XXXX, the third album from Canadian quintet You Say Party! We Say Die!, hit U.S. shelves on February 9, and the band is about to kick off a major tour of the US, Europe and Asia, with a few shows at SXSW as well as two in New York. They were last in the U.S. in 2006 and so far have spent about seven weeks touring Canada in support of the new album, which was recorded in Vancouver over much of 2009.
Originally from Abbotsford, B.C., near Vancouver, the dancey new-wave outfit includes lead singer Becky Ninkovic, keyboardist Krista Loewen, bassist Stephen O’Shea, guitarist Derek Adam and drummer Devon Clifford. I caught up with Ninkovic at home as the band was busy with making the final preparations for the tour, for a nice chat about the new album and the music industry.
How was it being back on the road again?
Actually it was really fun, we really enjoyed ourselves and the shows were great. It’s cool to see so many people are familiar with this album already. In some cities we’ve played, people are more familiar with our new material than our old, which is cool to see.
So the new album is a little different, slightly mellower, from some of the older material.
On the new album, we were really just trying to be as true to ourselves in the moment as we could be. We had come through quite a hard amount of touring that put us through many experiences, positive and negative, and we had just gone through so much together. I’d gone through quite a battle with my health, and so a lot of those songs come out of that kind of darker period and the realizations and revelations that came to us and to me at that time.
I read about the Berlin brawl and know that was a pretty dark period for you guys. Any other experiences or realizations leading up to the new album that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
I’m sure every band that tours has their story. And Berlin was definitely when everything kind of hit the fan for us. We had just been pushing ourselves past our limits, on a 16-week tour with no breaks, and my health had been weak to begin with, and it pushed me past what I was able to handle. And it ended up with us in Berlin with Devon (Clifford) and I having it out in a bar and being thrown out onto the street. We’re able to laugh at it now but at the time it was pretty terrible.
We also had the pleasure of working with producer Howard Redekopp (Tegan and Sara, The New Pornographers) on the new album, who really was just so incredible to work with. We just had a lot of more time in the studio to tap into the songs, and made sure we weren’t doing anything to take away from the songs, rather we wanted to honor the idea of the songs and the energy that was coming to them. There was this kind of natural spirit taking on a lot of these songs, and we just wanted to allow that to come out. I think in the past we’ve had to rush ourselves a lot in the studio because of financial restrictions and time restrictions, and just being younger and going through the learning curve, whereas with this one we were more comfortable in the studio and we knew what we didn’t want to do and what we wanted to avoid. Howard was encouraging and uplifting and really helped us just find the best parts of ourselves to bring to this album, which is nice when you have time to do that, too.
So XXXX is a kind of a metaphor for love? I thought it was a metaphor for something, but my conclusion was love.
Yes, it is! I kind of like to leave it to the listeners to discover the meanings for themselves through the songs, but there’s definitely an obvious message of love coming through.
I think my favorite song from the new album is “She’s Spoken For.”
That’s definitely a song where I was really battling with being, like, just existing in the world and just kind of struggling with my feelings toward my body and my mind and just going through that struggle and that conversation. But it’s a conversation about trying to just process the whole idea of existing.
One of the songs is entitled “Laura Palmer’s Prom.” So, is someone in the band a David Lynch fan?
Yeah, we’re all quite into Twin Peaks and quite big fans. We wrote that song immediately when Krista (Loewen) brought in the keys. We were like, “Wow, it just sounds like something that would be played at Laura Palmer’s prom.”
When I listen to your music, it reminds me of the 1980s. I can’t think of any particular songs or band it reminds me of, which I guess is a good thing, but it’s more of a vague kind of 80s punk-new wave hybrid. Were you fans of any particular bands from that era?
You know it’s funny, when we started, and throughout the years, we’ve definitely come across bands that we go, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess we could use this as a comparison.’ We’re always trying to find that to help people understand what kind of music we make, and friends and family who want to understand what we sound like. We’ve always said kind of like somewhere between Siouxsie Sioux, the B-52s, Blondie. There are references out there, but I never feel like they influence us at all with our music, it’s more like we kind of try to find something after the fact to say here’s an accurate kind of comparison… Martha and the Muffins is maybe a band that’s a good reference. I got to meet Martha (Johnson) and have a nice conversation with her, and now we’ve become pen pals. She has been so inspiring to me and really encouraging. And I’m becoming more familiar with their back catalog and realizing there are a few similarities between their band and our band. They’re maybe the original ’80s new-wave band. They’re fantastic, and I can definitely see some comparisons.
