VANCOUVER INDIE POPSTERS BRING SUMMER HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
According to Vancouver indie group Said The Whale, Christmas is a special holiday for many reasons: awkward family dinners, enough wine and beer for days, general Christmas-y feels and, of course, carolling.
Wait. Carolling? Ironically, band vocalist Ben Worcester can’t recite a full carol for shit.
“Each year, I rediscover that I only know Christmas tunes when the words are projected on a screen or something,” he laughs. “I can give you five words from the chorus of any carol you’d like, though! Fa-la-la-la-la! And…done.”
Despite Worchester’s less-than-impressive knowledge of popular holiday songs, Said The Whale has recorded its fair share of Christmas tunes in the past. Starting in 2007, the band released a small collection of original holiday jams, culminating in the release of the West Coast Christmas compilation on Bandcamp last year. “I can’t tell you if there will be any new Christmas songs this year, because I would hate to disappoint,” says Worcester. “And I’d also hate to give away what the presents are, right! Then you wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are songs coming!”
After this revelation, it quickly becomes apparent that “The Little Drummer Boy” is not a song option on Worcester’s list. “That’s got to be my least favourite carol ever,” he groans. “The words ‘Pa-rum-pa-pa-pa’ really piss me off. So annoying!”
He pauses as soon as he’s hit with the epiphany. “Wait! I know! I’ll do a song called “Loud Drummer Guy,” and [I’ll make it] about our drummer Spencer.”
A personal favourite carol of his, he explains more seriously, is the “Huron Carol.” Written by a Jesuit missionary in the 17th century, it’s also Canada’s oldest Christmas song. “I love it. I learned it from a Christmas book I have at home,” says Worcester. “There’s something haunting about the song. Bruce Cockburn does a wonderful version of ‘Huron’ on his Christmas album, which is neat.”
“Really though,” he concludes, “this is all me just saying I better get on it and write my own Christmas song!”
Naturally, this would just add to Said The Whale’s foot-long list of accomplishments: they’ve come in second place in the 2010 Peak Performance Project, won a 2011 Juno award for Best New Group of the Year, toured across North America, starred in the CBC documentary Winning America, and succeeded in getting half of Norway to hate them for their parody of Ylvis’ “The Fox.” Views on the aptly named “The Whale” exceeded the views of all the band’s previous music videos and answered every fan’s single burning question: what does the whale say?
There’s more than one answer to that question, by the way. A few of their answers include “oooo-oooooo-eeeooooooo-uhhhhoooo” and “gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding”.
“’The Whale’ pretty much fell right into our laps!” Worchester says of their parody. “And our feelings weren’t hurt [by the response], I’ll tell ya that much. We can laugh it off really well because we have a pretty good sense of humour ourselves. See. Here’s a joke for you: what’s brown and sticky?”
Worchester starts laughing at his own joke before it’s even finished. “A stick!”
Outstanding jokery aside, if you’re thinking the band was ready to throw their feet up and relax with a pack of pale ales — perhaps Said The Ale, the beer that Townsite Brewery dedicated to them — after their 2012 album Little Mountain, you were terribly mistaken. Let’s not forget hawaiii, the band’s newest LP. Through a wide spectrum of tempos and styles, the album delivers a fresh take on the charming harmonies, irresistible hooks and quirks that define them.
“We worked very hard on hawaiii’s track listing to make sure it would flow despite its sonic diversity. It’s laid out almost like a mixtape,” says vocalist and guitarist Tyler Bancroft. “I think everyone will be able to find at least one song that resonates with them [on the album].” Summer gems “Mother” and “I Love You” carry over from EP I Love You to the full-length release, with the latter song garnering heavy radio play. That single’s upbeat pseudo-garage rock enhances the playful, almost-slanderous nature of Bancroft’s lyrics – which, by the way, depict a true tale of unconditional love for family. “I grew up as an only child and had always wanted to have brothers and sisters,” says Bancroft. “And soon enough, one day my parents were like ‘Oh, by the way, you do have siblings!’” Though they were older and harder to relate to when they finally met, Bancroft still came to love them. Even better: the music video for “I Love You” is Said the Whale comedic at its peak — think of the Japanese game show Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, wacky costumes, a plethora of perverted jokes, and a ton of falls, trips and impact relays.
The album also includes several serious songs, often family-centric. “Helpless Son” is the heartbreaking expression of Bancroft’s struggle to accept his mother’s inevitable aging. “That was a really tough one to write for me,” he admits. “Everyone goes through this experience. It’s hard to watch someone that you love become old and dependent on their family, whereas at an earlier point in your life, that person was your caretaker.” The steady build of drums, guitar, and keyboard quietens as Bancroft becomes penitent (“Did I break your heart when I left the house/The moment I was old enough?/I only wanted you to see/That I could make a man of me”) towards the song’s end.
Though Said the Whale’s tour will finish in Vancouver at the end of December, fans shouldn’t fear that their favourite band is going to drop off the map for life. While they’ll be enjoying a long-deserved Christmas vacation, the band is always a drunken SnapChat or text message away. Go ahead and make the magic happen at 1-778-68-WHALE. And no, that number isn’t a whale sighting hotline. Promise.
As the minutes wind down to the band’s show in Winnipeg, Worcester spills a few intimate, exclusive details about what the band has in store for the new year. “We’re gonna get rich!” he exclaims. “I’d imagine that our plans are to continue touring all the time and then somehow the skies will open up and this great big beam of light will shine down and then we’ll say ‘We’ve made it!’”
Seriously, though: “There’s nothing else to do but keep making records, tour, and hope that people continue coming out to our shows so we don’t ever have to quit doing [what we love]. If not, I’d have to figure out how one makes money from fishing while not always being…”
Worcester pauses awkwardly. “…good at it. Maybe I’ll start selling Sugar Daddies [chocolate bars] on the side of the highway instead.”
Said The Whale performs two shows at the Commodore Ballroom on December 28. The 4 p.m. show is all ages and the evening show is 19+.
By Kristina Charania
Cover illustration: Chris Dwan