If you look up directions from Montreal to Wakefield, Google Maps will point you two and a half hours westward — three hours and
three minutes in current traffic. Nestled in the boonies of our frigid province and glued to the Gatineau River, this cozy, friendly, quintessentially-Canadian small town is where The Strain hangs its hat.
Adhering to their modest beginnings, the band’s roots are equally quaint. Today, the self-proclaimed “electro/alt-pop-rock” group is comprised of siblings David and Rylee Taggart, their cousin Alex Serre, and longtime childhood friend Nick Johnston. When The Strain started out, however, it was merely half its current size.
“[Serre] and I have been in bands forever, since I was 12 or 13 and he was 10,” said David. “We were just a duo, in cover bands doing Green Day, Nirvana, and The Beatles.” At 15, they were opening for screamo bands at the Black Sheep Inn, a venue that has helped put Wakefield on the map.
“Our voices were so high, it was pretty funny,” said David. “But it introduced us to the gig scene early. We learned at a young age what it’s all about.”
With no other bandmates, the duo headed home to recruit David’s volleyball-playing sister Rylee, who “had a piano kicking around” and “used to watch YouTube videos so she had rhythm.”
Family friend Nick, who had his own solo guitar act, was also taken on, and The Strain was born. Since that fateful fusion, progressing as a unit has been smooth and natural.
“Being in a band with your relatives is a lot easier because you don’t have to beat around the bush,” David said. The singer/guitarist admits to having the occasional sibling argument with his sister, but smooth sailing is the norm.
Big Money Shot, a competition open to bands around the Ottawa region, was an essential stepping stone towards success. Out of 60 participating bands, The Strain took home the $25,000 grand prize. The winnings went towards funding their tour, buying some gear, and hiring a public relations company. And of course, their humble roots backed them up every step of the way.
“Our town was so supportive,” said David. “They were the most rowdy, they made the most noise. Our whole town, young to old, we packed a school bus and they came to the grand finale.”
The band’s small-town upbringing also played an indispensable role in the production of their music. “A lot of our songs were influenced by the characters that were in our small town and the stuff they do,” said David. On Three Sheets in the Wind, the track “Earl” pays homage to Wakefield’s very own town drunk — a character indeed.
“I remember this one time when he left our house on New Years Eve and he shouldn’t have been driving,” recalled David. “He barely got out of my driveway and went into a ditch. He got upset and said, ‘If you guys can get it out, you can have it!’ So [Serre], my sister and I, and a friend spent the whole day pulling it out with ropes attached to our van. Then we had a joyride around town.”
Representing a younger demographic (David is 21, while the rest of the band members are 19) has taught The Strain how to garner respect in a whole new way. “Some people saw that we were young and pretty much judged a book by its cover, but when we started playing, it changed their minds.”
From the days of diaper bags — David cites one particular video from Alex’s first birthday in which Nick can be seen getting “run over by his mammoth dog” — to their current tour across the Canadian East, The Strain has been and will always be a family affair.
The Strain plays Petit Campus on Monday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m.