After a collective breakdown brought them to the brink of breakup in late 2007, Canadian quintet You Say Party! We Say Die! are staging a triumphant return with their third album, "XXXX," which was released in the United States in February. Already, 2010 has included two quasi-hometown performances at the Vancouver Olympics, an appearance at Austin’s SXSW festival, and their first U.S. shows with a full lineup since 2006, when O’Shea was banned from the country due to visa problems the band encountered at the border.
Shortly after the group kicked off a brief U.S. tour on the West Coast earlier this month, Blast spoke with frontwoman Becky Ninkovic, who said she and her bandmates were able to channel any negative energy that remained into the songs that comprise "XXXX."
"I think when you go through difficult times with people, it can really bring you closer together, and just establish a lot more trust and faith in each other. It definitely did that for us," she said emphatically.
The group formed in 2003 when most of the members were in their early 20s, according to Ninkovic. Drummer Devon Clifford and guitarist Derek Adam are childhood best friends and attended the same high school as Ninkovic and keyboardist Krista Loewen, but the true connection came from the band members all being fixtures on the local music scene in Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver. Their (oft-abbreviated as YSP! WSD!) name is taken from the title of one of their first songs, which would frequently turn into a back-and-forth chant with audience members in the group’s early days, when they were still nameless and most of their gigs consisted of casual performances at friends’ apartments.
"We really liked the idea of just getting to participate with the crowd â€¦ (to) create a feeling of us all being in it together instead of just being performers separate from the audience," she explained. "We just wanted it to be like a fun party. We were just playing in our hometown, little house parties and stuff, so it was more about just creating a fun atmosphere than anything."
Though Ninkovic maintains YSP! WSD! never had aspirations to play beyond those hometown shows, the success of their first two albums â€” 2005’s "Hit the Floor" and 2007’s "Lose All Time" â€” has led them down a different path.
It was during a grueling 16-week fall/winter 2007 tour of Canada and Europe that the tension that was building within the group came to a head. Afterwards, the band took some much-needed time off to re-evaluate, Ninkovic said.
"I think some of us definitely felt like that was gonna be the end," she admitted. "I know for me, I was definitely at the bottom, and unable to see how we could continue. But, fortunately, some of us were able to see how it could work. â€¦ And then, eventually, I began to see a lot more light and hope and future."
"There was a lot of recovery time needed after that tour, and through that process, I think we really discovered a new love for ourselves, each other, and the music, and just what we were in together," she added. "That was really what pulled us together. When we started writing, it just naturally began to come out in the songwriting process. So, we could all feel it, and we just kind of loved the magic that was happening, and just really wanted to capture that. (Producer) Howard (Redekopp) was amazing at being able to really tap into that energy."
The songs on "XXXX" contain elements of everything from blues to disco, but Ninkovic says the band, more so than on its previous records, was honing in on a sound that echoed 1980s New Wave and punk and early â€˜90s dance in particular. She credits Redekopp, whose previous producing credits include fellow Canucks The New Pornographers and Tegan & Sara, for bringing their sonic vision to fruition.
"(Redekopp) really understood that aesthetic that we all love so much," she gushed. "We had so much more time to really focus on this album. We really had a lot of time to connect with Howard and just communicate all of our hopes and dreams for how we wanted it to sound, and really take the time to really give each song what it needed. In that way, it just became more of an accomplishment for us."
The album’s leadoff track in particular, "There is Xxxx (Within My Heart)," bears a striking resemblance to the 1993 dance hit "Show Me Love" by Robin S. Ninkovic readily acknowledged the similarity, but says it was entirely unintentional. She laughingly recalled her jaw dropping when Adam played her the Robin S. track in comparison to her own.
"My hope for that song was that it would kind of play on, like, dance mix â€˜90s," she said, laughing. "I kind of had that era in the back of my mind, writing that song. I really wanted it to kind of have that feel to it. And when he found the song later, like after we’d already recorded it and everything, I was like, oh my God, amazing. It’s finally happened. I knew one of these days there’d be some subconscious leaking coming out."
As for the "X" motif in the title of the album itself and several songs, it was Ninkovic herself who came up with it, when she was creating artwork for the group’s first EP in 2004.
"I cut out these four paper Xs that I glued onto the artwork," she recalled. "At that time, I remember thinking L-O-V-E, X-X-X-X. And â€¦ when this album was coming together, there was this very obvious energy of love coming through. We were really wanting to honor that, but in a way that wasn’t going to be too blatantly obvious or clich©, as many sentiments to do with love often come across sounding. We were talking about it, and I remembered about the four Xs and how it was like my little secret code for love. And everybody really felt a connection with that."
YSP! WSD!’s renewed harmony and mutual respect also came through in the writing process, according to Ninkovic.
"We each write our own individual parts, but â€¦ we’ve been learning in the last year or so to try to kind of honor each other’s ideas and vision, and to be more flexible with each other," she said. "It’s always a learning process. And I think we definitely found that for this album. I think we just had a lot more openness towards each other, just in our own personal relationships, just in our hearts towards each other. So, coming into the writing room with that attitude just made the creative process so much more liberating."
Call it a comeback; call it a fresh start. Whatever the terminology, it’s clear that You Say Party! We Say Die! are embracing a new philosophy of dwelling on the future rather than the past.
"It feels really good to be back, and we worked so hard to get here," she said. "We’re very happy."
YSP! WSD! tour dates:
March 23 Charlotte, NC Snug Harbour
March 24 Baltimore, MD Ottobar
March 26 New York, NY Knitting Factory
March 27 Boston, MA TT the Bears
March 29 New York, NY Piano’s
March 30 Detroit, MI Pike Room
March 31 Chicago, IL Empty Bottle