by Scott Roos
Striker's Pete Klassen poses with his 2020 Juno award
For Edmonton based rocker, Pete Klassen, rock was embedded into his DNA at an early age. He knew, even as a toddler, that rock n’ roll was the answer to all of life’s most important questions.
“Being a toddler in the 80s with a teenage big brother, I used to look at him and his metal clothes and tapes and stuff thinking it all looked so fascinating and I really wanted to play the guitar or drums... or something!” explains Klassen.
It wasn’t long before Klassen’s parent got wind of the youngsters newfound obsession. To placate their son, they purchased a toy guitar. What they didn’t expect, however, is what Klassen would do with said instrument once he got it into his hands.
“When I was probably about 4 or 5, I asked my folks for a guitar for Christmas and they got me this little toy one. Now what I had seen of guitars was a lot of guitar smashing and crazy stuff in my big bro's music videos so I thought that's what you do with one! Needless to say my parents were probably horrified when I opened my present and proceeded to smash it to bits on the living room floor,” Klassen laughs at his description of this early Christmas scene.
“I ended up taking some guitar lessons later in life though and they just made me learn Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and all that junk. I was like, ‘No thanks... I wanna rock!’ So I just went the guitar magazine/Hal Leonard book approach and picking up tips from older musician friends.Once I got older and started jamming with friends I started getting more serious and experimenting with whatever instrument I could get my hands on and it just grew from there,” Klassen continues.
So thus was the start of an illustrious career that even had Klassen end up in a lengthy stint playing music in Japan. Eventually, that gig ran its course and Klassen returned home to Alberta looking for a new gig. It just so happened that luck was on his side because his friends in Striker were in the market for a new bass player. It was the age old story of someone being in the right place at the right time.
“I had taken off to pursue a musical adventure in Japan and kept my eye on Striker's growth from abroad, always stoked to see them becoming more and more excellent. I suppose my return to Canada in 2018 was perfect timing as I was looking for a solid new gig and the boys were looking for a new bassist. I basically just messaged Tim and was like, ‘Hey man, can I take the bass for a rip or what? They asked me to learn three tunes from the latest setlist but I wanted the gig and to be back on tour so bad that I showed up to first practice having pretty much learned all 15,” laughs Klassen.
Needless to say, Klassen got the gig on bass with Striker. Striker had been making a lot of waves in the Edmonton metal scene since their formation in 2007. Eventually they started to attract the attention of tastemakers within the heavy metal press outside of the “city of champions”. More records followed, lineup changes, prestigious opening slots on tour with major acts, a record deal and then a move away from said label to a more DIY approach. Striker has seen and done it all and they continue to be better for it. Most recently, they were nominated in the “heavy metal album of the year” category in 2018 for the Juno awards for their self titled effort, and captured the honour in 2020 for Play To Win.
“We were at Tim Brown’s (guitarist) place havin' a couple of our Sea Change Striker Session Ale beers (editor’s note: this is a shameless plug but we let it slide) watching the live streamed ceremony when good ol' Strombo (media wizard George Stroumboulopoulos) himself announced it,” recalls Klassen.
It’s been interesting to see, over the years, how different metal acts have reacted to winning Grammys and Junos. Many bands are honoured by the recognition but do not let it define their existence. Some acts reluctantly accept awards for the sake of their long suffering fans. In terms of Striker, they are taking the Juno win as an opportunity to continue to set the bas high and also keep it there.
“In terms of outlook, the band kind of set this bar... Now when writing, we have an idea of what got us the award and I think we want to continue to build on those elements,” explains Klassen.
Of course what helps is the fact that Edmonton has had a strong music scene for quite some time - including a very loyal army of metalheads. There are literally, at press time, likely about a dozen metal bands, at least, that are consistently putting out strong efforts in the studio including the critically acclaimed The Order of Chaos, and scene newcomers Juliet Ruin. It begs the question, what does Edmonton have that Saskatoon or Regina does not? Does it boil down to population? Is Saskatchewan just too country music orientated to throw table scraps to the metal genre? Hard to say; especially for Klassen, who has only been in Edmonton for a short time himself.
“Edmonton has only been my home for a couple of years but there is something about this city and the art that is produced here. That's kind of why I chose Edmonton upon repatriation. I just felt like... most of my artist friends and colleagues from there are doing pretty significant things and getting out into the world, there must be something going on there,” postulates Klassen.
“I think a supportive community full of passionate fans, crew members and artists is the best foundation a city can have. That and somewhere cool to go for like minded individuals to gather. Small clubs, metal/rock themed restaurants and bars... That sort of thing,” Klassen concludes.
Perhaps what this all boils down to is that, in order to build upon a foundation laid by such legendary Saskatchewan metal acts like Into Eternity, perhaps a more stable and dedicated infrastructure has to be established and maintained. For instance, there is a Saskatchewan Country Music Association but is there a Saskatchewan Heavy Metal Association? Does it even matter? Would people support the creation of an organization meant to support what many in this province view as the outcast or boutique genre? These are questions worth a second glance. Perhaps in a future issue this will continue to be explored. In the meantime, thanks Pete for your time talking about your own experiences within a prairie province not so far way from this one.
*Pic of Klassen with Juno courtesy of Pete Klassen
*Gig pic of Klassen by Scott Roos