YOU SAY PARTY! WE SAY DIE! with MALAJUBE , CHAMPION and CHROMEO as part of the Exclaim! Spring Fling tour at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Wednesday (April 4), 8 pm. $15. 416-870-8000, www.rootmeansquare.ca. Rating: NNNNN
Pop quiz: you're a restless punk- rock-loving kid growing up in a holy-rolling conservative stronghold in suburban BC.
If you're really lucky, you go to a high school where the kids don't ostracize you if your future aspirations aren't limited to the seminary or basketball. The nearest big city's a two-hour, $10 Greyhound ride away, and your allowance is blown on Fugazi records and a new skateboard deck.
What can you do to stay sane? The options seem clear: start a gang or start a band.
The members of Abbotsford-bred dance-punk heroes You Say Party! We Say Die! did both.
"I was hanging out in parks with these guys in high school, ripping shingles off roofs and making fires," giggles Becky Ninkovic, YSP!WSD!'s tenacious spitfire of a singer, gesturing at guitarist Derek Adam and drummer Devon Clifford. "We had a crew called the PCP, but I can't tell you what it stands for. They'd come after us."
"They won't even tell me and Stephen [bassist O'Shea] what it means," adds keyboardist Krista Loewen.
"It was pretty hilarious," says Clifford, jumping in. "We had a rivalry with this town across the river from us, Mission. They started up a crew called the Mission Zoo to counter the effects of the PCP in Mission.
"We were taggin' their skatepark up all over the place, so they'd write, 'Abbotsford sucks!' on our side of the river. I remember going there to skate and seeing the graffiti and just losin' it, man! Jousting skate fight in the half-pipe! Bring your chains!"
Founding members Loewen and O'Shea, for the record, created the band in the wake of a bicycle gang called the Smokin' Spokes, at least according to (sub)urban legend.
Happily, they've since channelled the hormones-and-Fireball-whiskey-fuelled mania of their PCP years into making some of the best exuberant, skinny-jean-clad ass-shaking rock 'n' shout music in the country.
They've already built a fervent following in Europe. By the time the quintet make it from coast to coast as part of Exclaim's annual Spring Fling tour (which hits Toronto's Phoenix Wednesday) and their new Lose All Time disc (their first release for Paper Bag) starts climbing college radio charts, YSP!WSD! might just be Canada's new favourite band.
They weren't always worthy of the honour. When the early incarnation of You Say Party! We Say Die! started synth-rocking Abbotsford church basements back in 2004, they were kind of a mess fun mess, for sure, but a mess nonetheless.
And even after they released their first disc, the shoutier, sloppier Hit The Floor (Sound Document) in the fall of 05, their live shows were pretty shaky.
"At the time, we sorta thought sloppiness and out of tune was awesome," explains O'Shea.
"It's a common myth among young bands," Clifford adds under his breath.
Ninkovic smiles. "None of us had tuners."
"I guess the idea is that that's why people like you like, "Aw! They're so endearing!' And people did clap and have a good time at those shows," O'Shea continues.
Fortunately, the kids-wilding-at-midnight ethos and fun factor of those rough early shows hasn't dissipated with the band's improved-by-leaps-and-bounds sound.
Want proof? Too bad you weren't in the middle of the crammed crowd of sweat-soaked crazy fans during Canadian Music Week, all cheering as cherubic shouter Ninkovic squeaked and jumped, flinging her small body at the front of the stage while Adam played off the feedback from a rear amp and O'Shea tried to balance his bass while hopping in place.
It was no great leap to imagine the band members wreaking havoc on their sleepy suburban streets like the grunge-era version of Peter Pan's Lost Boys.
All five Party kids are adamant about how crucial crowd interaction is to their live show. During their explosive CMW Horseshoe blast, Ninkovic's gleeful corralling of audience members into shout-along choruses and hand-waving dance moves was arguably more spectacular than the surprise guest appearance by good pals and former tourmates Jeff Scheven and Nirmala Basnayake (both ex-Controller.controller) and Vanessa Fischer (No Dynamics, Domaine d'Or).
They thrive on the community atmosphere of playing gigs in small-town DIY havens like Guelph ("It's so warm and solid," gushes Ninkovic, "a real capital-C Community") and the lack of pretension and level of engagement they've found over in the UK.
"One weird or interesting thing is that just because you turn 30 doesn't mean you're old and have to grow up over there," O'Shea explains. "Dudes in their late 40s still feverishly try to keep up with music and go to shows."
Clifford interrupts. "There were guys in their 60s! Old married couples who've been married for 35 years are still going to shows together, like, "We saw the Sex Pistols here 20 years ago!'"
O'Shea continues. "The worst is when you get haircuts who just stand there like, "What's this? Prove yourselves to me.'
"We usually make fun of them."
It may seem weird that You Say Party! We Say Die! are already an act to watch across the pond when a lot of people in their home country are still trying to figure out the punchline of their name. They've played the UK's massive Great Escape fest, toured across Europe... hell, Metric opened for them ! ("Well, they were the secret special guest on our bill, so technically..." O'Shea clarifies.)
They credit 2006's South By Southwest fest with launching them into the Euro stratosphere.
"That was the year of "Who's got the craziest band name?'" says O'Shea. "And, uh, between us and I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, the British press were just looking for anyone with a weird name."
Clifford smirks. "The British press in general is kind of all over the Canadian scene's collective crotch region."
O'Shea's more diplomatic. "There's definitely a Canadian wave, and there are people searching MySpace for the next Canadian band they can break. They want to be the first ones to tell people about this band, which has worked out for us. It's good timing."
The timing argument is curious, considering YSP!WSD! could be accused of hopping on the tail end of a dying trend. Though their current sound is too complex to shove into a simplistic genre, the VanCity quintet is still, at its core, a post-punk outfit.
O'Shea dismisses the trend factor. "We started the band in 2003 at a time when the CBC was saying dance-punk is dead!"
"Everybody was saying that," Clifford agrees.
"We kind of knew we were too late, but we really liked the sound, so we kept playing it," O'Shea continues. "Still, it would be stupid, especially with the advent of nu-rave, to keep making the same record time and time again."
So Lose All Time is a beautifully diverse album, expanding the band's fundamental dance-punk sound beyond aggressive shouted vocals, spiky guitars and punchy blurts of synth into a realm where a song consisting entirely of urgent classical piano and sweet vocals or a soaring ballad on a par with the Organ's more romantic tunes sounds right at home.
"We needed to write songs we're gonna want to do night after night," Ninkovic offers. "For me, it was really important to come up with vocals that I enjoy singing over and over, which is why on this album, you don't hear a lot of that yelly screechy banshee stuff I did on Hit The Floor.
"Night after night that's not fun. But singing is."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
The band talks about being suburban malcontents and why being a teenager in Abbotsford is particulary ass-bad
Devon talks about what it was like being a non-religous kid in the predominantly Christian Abbotsford community back in the day
Becky and Derek discuss teen angst and earl(ier) artistic pursuits -- including the fact that Derek's classmates uncannily predictedhis career path before he was even really in a band.
Stephen talks about the process behind YSP!WSD!'s new album.
The most annoying kid at the worst show ever.
Selections from YSP!WSD!'s new album Lose All Time