Orillia, Ontario’s Bleeker Ridge had a good seven years of dedicated rehearsals, songwriting and gigs before landing a dream record deal with Roadrunner Records Canada and cutting an album, Small Town Dead, with legendary producer Bob Marlette (Shinedown, Default, Seether, Airbourne), chockfull of hooky hard rock anthems. That kind of woodshedding might not seem unusual, except the band formed when they were kids.
The melodic hard rock quartet is comprised of two sets of brothers — lead singer Taylor Perkins 21; guitarist Cole Perkins, 19; guitarist Dan Steinke, 19; and drummer Dustin Steinke, 20 — who met in 2003 at a local jam night in Lagoon City (pop. 3000). They went from playing Joe Walsh and Jimi Hendrix covers to writing originals, which they released on two independent CDs.
But the songs on their label debut, Small Town Dead, recorded at Henson Studios in Hollywood and Bob’s home studio in Woodland Hills, California, shows a band whose musicianship and songwriting skills belie their years. Radio and arena ready, they include the riffy soulful title-track; confrontational “Easier Today;” heavier groove, “Sixteen Hours;” searing power ballad, “In Our Hands;” and sentimental stunner, “You Would’ve Liked It.”
“We’ve always been more into songwriting than anything else, even when we were 13,” says Taylor. “When we’re writing songs, we’re always looking to say, ‘That’s cool,’ and making the songs huge. We’re all about trying to come up with rock ‘n’ roll songs that can still be melodic and heavy and touch people with the lyrics.”
All 12 songs on Small Town Dead were penned by Bleeker Ridge, including four co-writes that started with the band, “In Our Hands;” “Pick Me Up;” and gentler “Still Standing” with Dave Bassett (Shinedown, Sevendust); and southern-styled kicker, “Sick of You,” with Tyler Connolly of Theory of a Deadman.
“Three years ago, we decided to write a song that we think we can hear on the radio,” recalls Dan. “That song, ‘In Our Hands,’ took a shape that we’d never thought about doing before. We sent it to Dave and he was like, ‘Holy shit.’ We had like 16 different versions, but that was the song that changed the whole perspective of writing for us.”
“Small Town Dead,” is the album’s first single and is a particularly personal lyric for Bleeker Ridge that resonates for anyone who grew up outside a big city. “From talking with friends and kids I meet, I find that being in a small town like mine, everyone has the same outlook — there’s never anything to do,” Taylor explains. “You can go watch a movie, then go break things [laughs].”
There’s also a song for all those kids who have finally left school behind and aren’t looking forward to growing up and getting out in the real world. “Trust the words I am speaking / Don’t let it bring you down / ‘cause now we’re falling forward / Everyone tells me that the party’s over,” Taylor sings in the inspirational anthem “From Now On.”
He also wrote some beautiful words in “You Would Have Liked It,” lamenting the loss of a girlfriend, wife or loved one who is unable to share in life’s defining moments, a theme quite advanced for a 21-year-old that can definitely tug at people twice his age.
With these new songwriting skills — something many people in the music industry were waiting for them to develop before they were willing to commit to the band — Bob Marlette was excited to work with them. He had first seen Bleeker Ridge six years ago at a showcase in Toronto, but felt they needed to mature. Later, by sheer coincidence, he was producing a band whose management mentioned the new act on its roster — Bleeker Ridge. He couldn’t believe it.
“Bob’s a legend,” says Dan. “Everything I’ve ever grown up listening to this guy’s had a part in doing. Just being around him makes you want to be a better musician.”
Now Bleeker Ridge is itching to get out on the road, the obvious next step for four guys who made the most of small town dead and curbed the boredom by playing in a rock band. “It’s been five or six years of writing songs and it’s all been leading up to this moment of getting on the bus and just going for it,” says Dan. “That’s what we live for – playing shows.”