“Something we keep coming back to, is that life doesn’t get any funnier as you get older,” Tyler Bancroft muses, speaking over the telephone.
Indeed, a lot has happened in the last four years since the Vancouver-based musician and his band, Said The Whale, released their last album, hawaii. Most visibly, there’s been a lineup change.
Bassist Nathan Shaw left the group in 2016 to focus on his solo project, Ekali, and then, earlier this year, longtime drummer Spencer Schoening parted ways, as well. Both departures were completely amicable, Bancroft maintains, adding that Schoening just didn’t want to be in a touring band anymore.
While the band — now comprised of co-founders/guitarists Bancroft and Ben Worcester, and keyboardist Jaycelyn Brown — has adjusted nicely to working as a trio (“Having just three people in the studio definitely streamlined the process…We only have three egos to massage,” he laughs), things have been rocky, to say to least, on the personal front for songwriters Bancroft and Worcester.
Dealing with everything from babies to breakups to death, the musicians have had the tectonic plates of their lives significantly shift. The weighty events went on to inform the material on Said The Whale’s newest record, As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide, and, in turn, resulted in work thematically heavier than anything the group has released before.
“Emily Rose,” for example, is about a friend who was killed in a car accident. “Heaven” is inspired by a neighbour of Worcester’s that passed away. One of the most difficult moments on the record is “Miscarriage,” which bravely details the devastating loss of pregnancy that Bancroft and his fiancée twice experienced.
“It was tumultuous, emotionally, because you get the best news ever, the best news of your life, and you tell your closest friends and your family, and it’s this big, joyous, happy thing, and then, all of a sudden, the joy is completely stripped out of that and that is very upsetting,” Bancroft shares.
“My partner and I are both quite pragmatic, realist people and knew that that was something that happens often. And it’s not like this crazy thing that never happens — it happens actually all the time — but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting when it happens to you.
Then, there’s this period of uncertainty and not knowing if her body’s functioning normally and so that [was] very difficult for me to watch her go through. I felt totally helpless, because it’s not even my body, I can’t feel what it feels like. All I can see is what she’s going through and how sad I feel.”
As somber most of the subject matter on As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide is, its musical arrangements are completely the opposite. It’s exhilarating, layered with gorgeous synths and sparkling melodies. The contrast wasn’t intentional, Bancroft says, but it does hone in on the hopefulness that still exists after emerging out of the other side of a tough period.
“The opening, ‘Step Into The Darkness,’ is a perfect example, because it’s a really sad song — it’s a breakup song — but it’s for sure the most upbeat song on the record,” Bancroft describes. “It sounds hopeful and energetic and kind of focuses on the light, and I think that sets the tone for the record to bring about these sad songs that resolve in hope.”
Photo: Taby Cheng
The album also marks a return to a more spontaneous creative process that Bancroft and Worcester employed when they first started making music together — freely experimenting with sound without expectations.
“We started booking studio time with the idea that Ben and I wanted to work together as we had always done, but we also weren’t going to be upset if this ended up being just two solo records,” Bancroft explains, adding with a chuckle, “Just going in with just the express goal of making every song as good as it could be I guess somehow resulted in the most cohesive record we’ve ever made.”
Bancroft credits much of that to We Are The City’s Cayne Mackenzie, who produced a large chunk of the album. “Cayne probably produced 75% of the record,” Bancroft says. “I think that was something that was a bit of glue for us, him being a guiding light for all of those song’s sonic palettes.” Mackenzie also helped write a few tracks, including the chorus on “Heaven.” “That was one of the most exciting ones to come together,” Bancroft adds.
The release of As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide represents a brand new chapter for Said The Whale and its members. As Bancroft reflects upon everything that’s happened over the last four years, he sees growth — both as a musician and in his personal life.
“I always like to think that we’ve grown as songwriters,” he says. “Songwriting is a craft that nobody, I think, can perfect, and so for that reason it’s exciting. You’re always trying to better yourself and write a song that makes you feel more and is more enjoyable to perform and more enjoyable to write. I think we’ve embraced collaboration more than we ever have in the past, which I think has benefitted us on this record in particular.”
“As people, we’re getting older. I’d like to think I’m a better person everyday. I like to think that I’m less crazy, but actually that’s not true at all. I’m just as crazy as I’ll ever be. I’d like to become less crazy. I hope that we’re better performers than we used to be and I hope to continue improving that. I think we’re always growing towards what we want to be. I don’t feel like we’ve reached any sort of pinnacle or we’re incredible now — I think that we’re always improving and doing our best to change things up a little bit and provide a different experience from record to record.”
When: Saturday, April 29
Where: Vogue Theatre – 918 Granville Street, Vancouver
Tickets: $25, available on Ticketfly