Not many bands could go from high-school outcasts to the inaugural winners of The Peak Performance Project within just a few short years – and even fewer could have done it while retaining the integrity of Kelowna’s We Are The City.
Since forming in 2008, the prog-rock trio has been steadily gaining fans and stunning critics. But 2010 was a year of change for the band as they lost original guitarist, David Menzel, and found a replacement in Blake Enemark.
With the new lineup in place, in March of 2011, We Are The City released High School, an experimental concept EP that explores the band’s high-school memories with the clarity of a few years’ worth of hindsight. I recently got a chance to talk to drummer Andy Huculiak about the trio’s latest project and what high school was like for the boys of We Are The City.
YT: High School is a concept album. Can you tell us the story of how that concept was developed?
AH: Cayne [keyboards] and I had a bit of downtime when our [ex]-guitarist, David, was not as much involved in the music. We started a band called High School and it was just us messing around and going lyrically into some places that we wouldn’t have gone with We Are The City, like, some darker memories from our past. We didn’t really want to associate ourselves with We Are The City so we tied T-shirts over our faces. After that we thought, “Well, we’re recording, we have this material, why not record it?” So, that’s where, I guess, the imagery and the concept came from.
YT: Why write an EP about high school? What is it that you guys found so inspirational about the high-school experience?
AH: Well, there are a lot of experiences there, positive and negative. High school is a hilarious time because you’re just trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, and you’ve got all these people that are in this one building that are forced to coexist even though everybody is so different, you know? So that for us was just different experiences, parties that we went to, relationships that we had, be it good or bad things. It was just really easy for us to go, “Oh, remember that time?” and draw out lyrics from it.
YT: To all those kids in high school right now, what advice do you have?
AH: Even though there’s a lot of expectations and a lot of social pressure and all that, don’t let it define who you are as a person. Do what you want to do… and I would hope that’s good things... I feel like a lot of times in high school being a nice person is almost what makes you uncool or something. So, maybe my advice would be to make your own path and not try and follow in the footsteps of someone who’s good-looking or a football star or something like that. I guess just be yourself and be a nice person. Things get really cool after you graduate. Just continue to be a nice person and you’re set.
YT: How would you describe yourselves in high school?
AH: Well, in middle school, I was very much the person that was bullied. In high school, I kind of separated myself. I didn’t really fit into any groups like the popular kids or the unpopular kids. I just kind of stayed away from all that. That was Cayne and myself; we went to high school together. We were both very… kind of isolated. We still went to class and everything, but we just didn’t really buy into the whole social structure.
YT: How has having a new member affected your band?
AH: In a lot of ways it’s been like a breath of fresh air to have someone come in that’s got new ideas and you’re experiencing everything new again with them. In other ways, there are definitely some growing pains. As far as the sound goes, it will definitely affect our sound, but I feel really confident that we’ll be able to write stuff we’re excited about.
YT: What’s up next for We Are The City?
AH: We’re going to be writing for the full-length and then recording, then maybe a little bit of touring... It’s kind of funny because the EP got released just not too long ago, but it’s already been finished for four months… maybe a bit longer. I feel like I’m just ready to do the next thing. We’re really ready, really excited.
YT: Why did you decide to release an EP rather than a full-length album?
AH: I think there was a lot of pressure on us. We felt a lot of pressure to release “the next big thing” like, the next full-length album. Not “big thing” like people were expecting big things from us, but “big thing” as in a full-length album. People were expecting something from us and I think we just kind of came to the conclusion that that pressure was unnecessary. We didn’t need to put that much pressure on ourselves. So we decided to take these songs that we’d written without any intention of them being We Are The City songs and just thought, “Why not put them on an EP and release that?” So now we’re going to go work on a full-length… Well, right now, actually, we’re writing it. We’ll be recording in the summer. It feels a little bit like the pressure’s off, which is nice because we’ve got something out there.
YT: What does the songwriting process look like for you?
AH: I guess, it’s different every time. For the first album it was all three of us: Cayne, myself, and our old guitarist, David. We’d write together and it would be a very tedious process that would take a lot of thought and a lot of working out to get to the final product. For High School, Cayne and I just went with whatever ideas came through our head. It was a very fast process and a very productive one, so that was cool. I’m not entirely sure what the next one will look like, it might be entirely different… I have no idea.
YT: High School was produced by Tom Dobrzanski from The Zolas. What was it like working with him?
AH: Oh, awesome. He’s just a great guy. They’re [The Zolas] great musicians. Actually, we worked with Tom on our last album so we were feeling comfortable with him. He’s just great, just a great guy. We have the same goals; we both really want to make something we’re proud of, and for Tom it’s not just another job. He’s really putting himself into it just like us. I guess he could be considered like, a fourth member, which is cool.
YT: You seem to have a good relationship with a lot of local bands and artists. How have those friendships impacted you?
AH: I’m so humbled to be even friends with some, acquaintances with others. Even, you know, friends of ours, Said The Whale, just won a Juno and I just never imagined myself to be in a position where one of my friends won a Juno. It’s so awesome. It’s something that, dare I say, the rest of Canada doesn’t have, is like, a really tight-knit musical community. On the West Coast and Vancouver in particular, the bands are so supportive of each other, which is really awesome. In certain fields, there’s a tendency to be competitive or to one up the other person, to do bigger shows or sell more CDs. [Vancouver] is a total community.