I heard another artist say once that it’s okay to have influences and be influenced by people but it shouldn’t be so obvious what those are. I think that’s a compliment to an artist when the music reminds someone of a general era rather than a particular band or song.
Yeah, I really like that too, and it kind of pleases me when people ask us what our influences and likenesses are, because it shows me people want to be able to understand us and understand what they’re feeling when they listen to us, too, because maybe there’s some kind of nostalgic quality or spirit that comes through. I used to get sick of being asked that all the time, but now I get it.
I think we’ve always just kind of jumped into the jam room and started playing and just focused on our own sound and ideas. There are definitely influences for all of us. The guys have always been really into punk rock. And as a teenager I listened to a lot of the Clash. I didn’t have a lot of female influences, though. For me, that’s something that’s kind of come during being in this band, when people have said oh, she’s like so and so, and I’m like ‘Who’s that?’ Google them, watch their videos and go, ‘Wow, that’s cool, like Kate Bush, rad!’ But I think the most common comparisons I always get are Karen O and Siouxsie Sioux, which I like, but don’t at the same time. Just because I think we’re all trying to do our own thing, and what often happens with women in music is that we get put into this competitive category with each other. The media tries to do that and say, ‘Hey there can only be one of you, one brunette that dances and sings.’
I used to be infuriated by the comparisons… every reviewer would say that I sound like Karen O, and I don’t! Like when you listen to her, she has a very distinct unique voice… they’re very different sounding voices. I know people are seeing a likeness there, ‘Oh, brunette girl with short hair who’s dancing all over the stage in a costume, very theatrical.’ So, write it like that, in the true sense of what it is, but don’t just say, oh, they sound alike, because we absolutely don’t. But it’s helpful, like when I’m reading about a new band and the writer says if you like so and so, then maybe you’ll like …
Yes, it’s very unfair and I noticed it doesn’t get applied to guys in the industry as much.
Yeah, that’s why I get angry about it, because I noticed that it happens to women in music way more than to men in music. We want to feel like what we’re doing is unique and authentic and we’re being true ourselves and to our own dreams, and when someone comes along and says, ‘Oh, you’re just like so and so,’ it kind of steals some of your sense of empowerment away, or at least threatens it. And it’s something that I like to speak about because I think the more we do speak up about it, maybe it will change, perhaps.
So, You Say Party! We Say Die! are going to be performing during the Olympics in British Columbia, that must be exciting.
We’re going to play up at Cypress Mountain for a snowboarding competition. Then we’re going to be playing with Tokyo Police Club and Winter Sleep for another Cultural Olympiad event. We just played with Phoenix at the Orpheum, which was amazing.
Is there anyone that you would have like a dream tour with?
I think it would be really fun to tour with the Gossip. We met them a couple of years ago at T in the Park (Scotland). We’d missed our show there due to a late ferry, and we were all really bummed, and then we ran into them and they were just so kind to us and made the day a lot better. And I absolutely adored playing with Phoenix. They’re just incredible, and they’re really inspiring because they’ve been together 10 years and are on their fourth album, and they’re finally breaking out now. We’ve been together six years and are on our third album.
It’s such a crazy world, the whole music world. Everyone is kind of feeling their way in the dark right now, no one really knows what it takes. For some it’s overnight success, and others work really, really hard and tour themselves into the ground and still don’t make it. There’s no real formula for success. Just that you have to be doing it for more than just success, you have to be doing it because it’s what you love and what you feel that you’re made to be doing. You have to follow something more than the hunger for success.
One thing that I haven’t come across yet is the origin of the band’s name?
It actually started off as a playful song that we wrote in my parents’ basement, and we thought this would be really fun just to play live, where we could get the crowd chanting along with us and kind of get the call and response participation happening with the audience and us. Back then we just wanted to have these fun parties in our kind of small community in the valley, and it was all about getting together and screaming. That was as far as we ever thought we would go with our band! We had so much fun performing that song, and everyone was always chanting ‘You Say Party! We Say Die!’ when we played, and we thought well this is working out really well, so we might as well just call ourselves this. So it just kind of stuck as our name, and now here we are years later, and it’s definitely a funny name. –Teresa Sampson