The Long Distance Runners, it seems, came out of nowhere. Together for less than two years, and with only five released songs under their belts, the Runners have been enjoying considerable airplay, have been featured on the soundtrack of CBC TVs “Republic of Doyle,” and were one of the top-nominated artists for this year’s MusicNL awards, tying Hey Rosetta! with five nominations.
Their self-titled album is actually just an EP; the handful of songs on it made the disc long enough — and good enough — to earn them nominations in the Group of the Year, Rising Star, Album of the Year, Alternative and SOCAN Songwriter of Year categories.
They didn’t even do much promotion of the record, apart from various live shows around town, deciding instead to wait for their upcoming full-length CD, for which they’ve received a MusicNL grant, to be released.
“We knew we had the album grant and we wanted to get our feet wet first. We wanted to find a studio and find the right songs. It just turned out a lot better than we thought,” said drummer Adam Cardwell.
Each of the band members is a longtime musician: Cardwell played drums with Kujo and a few blues bands; singer/songwriter Chris Picco had a solo career here and in Toronto; bassist Matt Hender is a MUN Music School graduate who’s played double bass with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and on Amelia Curran’s Juno-winning CD “Hunter, Hunter,” and guitar/keys player Dicky Strickland, who been playing a number of instruments since he was a child, is a member of The Beach B’ys.
The guys got together after Picco and Hender started hanging out together and realized they had musical chemistry.
“Matt had energy and we hit if off. We started playing some of my songs and he had suggestions and actual opinions,” Picco said.
“We wrote Black and Blue together.”
Black and Blue is the song, recorded in just two takes, that was chosen for the “Republic of Doyle” episode, and for which the group earned their SOCAN nomination.
After auditioning a few drummers without success, Cardwell was recruited — headhunted, really — by the duo, and Strickland came soon afterwards, originally just to tide the band over until they could find another member.
“The band was supposed to be a five-piece because we wanted two guitars and keyboards in every song,” Cardwell said.
“After we found Dicky, and he could play both, it was like, ‘Why get someone else?’”
Strickland often alternates between the two instruments in the one song, the guys explained.
Picco is the main songwriter of the band, coming up with most of the basic ideas, while the other guys help flesh them out. Though there have been some heated moments while working on songs together, neither Picco nor the others take any criticism between them personally, unless, perhaps when it comes to the lyrics.
“For the lyrics, I do have a problem if they’re like, ‘Let’s take out a verse,’” he said. “I’m a little more precious about the words or the storyline I’m writing. Arrangements, not so much.
“There’s originality in the band. I don’t come in there and say, ‘Hey Dicky, play this guitar solo.’ Dicky’s writing all his own parts. Matt’s coming up with the harmony and arrangements. Without that, I don’t think you’d have a great band. I feel like everybody’s getting the opportunity to play what they want to play.”
“If something sounded like shit, though, we’d say, ‘Man, don’t do that,’” Cardwell is quick to add, “but I think we’re all on the same page.”
“Sometimes you feel like you’ve come up with a great part and then you get in there and the guys are like, ‘I don’t like that.’ You’ve got to stop thinking about your ego and realize what’s best for the song,” Strickland said.
Recording the record was an emotional experience for the Runners, since Picco was going through a particularly tumultuous time in his life. There’s a song on the disc that reminds him of his then-unborn (now a week old) baby boy; another reminds him of his mother’s passing away due to cancer.
“We were cutting the track ‘The Long Distance Runner’ when (my wife) showed up to tell me Mom had died,” he said. “Whenever I hear that song, I know where I was when I was playing those guitar parts; she was dying that hour. It’s not a happy memory, but then, I also have happy ones.”
The record is a mix of styles. “Nothing But Your Love” sounds like it could have been a Beatles track, while “Spider in the Moonlight,” with its organ and psychadelic sounds, is reminiscent of The Doors. There are elements of jazz, classical, old-time country, and good old rock ‘n’ roll.
In November, the Runners will embark on their first-ever tour of Atlantic Canada, but they’ll be playing gigs around town until then, the next one an intimate show at Scanlon’s on Water Street. Oct. 14. The band is also playing at the MusicNL awards show gala, to be held at the St. John’s Convention Centre Oct. 30. They’ve already recorded a full-length album, which they’re aiming to release in January.
The Runners are pleased with their nominations, saying it gives them a certain sense of local validation.
“We didn’t have a following of fans at first, but the thing we did get right away was the respect of other local musicians. They thought there was something special when they saw us play, and we appreciate that,” Hender said.
While the guys are hoping for success with the awards, they see them as a stepping stone to something even bigger. The plan is to tour, make more albums, and eventually, Hender joked, take over the world.
“I want us to be able to get nominated for a Polaris Award,” Picco said. “I want a cross-country tour. I want to tour Europe. I want to get our names out there. I’m not looking at making a whole lot of money at it, I just want to keep playing music.”
Long Distance Runners’ CD is available at Fred’s Records and O’Brien’s Music in St. John’s, as well as online at www.thelongdistancerunners.com.