When your music scene appears to be dying, sometimes all you can do is party. Abbotsford, British Columbia’s new wave quintet You Say Party! We Say Die! burst into the Canadian music world four years ago, putting the dance into dance-punk with riotous live performances and toe tapping tunes. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of shows, albums, and promotion for the humble five, who were recently featured on CBC Radio 3 as October’s Artist of the Month.
But it hasn’t been easy. Three years back, bassist Stephen O’Shea was denied entry at the U.S. border due to improper identification, and as a result is banned from return until 2011. Worse yet, during an exhausting 2007 European tour, tensions ran high and climaxed with a nearly band-ending bar brawl in Germany. Despite fights, emotional exhaustion, and fragile health conditions, the group powered through to the ends of the continent and back. After a life changing visit to China and taking some time to reconnect with themselves, their communities, and each other, YSP! WSD! spent nearly a year carefully crafting their latest release on Paper Bag Records, XXXX. Summarized on the album cover as a cryptogram of love, the record represents new perspectives, fresh starts, widened musical ranges, and of course, lots of heart.
Lead vocalist Becky Ninkovic stopped to chat with Ca Va Cool and filled us in on the details of her recovery, her voice, and her excitement for the future of YSP! WSD! Don’t miss Becky and the band at the Phoenix, Toronto on November 20 with openers Little Girls and Think About Life.
Sabrina: Whereabouts are you on your tour?
Becky Ninkovic: We’re in Quebec City right now. Just sitting at the bar, having a cider, eating some olives.
Sabrina: How many cross-Canada tours has the group done at this point?
Becky: This is our ninth!
Sabrina: Wow, you must have it down to a science by now.
Becky: You would think so, and for the most part we do, but there is always things that come up, and it always turns into a bit of an adventure. We started up on rough footing because I was sick with a pretty severe flu. The first week had a bunch of difficulties. But it was good in a weird way. It brought us closer and showed us where we all stood with each other. Now we’ve broken through that, my voice is strong, we’ve got this real positive attitude going on. It has been the most relaxed tour we have ever had now.
Sabrina: It seems like that has been happening a lot with the band; having some sort of adversity to bring you together and make you stronger.
Becky: Yeah, it’s really cool. We keep going through hard times and, I mean, I don’t want to talk about it like we’re the only band that goes through trials. Any relationship goes through trials. If you can make it through it and become better stronger people through it, then that’s awesome. And I think we have all kind of wrapped ourselves around that perspective, we just see it as a challenge that we can overcome at this point.
Sabrina: It’s good that it seems to be harnessed in your newest album, XXXX, you wrapped it all together and presented it artistically.
Becky: It’s really magical the way that happened with the album.
Sabrina: Did you guys have a whole different songwriting approach when you were making this album?
Becky: We really allowed ourselves to honour the process of writing; taking as much time as we needed to let the songs be what they really needed to be. I think amongst ourselves too, we had reached a place of more openness together. We were ready to be more accommodating, listen more, not to be so fast to come up with our own parts. We wanted to understand what the songs really were before adding our own two cents to it. In that way it was really different. Before we worked as a kind of democracy. We ran with the mindset of, “Everyone gets to do their own part and nobody should tell each other what to do and somehow it’s all going to work.”
Sabrina: I like that the result was a bit genre-melding and had a lot of stylistic differences. I was struck by the eeriness of ‘She’s Spoken For’.
Becky: I wrote that one. That song came out of quite an intense healing period for me. It was this realization where I guess I was really needing to connect and find my place. I was feeling this extreme… I was really in a deep depression and struggling to find my true voice and self. I was in a really dark place and I had this conversation happen from within. And that song was the conversation that took place. It’s a very emotional, spiritual song for me.
Sabrina: It’s very honest and even existentialist, questioning the separation of mind, body, and spirit. Pretty heavy questions to be going over in your head.
Becky: It was! I met with a man who has been a mentor to me for a long time, and he’s quite the existentialist. He helped me hone in on some important topics. There’s questions to ask yourself that are the right questions, which point you toward the truth. Then there are the questions that point you toward more negativity and more lies and more self-doubt. He was part of the process of finding the right questions and then finding the truth.
Sabrina: It seems like you’re asking more of the right questions now, because your luck has turned around.
Becky: It feels like something really magical is happening right now. Within all of us, with all of our relationships, with the band, with the success of the album. Everything feels like it’s all connected.
Sabrina: I caught the podcast on CBC Radio 3 which you and Stephen hosted, giving audiences a glimpse into the Abbottsford musical scene. It led me to think that you’re really hometown oriented.
Becky: Stephen and I are, we still live there; moved back after a few years in Vancouver. We’ve reconnected, not that we ever lost the connection, but got more involved with the community, with the disabled community, and were stoked to have that strong home base when we’re not touring. The other three have found their own communities within Vancouver and are doing awesome stuff out there too.
Sabrina: That brings me to the next question. Do you feel like your music still reflects Abbottsford or have you been drawing from a different community, like Vancouver?
