Said the Whale is proudly representing the West Coast
Tyler Bancroft realizes that he’s something of a cultural ambassador for Vancouver, and he’s happy to play that role. The Said the Whale singer-guitarist recently learned, however, that he has to watch what he says about certain touchy subjects. This city’s hockey fans, it turns out, have no sense of humour when it comes to losing. Interviewed the day after the Canucks’ overtime loss in Game 5 of their quarterfinal series against the Los Angeles Kings, Bancroft reflects on representing his home town on tour, and on the folly of making ill-advised jokes on Twitter.
“When we play Montreal, there’s always a bunch of people in the crowd from Vancouver that are saying, ‘Your music reminds me of Vancouver so much. I listen to you guys when I’m feeling homesick,’ and that sort of thing,” he says, reached in Regina, where Said the Whale has just finished a sound check at the Exchange. “That’s pretty awesome, to be bearing that torch. But it also carries with it a certain amount of responsibility, as I experienced last night on the Internet. I made a Canucks joke and just got the most insane backlash from a few who were following us. I said, ‘2 Sedins No Cup,’ and got some people being, like, ‘I just unfollowed you because of that,’ ‘That’s ridiculous,’ ‘I thought you guys were from Vancouver,’ and all this sort of thing. So with the power comes great responsibility. And I messed it up last night. But for the most part, I feel we do a pretty good job representing Vancouver.”
That consideration is more important in Said the Whale’s case than it is for most other local acts, partially because Bancroft and his bandmates—singer-guitarist Ben Worcester, keyboardist Jaycelyn Brown, bassist Nathan Shaw, and drummer Spencer Schoening—spend so much time on-stage in cities other than their own. That and the fact that Said the Whale has never shied away from filling its lyrics with West Coast–specific observations. The group’s latest album, Little Mountain, is no exception, but Bancroft notes that while its title does refer to a section of Vancouver, it was actually chosen for its universality.
“The reason that we named the record Little Mountain is because there are a bunch of places outside of Vancouver also called Little Mountain,” he says. “We scanned a list of common place names in North America, and that was on it. And, of course, Little Mountain resonates with us, because that’s the neighbourhood that we all grew up in. On Little Mountain there are tons of references to Vancouver, though they may be slightly more veiled than on the last record. But I think the point of naming it Little Mountain is that we were trying to find a name that would resonate with people regardless of their geography and sort of showcase that the songs, while most of them are still rooted in Vancouver, there’s a storytelling aspect to them that should transcend geography.”
The sound alone should do that. On Little Mountain, Said the Whale takes the strengths it showed on 2008’s Howe Sounds/Taking Abalonia and 2009’s Islands Disappear—a knack for melody and a way with a hook—and amplifies them immeasurably. Where those earlier efforts found the band plying the waters between coffeehouse folk and indie rock, the new one, produced by the Zolas’ Tom Dobrzanski and mixed by Jack Joseph Puig (Panic at the Disco, Owl City) is a big, shiny pop record. Mind you, Said the Whale doesn’t appear to have a particularly rigid idea of what constitutes pop. “The Reason”, for instance, comes on like a cabaret tune penned by Burt Bacharach, while “Heavy Ceiling” boasts a storm-the-dance-floor momentum topped by a sharp-cornered guitar riff, neo-new-wave synthesizer, and a chorus made for the radio.
Little Mountain closes with its quietest song, which is also arguably its prettiest. “Seasons” is a simple but affecting ballad consisting of nothing more than piano and vocals. Both come courtesy of Schoening, who also wrote the song. Previously, frontmen Bancroft and Worcester did the lion’s share of the writing, but this time everyone contributed.
“This record was definitely the record that we had the least completely finished songs going into it, whereas before there were some songs I had demoed or Ben had demoed that pretty much had all the parts written and stuff like that,” Bancroft says. “And in this case, we’d have a verse and a chorus and no bridge or something like that, and we actually wrote together as a band, which was a first for us. It really allowed everybody in the band to have their say, and to make it a record that sounds the most like our band sounds, I think.
“It can be a little bit scary, too,” he continues. “I find myself being a little bit of a control freak sometimes, just because I write a song and, oh, it’s so dear to me, and blah blah blah. But in the end, it’s much better just to put it in the hands of people you trust. And, I mean, Spencer and Jaycelyn and Nathan are three of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever seen. Some of the stuff they came up with on those songs, they just wouldn’t be the same songs without them. So I’m glad that I was able to let my guard down about that and open up a little bit, for sure.”
Said the Whale has certainly benefited from Bancroft’s willingness to be less guarded in the rehearsal room and the recording studio. In the future, however, he might want to be a little more guarded when tweeting, lest he raise the ire of hometown hockey fans again.
Said the Whale plays the Vogue Theatre tonight (May 3).