A&E » Music

Said the Whale gives young B.C. musicians a boost

Vancouver indie-rockers are set to kick off summer with GO Fest concert May 18



Need reprieve from endless disheartening conversations about the housing market?

You might want to invite Said the Whale frontman Tyler Bancroft to your next dinner party.

"I think young people in Vancouver are surrounded by the idea of high-paying jobs and over-priced real estate and I think that probably adults around them are speaking a lot about the housing crisis and what it costs to live in Vancouver. And I just don't think that's something that teenagers should be worried about," he says. "I think young people should be focusing on exploring their passions and interests and exposing themselves to as much culture as possible and following their dreams. I think people shouldn't be making career choices on societal pressure to own a home."

Bancroft and bandmate Ben Worcester both grew up in the city (fun fact: keyboardist Jaycelyn Brown has called Whistler home for many years) and have remained deeply rooted in B.C. over the band's dozen years together. With six well-received albums, endless touring and a Juno Award, Bancroft says he's been able to make a living playing music, but "I do struggle financially."

"I'm not comfortable by any means, but I'm fulfilled and happy. I think that's important to stress. All of this isn't to say kids shouldn't be concerned with their future, they should be concerned if they don't explore their passions they might end up older, unsatisfied and uninterested in their lives."

To that end, Said the Whale recently launched a new initiative to support burgeoning B.C. bands. The indie rockers are set to launch a tour of 12 Lower Mainland high schools in May and June with Air Miles Stage Pass donating $1,000 to each of those schools and an ongoing GoFundMe to attract donations to music programs.

They've also announced a contest for B.C. bands under the age of 18 to win an opening slot for their Sept. 6 show at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. Finally, the group is launching a bi-annual grant in which they'll offer a $2,500 prize to support young B.C. artists for the next five years.

"We did a very miniature version of the school tour eight years ago," Bancroft says. "We decided to revisit it this spring because we want to give back to the community—more importantly to young people in music. I was trying to think of things that, when I was in high school, I would be really stoked on. Opening up for a band at a large venue, that's one thing."

After a harrowing spring tour that included a broken down van ("the biggest cliché in rock 'n' roll") and an emergency appendectomy ("it was fortuitous; it happened when I was at home"), Said the Whale is preparing for summer festival season, kicking off with a slot at GO Fest in Whistler on May 18.

"We'll be playing the songs people want to hear. We do have a long and deep catalogue—most of which we don't know how to play," Bancroft says with a laugh. "You can't stay sharp on 60 songs—it's not possible."

That setlist will include some tracks from their latest record, Cascadia, released in February as their debut on the Arts and Crafts label. It runs the gamut from the sweet and sparse "Old Soul, Young Heart" to the lush and rambunctious "Shame" and the electro-infused rocker "UnAmerican."

The story behind the latter's lyrics is arguably the stuff of Can-Con legends. As they were writing the album, the band was in talks with Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew (also the man behind their new label), about producing the record. "All of a sudden we had access to Kevin Drew, who is a huge influence to all of us," Bancroft says. "I was tripping out a little bit being on the phone with him because I was such a big fan. Thirty seconds into the conversation with him it became very obvious he was in the bath. He didn't say it, but I could hear it. His parting words to me were, 'Just go write a pop song.'"

The result was the opening lines to "UnAmerican": "Kevin wants to hear a pop song."

"One thing that's consistent between our songs is we write from our own experience," says Bancroft, who splits writing duties with Worcester. "Whatever that is at the time—life in the city intertwined with nature, to a degree, family goings on for me, being a young father and how those experiences were starting to shape my life. I think the most important thing about our song writing is it's always drawn from personal experience. Everything we're writing about is extremely meaningful."

Catch Said the Whale at GO Fest on May 18 on the Village Square mainstage at 7:30 p.m.