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Ketchikan sisters under full sail as The Compass Roses
Annika Straight, center, and her sisters Katie, left, Addy, right, and Elaine, seated, perform under the band name The Compass Roses on June 19 during Music on the Dock at the Berth 3 shelter. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

The Compass Roses, a band of young Ketchikan sisters, has started gaining traction in the local music community by spreading their unique acoustic spin on rock and folk music to wider audiences.

The Compass Roses includes four girls; Addy Strait, 18, Annika Strait, 16, Katie Strait, 15, and Elaine Strait, 13. The band is managed by their father, Peter Strait, who also assists in setting up sound equipment for their frequent shows.

Just in Ketchikan, the group has played at Monthly Grinds, the Arctic Bar, the New York Cafe, Creek Street Cabaret and during Music on the Docks. Celebrity Cruises paid for the band to visit Hoonah for two days to play shows at the Icy Strait Point cannery, a popular tourist destination.

The Compass Roses began playing as an informal band in March 2017, when they were asked to play Irish rock music at the New York Cafe during St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Two months later, said Addy, the girls decided to continue playing together as an official band.

The girls each “claimed” an instrument during the creation of The Compass Roses — the name being inspired by their childhood living on a sailboat, and their constant doodling of the compass rose, a small navigational symbol found on maps, in response. Other names that the girls considered included Sea-Gals, Beach Grass and Wildflowers — but according to Elaine, none of them “stuck.”

Addy, who can play roughly seven instruments, plays the violin and provides vocals for The Compass Roses. Annika, who can also play the ukulele and cello, plays the electric guitar and is responsible for lead vocals. Katie plays the bass, and Elaine is the drummer — while she said she was “stuck” behind the drums, she was “keen for (playing) anything.”

Each girl had grown up playing instruments – even dabbling in learning bagpipes — singing in choirs and participating in Highland and sword dancing, a traditional practice utilizing weapons. However, Annika said that Addy was the only one who plays the same instruments she began learning years ago.

“We've all bounced around different instruments,” said Elaine, with Annika adding that she had been “really good on the cello” in the past. She stopped playing the cello as the band took a turn toward rock and indie music in recent years.

“We did choir together,” Addy said about their musical history. “And (then it was) 'OK, let's add more to this, and try to make something.”

While The Compass Roses got their start playing Irish music, they play a wide variety of music, taking popular songs and putting an acoustic spin to them. They often draw inspiration from the radio when choosing songs.  

“We'll rearrange the songs, so it's never really the same,” Elaine said.

The band's set of music includes everything from My Chemical Romance and Metallica to Elvis Presley and George Ezra.

“We grew up with it,” Elaine said of rock and folk music, recalling that when the four girls were younger, they would listen to Bon Jovi while cleaning the family boat.

“We had no problem doing it (picking up rock music),” Annika said.

Each member of the band has her own personal preference when it comes to music, and they don't always agree with each other.

Katie describes her tastes as indie and rock, preferring songs by Metallica and My Chemical Romance. Elaine's preferred songs are similar, also enjoying Metallica and Green Day. Annika is a fan of Vance Voy and wants to incorporate bluegrass into the band's mix for the future. Addy enjoys instrumental music, claiming to listen to anything from film scores to The Cranberries.

The group has performed original folk songs, written by Annika, in the past.

In order to make popular rock and indie songs work in a way that Annika describes as “rustic,” The Compass Roses have had to tinker with their instruments to get it right.

“In some sense, we folk it up a bit,” Annika said, explaining that they “tone down” the songs to fit their style.

“We'll change the way it was sung a bit,” Addy elaborated.

The band has two hours worth of songs committed to memory and ready to play for any occasion. They mix the order and styles of the songs for each venue they play, and relax or amplify their sound accordingly – Annika said while playing at the New York Cafe, they tried to be quieter, but at the Creek Street Cabaret, they could be louder.

The Compass Roses could not pinpoint what they strive for their “image” to be.

“It's just us,” Annika said. “Kind of like a rock-folk (kind of) look.”

The Compass Roses enjoy playing as a group together, and appreciate the advantages — like ease of scheduling and feeling comfortable with each other — that come with performing alongside family.

“We'll all be down on each other, if we mess up,” Annika said, referencing unfortunate mishaps on stage, such as forgetting lines or falling behind on timing.

“You don't have to worry about what you say,” Addy said, adding that without the band, the sisters probably wouldn't spend as much time together as they do. Three out of the four girls have jobs, and with two younger brothers at home, their life can be busy.

“Sometimes, we just have off days,” Addy said about rare tension in the band.

The Compass Roses said that there haven't been any disputes about the direction that the group is going in.

Katie described being in the band as a “new adventure,” and said it had taught her a lot about communication.

“You don't communicate,” she said, “you don't get anywhere.”

The band agrees that one thing they need to practice is their presence on stage. The girls have noticed that they need to “work on (being or appearing) happy,” and that it's something they've been alerted to in the past.

The girls each have different goals for the future, although they all enjoy music and instruments. Elaine aims to be a dancer, and after attending a dance school, wants to teach dancing. Addy, who is currently a baker at the New York Cafe, would like to “keep the band local.” Annika's ambition is to travel and settle down on land she purchases to run a farm. Katie is unsure of what she wants to do in the future, but enjoys art and sketching.

Looking forward, the group hopes to play at Salmon Fest next year, and is currently planning a trip to play in communities on Prince of Wales Island in the next new year. They hope that the funds from their shows will pay for a small tour in the future.

Katie said that the money that the band makes is being put towards soundproofing their family garage.  They will need to pay for panels for the walls and ceiling. Right now, the band must carry all their equipment — including amplifiers, an electric drum set, guitars, microphones and sound equipment — up and down three flights of stairs.

As The Compass Roses expand, the girls each have a different perspective on how the band will age.

“I don't think its going to last forever,” Katie said.

Annika joked that they'll play until they're “old and gray.”

The Compass Roses don't plan on changing anything about their band, except for adding to their set list or incorporating bluegrass music.

“I don't know exactly what we would (change),” Elaine said. “We play lots of different genres, already.”

“I think we're probably going to do this until one of us gets married,” Annika said about the experience.