collaboration.

“Maybe like Nickelback, that’s like a cop-out answer,” he said. “That would be a little bit funny, it would be bad, but I would enjoy seeing what the outcome would be.”

Smith insists he would never want to release the results of this collaboration, but fans don’t need to worry, with two planned album releases, 2011 will be full of Writers’ Strike’s emotive pop.

Writers’ Strike plays the Clark Hall Pub on March 10 at 9 p.m.

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