'The easiest way to explain what our band sounds like is to ask people what their favorite band is," confides Said the Whale's Tyler Bancroft. "And then say, 'Sure, we sound like that band.'"
Of course there's more to it than that, but the Vancouver indie-pop quintet's winsome, eclectic approach has been working well. They've won a Juno Award for New Group of the Year and will be releasing their fourth album Hawaiii next month. Highlights include the slashing garage-tinged "I Love You," the progressive power-pop "Mother," and the bounding, harmony-laden "On the Ropes."
But versatility, acknowledges Bancroft, can be a double-edge sword.
"We have two songwriters that write a wide variety of songs; that's tough for a lot of industry people to swallow," he explains. "They want to know why the whole album doesn't sound like one song the whole time. But that's just never what we've been about. We've got the mellow songs, we have the experimental songs, and then we have the rock songs."
Bancroft shares guitar and vocal duties with Said the Whale co-founder Ben Worcester, whom he first met in high school and began playing music with after graduation. Six years ago they decided to go for it, assembled a band, and hit the road. Having long been into the DIY scene, Bancroft knew the road was the only answer — even for a Western Canadian band who had to trek 10 hours to Calgary to play their first gig.
The band started making waves with its 2009 album, Islands Disappear, which drew comparisons to the New Pornographers for its facility blending pop hooks with left-turn arrangements. The following year, they entered a Canadian radio contest called Peak Performance, which puts bands through a series of musical competitions and challenges with large cash prizes to the winners.
Said the Whale finished second (to rapper Kyprios) and used the prize money ($75,000) to pay for recording and touring last year's Little Mountain. They also picked up their Juno Award in 2011 and were subsequently filmed for a CBC documentary released that summer entitled Winning America.
"It's slowly coming around," says Bancroft. "A lot of the message of that documentary was that we're going to treat America the same way we treated Canada, which is to tour relentlessly, and play all these markets as often as possible to win fans one at a time. And so far, so good. "
But not so easy. "Getting into the states is fucking hard," admits Bancroft. "It's a very Top 40-driven marketplace. And on the flipside, there's a very high brow indie scene that's equally difficult to break into. You're lucky if you get any traction in either area."
If you've got any suggestions, the band invites you to text them at 778/68-WHALE. Really.
"When we're on the road staring at yellow lines for nine hours a day, it's a really cool way to connect with fans," says Bancroft. "If people can text with a band that they're into and listening to, it's kind of a unique thing I haven't seen other bands do. It's been pretty fun. And we've had some awesome conversations."