Becky: Well, Stephen and I spend a lot of time in Vancouver too, we connect a lot with the other bands there. We commute a lot; the Olympics have taken their toll and the trip is now about twice as long as before. There is still no public transportation between Abbotsford and Vancouver. Either way, we try to get out there twice a week to practice.
Sabrina: At least it gives you a way to maintain the community feeling. I get a big impression, between nurturing your local music scene and high-energy shows with lots of audience participation, that this is kind of the core of your music.
Becky: Yes, it’s all about connectedness to me. I love being able to connect with people and share the truth that I’ve come to on my own. The more that I share what I’ve gone through, the more I realize that we’re not alone. I think that’s the thing; Canadians can be so damn polite. My mom’s American and my dad’s Croatian, and they’re both really expressive. For a long time, I think that I didn’t allow myself to fully come out because I was so used to having such expressive parents. It made me more timid. But now I’m coming into my own, finding my true voice and all of this healing, all these positive realizations. I’m 28 now, I kind of feel like I’ve gone through all these essential learning curves of your early twenties a bit late, but it’s a stronger sense-of-self either way.
Sabrina: Well, I don’t think there’s any time limit on learning to be more cathartic!
Becky: Ha, that’s for sure! And the more you talk about it, the more people relate to it. They’ll explain, “I’m feeling the same way! Or I have, and I’m working on it.” And bam, there it is. That feeling of connectedness. Little by little, you kill that feeling of isolation that everyone feels.
Sabrina: It’s amazing how just talking about something can make it seem more accessible. Emotional struggles aren’t simple problems, but they’re certainly everywhere.
Becky: It’s basically recognizing the elephant in the room. It’s always there, there’s so much that we go through, so many levels to each person. So much of the time we just waste away talking about surface level stuff, and I’m tired of it now. I want to get to the heart of things with people now.
Sabrina: That’s where all the interesting stuff is anyway, right?
Becky: Exactly! It’s interesting and rich.
Sabrina: A lot of your material for the new album came from all these dark places. Did you ever find it nerve-wracking to be singing the lyrics in front of people, just because they’re so soul baring?
Becky: I found a lot of liberation in that. I could tell you, a year ago it would have been nerve-wracking. Because I went through the process that I did, it’s become a feeling of freedom. It’s something that I had to break through.
Sabrina: I’ll spare you from hashing out the details again, but I know there were rough times in Germany during your 2008 tour. You continued to do the tour and it still was amazing and energy-filled, despite the fact that everyone was breaking down. How did everyone cope with the emotions running high?
Becky: It was hard. I think when people go through trauma, it relates back to what I was saying about everyone having many layers to themselves. You find a place within your layers to go and cope and survive. It’s almost primitive in a way; you just do what it takes to get through. I had so much darkness inside, even though the energy was always still there, it was coming from a darker place rather than a good place. There’s always energy, we have these amazing currents that run through our bodies. So the energy is always coming from us, but not from the right places. And I mean, those shows? Some of those sets were best shows in a way. They were so raw, and we were at our tightest from touring so much, on a purely technical level. But the source wasn’t solid, it was bound to break down.
Sabrina: I’m glad that it wasn’t a permanent breakdown. Throughout all the healing, you mention that you found your voice. Did you consult a vocal coach?
Becky: This woman, Sharla Soder, who has become a very dear friend of mine, she took me under her wing and helped me reconnect with my voice. A deeper, more strong place to sing from. There was so much I was going through that a lot of times I felt like I was fighting to survive and fighting to stay strong, which created a lot of tension in my body. A lot of the vocal work was relaxing, learning to let go and be free and release and trust and all those kinds of things. Then the tension began to lessen and I was able to anchor my voice back into my body, instead of up in Never-Never Land.
Sabrina: I know it’s hard to make predictions at this point, but where do you see the band in the next few years?
Becky: Hopefully back into the States! I’m really hoping and praying we can back there.
Sabrina: When can you get back across the border?
Becky: 2011, two more years. We didn’t even do much touring before everything went down. We played in New York, Chicago and South by Southwest. I’m excited to see how things have changed. There’s so much going on there that would be great for us right now.
Sabrina: With all the changes in the band, have you had to make a lot of changes in the way you tour?
Becky: We have a way healthier rider now! And Krista and I both discovered that we have a gluten allergy, so now we’re gluten free and it’s made a world of difference. Again, here’s the connectedness. You can’t compartmentalize your body into categories. We focus a lot more on our health. Hydration is important, especially for a vocalist. Any travel at all with a bit of alcohol thrown in gets to be a major problem. It’s a healthy balance of partying and resting.
Sabrina: As far as centering yourself to relax and harness your voice, did you find that your on-stage dancing was affected?
Becky: Totally. I have to be a bit more conscious. But it’s getting easier; this has been the tour to put into practice the techniques I’ve learned over the year. I’m still learning, but it’s remembering to keep my feet a little more still when I’m singing. Then in the lulls when I’m not singing, that’s when I can break out and go wild, which I do!
Sabrina: I’ll wrap it up by bringing us back to the core of your album: love. What does love mean to you today?
Becky: Today, I feel love is everywhere.