YT: Speaking of the local music community, it’s been just over a year since you won the Peak Performance Project. How has that cash prize of $150,000 changed your band?
AH: Well, I mean, it definitely opened up a lot of doors for us. Things that we couldn’t do before, like, say if a tour came up, we’d really have to look at things and say, “How many seats are we going to sell? How much is the guarantee for this show? How much is it going to cost us in gas to get up there?” So, now we don’t have to do that. Now, when opportunities come up, we can just kind of do it. You know, for the next album we don’t have to necessarily sign to any particular label in hopes that they’ll pay for it. In that sense, it’s been so awesome to have enough money to be able to do what the band wants. Which is so cool because the band, for me, is what I want to do, so, yeah it’s great.
YT: Beyond the money, how else has the Peak Performance Project affected the band?
AH: Well, positively. I would say it’s given us a lot of exposure and then I’d say with everything, money or otherwise, once a band gets to a certain level, there’s got to be some decisions made morally about where you want to go. So, I’d say the more exposure a band gets, or the more politics and business becomes involved, the more you have to reevaluate things. In that way it’s also affected the band in that we’re kind of reevaluating where we want to go with things and how much… it’s kind of hard to explain… it’s kind of like, how much we want to let the money affect us. Sometimes when you get a lot of money, you have to get to a point where it’s like, “OK, how do I not let this get to my head?” So, it’s like a reevaluation as well.
YT: You made a video for each song on the EP with your company, Amazing Factory. As both a musician and a filmmaker how important is the music video aspect to you?
AH: Well, I think it’s really great. That’s awesome that you know I’m in Amazing Factory! It’s something that’s really cool, especially it’s something kind of different about us than other bands, that we have that mind for film. I feel like us and Amazing Factory, at the same time are kind of helping each other out. So, that’s really cool that we can provide a platform for Amazing Factory and at the same time Amazing Factory really helps us out by making these awesome pieces of art for us. I just think it’s so cool to have that experience, you know, where you listen to music and then you watch a video and it’s not just something where you paid another company to do it. You don’t just have their interpretation of it; it’s very much a very cohesive, tight-knit kind of thing, which is really cool.
YT: For High School, was there a conscious effort to have the videos tell a story?
AH: Well, we just had a screening in Kelowna, so after watching those all again, it’s weird. When Amazing Factory started working on them, they didn’t literally interpret the songs, they did their own interpretation of it, which is great that they did that. When you watch the videos, it’s a progression. The music videos aren’t necessarily all connected but there are things that tie them all together. I think when you watch it, it’s very much like a short film or an art piece there’s very much a beginning, middle and an end. It doesn’t necessarily tell a story, but it does portray some emotions and themes of the work.
YT: You guys interact and share a lot with your fans through social media. How important do you think that has been in your success as a band?
AH: I think it’s so awesome. I don’t know how much I owe how far we’ve come to the social media networks, but I will say that it’s just so cool. It’s something that gives everybody a fair chance, instead of before where you had to sign to a label and play a few shows before people knew about you then people could connect with you. It’s kind of like everybody gets a fair shot and everybody is able to talk. Now, it’s more even about answering questions and talking to people rather than just playing a show or just making good music. Which is cool, because now I think you’re seeing a lot more just nice people becoming successful. If you actually have a rock star attitude or a mean way about you, then the chances of you becoming successful are actually lower which I think is actually more fair that way. I just like being able to connect with people. That’s what the band is about for me, just being able to connect with people.
YT: Who handles the social media accounts?
AH: That’s me. Yeah, well, actually Cayne doesn’t really go near the Internet. He does on his own time, but not at the band’s expense. He’s not the most computer literate. There’s this thing where you advance shows, so what you do is you book a show and you later send an email to find out when you’re loading in, the set time and all that. He was advancing a bunch of shows… that was the duty that was given to him. He must have sent out like, five to 10 different emails to people that were wrong. They had the wrong dates on them and the wrong names and everything. One guy just emailed back and said, “Oh, you mean this show on this date?” Then he answered all the questions and then he said “Who or what is a Cayne?” That was like, the end of the line. So, after that we were like “Cayne, look, you’re a great guy but maybe this isn’t your thing.”
YT: You are a young band. Do you ever feel that that has been a disadvantage?
AH: No, if anything I feel like it might be an advantage, just because we’re getting started early. The older I get the more I realize that, “Oh, one more year and we haven’t done this or that.” Then, at the same time, that kind of falls to the wayside and I start to remember what this band and what I want my life to be about. It’s not how far I make it in the music industry, it’s not about how many CDs we sell, or how big of a show it is, it’s more about, I guess, portraying a message or trying to live out an earnest life doing this. So, I guess at any age you can do that and I don’t really feel like it’s a disadvantage or an advantage. It just is.
YT: If you had to describe We Are The City in three words, what words would you use?
AH: I would say, “progressive, alternative rock.” That’s kind of a generic way to explain it. If I could use three words to describe us as people, I would say we’re, “well-intentioned men.” That’s what I’d say.