By Keith Sharp
Vancouver’s Pigeon Park are facing a bitter-sweet situation as they prepare to promote their new six-track EP titled Stripes with a gig at this city’s famed Commodore Ballroom. Taking a break from the band’s sound check, guitarist Kevin Okabe reports the concert will mark the final performance by the band’s drummer Hunter Elliot.
Just another obstacle to clear for what had been five local musicians who toiled for five years before making a breakthrough by winning 99.3 Fox FM’s annual talent contest in 2013, the grand prize being a recording session with ace producer Ggarth Richardson which resulted in the band’s latest EP release.
“It’s going to be an emotional evening for sure,” noted Okabe as the band prepares to lose its drummer. “But there’s a good buzz about the band right now we have received plenty of positive responses from other top drummers so we’ll start auditioning next week.”
Since two rival groups of kids from Centennial High School in Port Coquitlam and Heritage High School in Port Moody, joined forces to form a band in 2008, Okabe and Elliot have been joined by vocalist Nick Weber, guitarist Logan Pacholok and bassist Artur Leppart in what has been a long, gruelling battle to achieve relevance as an indie band at this West Coast outpost.
“The reason we called this EP `Stripes’ is because I believe we’ve all earned our stripes by surviving as an indie band this long,” noted Okabe. “It’s not easy gaining acceptance, especially when the next nearest big city is like three hours away.” Named after a notorious area located on Vancouver’s Lower East Side, Pigeon Park recorded one EP and one full album which they’d rather have people not know existed before achieving a certain level of success with the release of their `Black Widow’ EP.
Achieving platinum status in the 99.3 CFOX contest, not only got the band to spend quality time with Richardson but also allowed them to capitalize on a number of positive career movies which had Pigeon Park link up with Kevin Zaruck’s Big Chief Management company, a move which resulted in key concert appearances opening for the likes of Aerosmith/Slash, Big Wreck, Sam Roberts and Matt Good.
“Considering how much we had previously struggled, to get to open for Aerosmith was totally surreal. They were the reason I got into rock music in the first place,” enthused Okabe. “Our bassist (Artur Leppart) went up to Aerosmith lead vocalist Steven Tyler and told him we were honoured to be opening for them. Tyler then gave Artur a big hug and said he felt the same when Aerosmith opened for The Kinks at the start of their career. We were so jealous of Artur!”
As for the band’s studio session with Richardson (whose many studio credits include Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage In The Machine), Okabe admitted the band was intimidated at first but Richardson’s good humour and pleasant demeanour soon put them at ease. “At first it was, oh no! But as soon as we got in the studio with him, he totally relaxed us and after a while we all felt comfortable during the sessions.”
Certainly Richardson was a solid choice to develop the band’s classic rock sound while providing a current studio feel to the band’s six recordings The high tempo swagger of lead-off track “High To Get By” and the solid guitar arrangements on “Break Me” are balanced by Weber’s meaningful mid-tempo lyrics reflected In the band’s debut single “Walk Alone” and on “Long Gone” with the EP title track “Stripes” paying homage to the band’s internal and external struggles to stay aloft during their six-year fight for survival.
Okabe noted that finances played a role in dictating the budget for Stripes. “We would have loved to record a full album but with finances the way they were, it didn’t make sense to spend money on tracks that wouldn’t get heard by the public,” he analyzed. “But as we develop and get better known, I am sure we will get to release a full record eventually.”
Winning CFOX’s contest which had boasted such first place winners as Nickelback, Theory Of A Dead Man, Matthew Good and Bif Naked was a major boost to the band’s image and they are now looking forward to bigger gigs and festival dates with larger crowds at more profile venues.
“Losing our drummer aside, we have received a lot of encouragement lately which we needed,” wrapped Okabe before heading back into the venue. “We’ve written about 10 more songs and once we’ve finished auditions, we will be all set to go out there and promote our new record.”