In the golden wave of heat that’s finally greeted Vancouver, the Straight chats with BESTiE, a local indie-pop band that’s quickly on the rise. Under the leafy canopy of a stately old tree in Pandora Park, vocalist Tristan Orchard, bassist Rob Cameron, and drummer Daniel Ruiz chill out, sipping coconut water in the emerald shade.
Though no palm trees were swaying, the scene perfectly suits BESTiE’s sun-kissed, surf-pop-and-Afrobeat–inspired sound, epitomized by “Pineapple”, its first single. With the song’s silly lyrics, fizzy rhythm, and equally summery video, it’s a sonic piña colada that is taking Canadian music blogs by tropical storm after its January release.
To the band’s amusement and slight frustration, BESTiE is fast becoming known for its Vampire Weekend–ish ode to the spiky, equatorial fruit.
“We were a tiny band, and then we made a music video, and now people think we’re the ‘Pineapple’ band,” says Orchard, who splits his time between singing in BESTiE, talent-buying at Fortune Sound Club, DJing, and editing Winnie Cooper, a local music blog.
“Whenever we put something ‘Pineapple’-related up on social media, everyone ‘likes’ it, and it feels so cheesy. I’m fine with that. It’s supposed to be cheesy, ridiculous, and dumb. It’s tongue-in-cheek. But we need to do something new. It’s literally the first song we ever wrote.”
Rounded out by guitarist Andrew Janczewski, who was probably busy at the time of the interview soaking in an ice bath with a mojito (as should we all), the quartet is only a couple of years old, but each bandmate is a seasoned member of the local scene. Orchard and a team of friends used to run the covert DIY venue and communal jam space Goody.
Before the powers that be inevitably stamped out that creative fire, Orchard, Cameron, and Janczewski used it as a rehearsal space in separate bands, until a day when Cameron and Janczewski “finally let” Orchard jam with them. And so “Pineapple” and BESTiE were born, following the recruitment of Ruiz. Afterward, everything changed, and the group grew more determined than ever to commit to being a proper band.
This determination propelled BESTiE to earn a top-20 spot in this year’s Peak Performance Project, sponsored by 102.7 the Peak and Music BC, despite having only a few tracks officially released thus far. Alongside “Pineapple”, there’s the bittersweet “Asleep on the Bus”, with scintillating, breeze-blown guitar work, plus “Foolish Hearts”, a lovelorn indie epic that recalls the surf-pop melodrama of the Drums.
The Peak Performance Project acts as an initiative to support and develop local bands, even putting on a music-business boot camp for its top 20 artists, which BESTiE couldn’t be more excited about.
“Achieving the top 20 was validation that we are doing something right,” says Cameron, wearing an impressive array of tattoos—including a gramophone, a cat playing with a ball of yarn, and a badass sleeve of outer-space imagery. “At the announcement party for the top 20, they announced all the bands over the course of two hours, and they ended up saying our name last, so it was such a roller coaster. I was in shock.”
There is definitely something in BESTiE’s Caribbean-blue waters that has produced such a workable chemistry between the four individuals. As Cameron explains, “We each bring a different flavour to the table, but they’re all complementary, so it jells together. We wear our influences on our sleeves. And we’re not trying to make anything brand-new, we’re just trying to make something good and sincere.”
Largely shaped by Janczewski, who grew up on old-school reggae and plays like Johnny Marr if he were a tropical beach bum, BESTiE’s influences range from Afrobeat to Orange Juice to Gang of Four to Katy Perry.
This diversity is based on a blend of Orchard’s love of epic pop, Janczewski’s eclectic, postpunk-leaning tastes, Cameron’s indie upbringing on the Strokes and Interpol, and Ruiz’s background in Colombia, where he fell in love with Spanish political punk, then psych rock, and then jazz.
“My grandfather was a singer in a cumbia orchestra,” explains Ruiz, who’s also a member of baroque pop-folksters Aunts and Uncles. “When I was a kid in my grandparents’ home, I used to bang on the pots and pans to all the cumbia and salsa songs. So I’ve always had music in my life.”
But the question the band always asks itself when it comes to songwriting is “Will this make people dance?” As Ruiz says, “Playing for an audience, we want all of them to be having more fun than we’re having. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself.”
With so many opportunities glowing on the horizon, including a string of summer festival appearances, BESTiE is definitely laughing now. But something is still missing: an album. Fortunately, the band is set to start recording either an EP or LP in about two weeks, depending on their schedules and funds.
As Cameron puts it, “We’re not short on material. We’re short on cash. We’re always slowly writing songs. And the stuff we’re working on now is still going to be dance-y, bouncy, and hot.”
“There’s always a summer influence for sure,” says Orchard. And smiling at his balmy surroundings, he adds: “Right here right now is the best place in the world.”
BESTiE plays the Khatsahlano! Music + Art Festival at the Peak Performance stage on Saturday (July 13).