Cayne McKenzie, David Menzel and Andrew Huculiak make pop music under the moniker We Are The City. A band who’s sound is as enigmatic as it is lean, we were more than pleased to catch them play the last show of their Canadian tour at Lucky Bar, as well as talk with them in the fumy garage in back of the venue.
How was the show? How was Victoria? You used to play here more often...
David: Yeah, Cayne and Andy worked here with Blake [Enemark], the guitar player at the time. So tonight was cool, we haven’t played Lucky Bar in forever.
Andy: Oh man it was a great cap to a tour. This is the first time we’ve done a tour in Canada in two years. There was definitely a sense of sentiment, and a bit of nostalgia as well. You know, the thing Dave was saying about the songs that were written here, and also cause we spent some time in Victoria during high school, and the fact that our first show in Victoria was here at Lucky!
Cayne: You know even on the way here, we were talking about a funny video we had filmed, funny for us--it’s not on the internet or anything-- we were in the Yates street parkade, looking at this tuna that my mom had packed for us. It’s hilarious that that’s what I think of when I think of Lucky Bar.
So did you guys play the same set tonight as you did on the rest of the tour, or was tonight a more nostalgic experience?
D: Yes, we play the same set for a tour, adding songs here and there depending on length. This was the longest set, Europe was shorter, and America was a lot shorter.
C: A lot.
D: Maybe like half.
C: We were opening for a band called Copeland. They’re like a, post-
D: Like Mad Max, they’re like the soundtrack to Mad Max.
C: They really are.
D: They’re like a piano band.
Do you guys pay a lot of attention to genre when you’re thinking about your own music?
D: We pay attention to it in the way that we wouldn’t want to fall into one.
C: I would say that our genre is “what do Cayne, Andy and David like?”
D: With Above Club--the name of the new record--we wanted to make a new genre called above club. I don’t even know what the genre’s supposed to be.
A: I think we accomplished something.
D: It’s kinda weird.
C: It’s a sub-genre.
A sub-genre of what?
D: Of Electronic pop?
A: Yeah but I think we did something. We definitely talked about the different traits that we were trying to create with Above Club, and those traits were: a lot of harsh elements, and trying to package pop music into quite an abrasive package. Also, pushing our creative limits and sonic limits, because we did it ourselves. It was a really liberating experience to be able to go on any idea we had and take it to the limit. I think it’s a lot about exploring the absolute limit of what’s even listenable.
How did you push your own limits? What does that mean?
A: I was actually thinking about this today. There’s just a lot of parts on Above Club, I remember the guitar in “Heavy as a Brick”, that recording experience, getting those tones on the guitar and being able to experience… do you remember that?
A: That was so heavy, and I couldn’t believe we were recording it. It sounded incredible, and I didn’t know if we were ever going to be able to replicate that.
D: It was pretty easy.
A: Yeah! And so I think it was discovery, a lot of the recording process was discovery and finding new ways to record the music, because we were not totally experienced.
C: We tried with High School and Violent--and In a Quiet World even maybe--we were trying to get a sound that we couldn’t get because we weren’t engineering, we weren’t really producing. Well we were sort of producing, in that we were just doing the songs as they were. But with this album it was like, finally we’re engineering and we had a good friend who was engineering with us who really got it, and so we were able to make everything crunchy, like actually test the limits. You can probably imagine, when you’re in a big studio that you’re paying a decent amount of money to be in, more money than you have, you can’t be like, let’s troubleshoot by pushing everything as much as it can go, and then dialing it back until we can really record that, or, let’s record it anyways and see where it goes. But, when you have unlimited time like we did for Above Club, even though above club took way less time than Violent-
A: I think that’s the Google headquarters theory: give yourself unlimited time and you’ll create something within a more efficient deadline. I think it’s more about letting the experience take the wheel.
D: Missed that reference-
“Jesus, take the wheel”
A: I should’ve said “helm.”
In anticipation of the release of Above Club, you streamed a film you had made--claiming it was live footage of the recording of the new album--when fact it was fictional, something between performance art and a creative nonfiction video diary. Recently you revealed the true nature of this film, 24/7, on Q. Was there any unexpected fallout, or maybe even a sense of relief?
D: After we announced it, I had quite a few texts from people being like “Wow, can’t believe that, it’s crazy, but I kinda had a feeling man.” And that feeling made us not feel guilty really.
A: I definitely was nervous about the scales of justice going in the wrong direction and then suddenly everyone turns against the idea. There was this guy [James Fray] who wrote a book [A Million Little Pieces] and said it was about his life. Then he was on Oprah and everyone was saying, ‘oh this was so inspirational to me’, and then later on it came out that it wasn’t about his life, that he made it up, and he was bashed in the media. My mom--I had a long conversation with my mom where she was like, “I don’t like lying.” And I was certainly worried about that.
D: To me the reveal was equal to actually doing the performance. It was the completion of it. We never thought to not tell.
That’d be a lot of work to not tell anyone about.
From watching you play live, and also from paying attention to the lyrics, I got a sense that it’s a pretty spiritual thing for you guys. Has the nature of that spiritual element changed since, say, when you recorded In A Quiet World, until now?
C: I think we all have individual responses to a question like that, and I would say it’s still a spiritual experience to play the songs we’ve created recently and created a while ago.
D: I think we’d all agree with that, but everyone feels--I mean--we’re just men. We all just became men, so we all have some different opinions on small things, and maybe on big things, but where we meet and where we can all express our own spirituality, I would say the band is still very much an expression of that.
C: In the In A Quiet World days we really wanted it to be like every show was a ministry, we really felt that way, and now I think some shows just sneak up on me and they’re just a ministry to me, only. And at in some ways I think that’s more true, at this point, rather than me planning a spiritual experience for anybody else.
A: I would bridge that gap for me and say that any artistic experience is a way to open those doors, be that your own experience with the divine or a way to communicate that to other people. That for me is what music is about. That’s what movies are about and anything that we do, I think that we find the path to expressing that search and those questions and still sometimes that ministry.
Do you think you can separate playing music from a spiritual experience?
D: Yes I think you can separate them. I’d say some bands try really hard to. They do a really good job of making music not enjoyable in that way. We’d have to try to separate them. Maybe this is a question for Cayne, but to me, there’s just not as many statements now. We’re not less sure but we aren’t as young in our way of thinking.
C: But it’s also paradoxical because as you get older you become more sure in some ways. You say, yeah this is what I’ve chosen.
D: And the band kind of finds its way from there.
We Are The City released their newest album Above Club on November 13, 2015. The accompanying “live stream” film 24/7 can be purchased online for $99 CAD.. They’ll ship it to you on a 250gb hard drive because it’s too big for the internet.
- Joseph Leroux