Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Q&A With Said the Whale's Tyler Bancroft

Photo: Vanessa Heins

The day before the release of Vancouver band Said the Whale’s fourth album hawaiii (out Sept. 17), one of the group’s singers, Tyler Bancroft, checked in with The Musically Inclined from Lancaster, Penn. If you’re on the East Coast, you might run into them on tour. If you’re in Canada, you’ll definitely bump into them on the Canadian alternative radio chart where their first single “I Love You” grabbed the top spot earlier in the month. The new album is a wealth of slick vocal harmonies and kinetic guitar riffs as the band blends styles from West Coast rock, to folk and pop. From track to track, they’ll keep you glued. Here’s what Bancroft had to say about writing songs, pushing 30, and giving the band’s phone number to fans.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an artist on the eve of an album release, how are you guys feeling about it?

We’re all really excited, we definitely think this is our best album yet. A lot of people have heard it already because of the album stream, so that pressure is off, in a way. You’re always nervous for people to hear it. Then again, we also haven’t had a lot of official reviews yet. Those are the scary thing because people who are fans of our band generally like what we do, so it’s about trying to win over the new people and see the reaction from people who are critics– which is something I hate thinking about, but it also determines how the next couple of years are going to play out for us.

So, you guys read the reviews? I’ve talked to some artists who try to ignore them.

We definitely read them because you’re putting art out into the world and you want to know how people are reacting to it. A lot of reviews can be really insightful. It can actually make you understand your own music a little bit sometimes. Of course, there are other times where it hurts to read something negative, but you’ve just got to take that with a grain of salt and feel proud of your own art. By the same token, you also have to take really positive reviews with a grain of salt, as well. You’ve got to keep a level head. I think the most important thing is that we’re happy with it. There’s no denying that from a business standpoint, the more positive reviews that you get from more publications, the busier you’re going to be, and that’s a good thing for a band that needs to stay active and on the road, and keep our heads above the water.

I read somewhere that you went on a writing retreat for this album. How did that come about? What was involved?

It’s the first time we’ve ever done something like that. We went to this arts school called the Banff Centre. It’s in Banff, Calgary, which is a really beautiful little mountain town. It’s a big ski destination for people in the winter, but it’s also home to this amazing school with the most incredible facilities. We had played there a couple times before because they’ve got a pretty cool campus bar. When we played there last, one of the head guys of the school offered us to come and do some writing and be creative for a while, so we took that opportunity. It was me, and Ben [who splits vocals with Tyler], and Spencer [drums], and we each got a little hut out in the forest in the snow in February. We spent 18 hours a day writing music. They have a huge buffet-style cafeteria there, so we really didn’t have to think about eating– just go eat whenever you’re hungry, and then just be locked in this cabin for a long time, working on music. It ended up being really productive. A lot of the songs on the record were written that week. It was amazing. I hope we can do it again.


Said the Whale recorded the album a little differently this time, working on two or three songs a week, versus blocking off months of studio time, how do you think that affected the sound and feel of the album as a whole?

I think because we did it in such a split up way, there wasn’t a huge amount of consideration for how the final product would be displayed or flow, and for that reason, the track listing became super important because it was almost like track listing a mixtape. Because [the songs] are mixed by the same mix engineer they sound cohesive, but stylistically I think we covered a lot of ground on the record. We have several different groups of fans– fans that have heard our stuff on the radio, which tends to be more rock-based stuff, then we have the fans who are more folk inclined. I think this record has a bit of both of those elements.

Did you have any particularly memorable moments during the recording process?

We had somebody play harp on the record for the first time ever. That was pretty cool. I recently got totally obsessed with Game of Thrones, so I felt like I was in King’s Landing watching this person play harp

One song that I come back to a lot from hawaiii is “I Could Smoke,” could you walk me through how the song came together?

The song is about getting to an age approaching 30 and seeing all of my friends that I’ve grown up with start to settle down and have real lives. People are getting engaged, people are getting pregnant, people are starting to have normalcy, and steady jobs, and stability in their lives. Whereas, I am being a starving artist, driving in a van all over North America for very little money. I’m never home to hang out with my friends or be with my family or my girlfriend. It’s a song like, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” And feeling very adolescent at a time when a lot of people around me are beginning to act more adult-like. Production-wise, it was a song that we tried a few different ways. It started out as a rock song and then at one point it was an 808 bass, electronic-y song, and then we mixed the two elements after a couple jams and that’s where that came together.

I saw on Twitter that you’re mailing postcards to fans from the road, and you’ve also got a number where fans can call or text you. I was wondering what makes you guys want to be that accessible.

Having such personal access to artists that you’re into– I think it makes fans feel more invested in your success as a band and it makes them feel like they’re a part of the whole process. You hear bands wanting to maintain rockstar mystique, but that’s not really who we are. We’re fairly open and friendly people. And our fanbase is still manageable enough that we are able to reply to people a lot of the time. Also, we’re just bored in the tour van a lot of the time.

What’s the strangest or most interesting call or text you’ve gotten?

Sometimes we solicit jokes, and those are by far the most entertaining.

Photo: Vanessa Heins

How’s the tour going so far?

It’s great. We had five days at home between the last leg, which was a month long, and then this leg which is almost three weeks. So, we’re feeling rejuvenated and happy to be out on the East Coast.

Since you’re on tour right now, tell me about your live shows. What are they like? What can folks expect?

I’ve never seen Said the Whale play live before. [Laughs] It’s going to be us playing our songs. The volume will be much louder and you will have no control over it.

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