We Are The City, in your city

Cayne McKenzie discusses raw, energetic approach on new record

Photo provided by A Badge of Friendship.

On Sunday, Feb. 21, Vancouver’s resident oddball trio We Are The City bring their syncopated, percussion- and synthesizer-heavy brand of experimental indie-rock to the Good Will Social Club in support of their latest and fourth release, Above Club.

We Are The City are undoubtedly rooted in the genre of indie-pop, delivering danceable, pseudo-psychedelic-sounding songs with soft, saccharine vocals occasionally subject to heavy effects. Thankfully however, the group’s eschewing of traditional pop song structure and dynamics in favour of off-the-wall experimentation keeps them far from sounding formulaic.

The band’s last release, Violent, is a far-out, sombre, and occasionally too laid-back collection of songs that favour extended organ chords and sparse drum-clap rhythms backing sweet, crooned vocals. As if in response, Above Club is the definitive tightening and brightening of the We Are The City machine, bringing back the catchy immediacy of the group’s 2011 EP High School.

Above Club is one short album with only eight tracks, none of which run in excess of four minutes. This actually works in the album’s favour, as any additions might have thwarted its excellent momentum.

Two particularly outstanding cuts are “Heavy as a Brick” – which is exactly what Royal Canoe and Tame Impala’s offspring would sound like – and “Lovers in all Things,” which blends Weakerthanschords and Brand New vocals with screeching feedback and monstrously loud synthesizer lines.

Stylistically, it feels like We Are The City have effectively meshed the styles of their previous releases together, creating a record that hits a lot harder than Violent, and with a lot more depth than High School.

Vocalist/keyboardist Cayne McKenzie confirmed this theory with the Manitoban, stating that We Are The City’s intent while recording was to specifically combine elements of those two records.

High School was really created, like, those songs were written in one night. We just banged them out and recorded them really fast, and that was it,” said McKenzie.

Violent, on the other hand, was a really long process, three years or so of meticulously demoing and deleting, demoing and deleting […] We really took our sweet-ass time with that one.”

McKenzie said that while recording Above Club, the band had no desire to be that methodical again, and in order to retain the original inspiration that led to each song on the album, chose to forsake demoing entirely this time.

“We just wanted to press ‘record,’ and then come up with whatever and have it be recorded in a professional sense, so that we could put it out, and so that what people hear is the first time we’re finding this idea as well,” McKenzie explained.

“The first time that we’re hearing it is also that recording itself. That’s what we did and that’s why we decided to record it ourselves, that’s why we decided to produce it ourselves, and that’s also why we decided to have a lot more improvisation.”

McKenzie indicated that the first single released from Above Club, “Keep on Dancing,” exemplifies this approach in the studio, as the final version of the song’s lead vocal was his first and only take.

Above Club is also We Are the City’s first release on their new, Seattle-based label, Tooth & Nail Record (previously, the band was signed to Canadian independent record label Hidden Pony Records). McKenzie told the Manitoban their new partnership happened through a chance meeting after an ill-fated music industry showcase.

“Andy, the drummer in our band, was on plane on the way back from [film/media/music festival] South by Southwest (SXSW), where we went. You hear, like, ‘oh, this is going to be so good for your band’ and then you go and you play the shittiest showcase ever,” McKenzie said pointedly.

“You realize that all the industry [people] you wanted to meet are just wasted the entire time […] like ‘man, this is so disappointing.’ But then Andy was on the plane on the way back and sat beside a guy, they got into a good conversation. Then at the end of the conversation, after a two-hour flight or whatever […] the guy’s like ‘I’m the head A&R guy for Tooth & Nail Records, you should give me a CD.’”

We Are The City have invited Toronto-based pop group HIGHS to open up for them for the duration of their Canadian tour, including their Winnipeg date. This addition seems to have made McKenzie all the more excited to tour, as he enthusiastically tells the Manitoban that HIGHS guitarist Joel Harrower is one of his “best, oldest friends.”

“We’ve played a couple of shows with them in Ontario, but it just never worked out for us to be the ones choosing our support,” McKenzie explained.

“Now that we can choose our support, it was a no-brainer.”

We Are The City plays the Good Will Social Club with HIGHS Feb. 21. Doors open at 7 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17.50 in advance and can be purchased at the Park Theatre, Music Trader, or online at www.ticketfly.com