A little over two years ago, the future of You Say Party! We Say Die! was bleak. It was week 14 of a 16-week European tour – an exhausting amount of time for even the most seasoned touring musicians. Fatigue had set in for the Vancouver band, communication had broken down, and everything came to a head when singer Becky Ninkovic attacked drummer Devon Clifford during an argument at a bar in Germany. All signs pointed towards the end of the band.
But it wasn’t to be. The bandmembers finished the tour and took a much needed break to clear their heads. It worked, and now two years later with the release of their third album, XXXX, the band is stronger than ever.
“We’ve learned a lot about just how to do it,” says keyboardist Krista Loewen on how they manage to keep their sanity during tours. “There’s a lot of little things you can do that make a big difference here on the road in terms of keeping well-rested and getting along … A lot of it is just communicating with each other and learning how to communicate our needs and be around each other in that close-quartered environment.”
Such lessons are clearly paying off as the band has toured almost non-stop since the release of the album last fall. They’ve already completed one cross-Canada tour, played South by Southwest, and are in the process of completing their first U.S. tour in four years before playing another round of shows across Canada as well as a European tour at the end of April. If it sounds ambitious, it’s because it is, but getting the music out there is necessary when an album receives as much widespread acclaim as XXXX (whose X’s stand for “love” if you’re curious). They’ve graced the covers of both the Globe and Mail and Exclaim!, and even “holier-than-thou” Pitchfork gave the new album a positive review. Critics and fans alike are drawn to their irresistible brand of melodic, moody, and highly danceable new-wave pop.
Such high praise caught the eye of Olympic organizers who invited the band to play at the 2010 Cultural Olympiad. However, this decision was complicated by some band members’ involvement speaking out against the treatment of low-income residents in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community.
“There was hesitation,” says Loewen. “As with a lot of the decisions we make, there are five people in the band and there’s usually five opinions. We decided that we were going to play the shows and we [would give] some of the money we made to contribute back to the Downtown Eastside. That was the compromise we came to as a group and how we could all feel good about doing it.”
Even with the high-profile recognition, the band was pleasantly surprised to finally achieve some coverage from a smaller source, but one closer to the band’s heart: the Abbotsford News, the band’s hometown paper.
“It was really nice,” laughs Loewen. “We all grew up in Abbotsford and there isn’t really a huge arts and culture scene [there] and live music is not really thriving, but that’s where we started and that’s where as a band we’ve always tried to encourage more live music and keep things going.”
Yet Loewen notes that venue problems are commonplace, even in the burgeoning music scene found in Vancouver, where most of the band resides.
“There’s a lot of push in downtown Vancouver to develop condos and a lot of really cool things end up disappearing for the sake of building more condos,” says Loewen.
Some of those cool things include the venues Richard’s On Richards and the Cobalt, both landmarks of the Vancouver music scene and both recently replaced by some of the most expensive real estate in Canada.
“It’s funny because people will move downtown and they’ll move into the new development next to Richard’s on Richards and then they’ll be complaining about all of the noise from [there],” says Loewen. “I kind of think, ‘Well, if you moved in next door to a really well-established bar, you think it’s going to be quiet every night?’ You live in the downtown core, you have to expect it to not be a quiet residential neighbourhood.”
But Loewen isn’t one to dwell on the past, be it venues or band problems. For now, it’s all about the present and appreciating what you’ve got when you’ve got it.
“Being with these people who have become like my second family, [getting] to do what we love and [getting] to travel and bring our music around the world, that’s the best.”
You Say Party! We Say Die! play April 3 at La Sala Rossa.