Fishing for Commentary with Said the Whale

Monday, February 2, 2015


Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

Just before Christmas, BC based group Said the Whale came to the University of Guelph on tour with The Pack AD and Tokyo Police Club. Tyler Bancroft and Spencer Schoening had a good old chat with me about Vancouver rain, fishing trips, apple orchards. Interviewing in the stairwell of Peter Clark Hall has its ups and down: I’m not sure which category fan interruptions fall under.

CANNON: So the first thing I wanted to bring up to you guys is fishing. So many of your songs are about fishing. Are you guys the fishermen or is that all Ben?

TYLER: Ohhhhh that’s all Ben haha

CAN: You know what, I heard Narrows when your new album came out, and I noticed the lead vocals are by Ben. The backups vocals sound great and the whole song is layered perfectly, but everyone I know who doesn’t do a lot of fishing is like “I don’t really know what this song is about”. Our friends—including my cameraman Trevor—go up to Guelph Lake a lot and go fishing after we’re all done working, and we’ve talked about how a lot of your songs sound like they were inspired by sitting on a boat on a rainy day in Vancouver, going fishing.

TYLER: Oh definitely. Ben goes fishing all of the time, and I grew up on boats. I worked as a deck hand up until three years ago. So you guys were definitely close on that one.

CAN: So you used your connections to film the video for O Alexandra on a boat?

TYLER: Yeah, that was actually my dad’s boat!

CAN: On that note, I know a lot of people hold the sentiment that each of your songs are either for rainy days, or sunny day music… how do you guys feel about that? Is there truth to that statement?

SPENCER: I like that. I really like that. When I was just thinking about what you were saying, about writing about the feel of where you were from and your city, it reminded me that you don’t hear my input in lyrics so much as you hear it musically where I’m sitting at home on a rainy day and just playing my guitar. Yeah there’s a lot of boat stuff, but mostly you’ll find me sitting on the floor beside the window with my pedal board, tinkering away when it’s raining outside.

[Here the first of several fans leaving the concert happened to pass through, but that’s what happens when you have to interview a band in the stairwell of Peter Clark Hall]

FAN: OH MY GOD! I’m so sorry for interrupting. But Tyler can you take a picture with me?!

CAN: I should probably also tell you guys that all these people that came to see you tonight are in the middle of exams right now. We just started the exam period yesterday.

SPENCER: Wow. Dedication right there.

CAN: This encounter actually leads perfectly into the next thing I wanted to ask you about: You guys play really intimate venues, all the time.

TYLER: Oh well, you know…. They always want us to play stadiums and stuff…. haha.

CAN: It’s funny you guys react like that, because I said the same thing to Tokyo Police Club and they kind of had the same reaction. Judging by your online fan base, tours, and even just the amount of tickets that sell when you play Guelph I’m pretty surprised that you still play such great venues.

TYLER: Well would you call this an intimate venue?

CAN: I want to say yes, but I think that’s only because I was a student here and I’ve been going to concerts here for the last five years.

TYLER: See this is the biggest venue in Guelph we’ve ever played

CAN: It’s funny that you guys mentioned the ‘glass box’ you played in last time you were here. That’s Brass Taps, our campus pub. And I remember people absolutely scrambling to get tickets and so many people being disappointed it sold out because the capacity was so small.

TYLER: Yeah, we played there last time we were here!

CAN: I went to that show, and everyone I went with, we got a spot right at the front and just stood in front of Jaycelyn and took pictures of the stickers on her keyboard, and hung out. But that’s the kind of fan base you guys have: you have this intimate connection in the room when you perform. You’ve got all these kids singing your lyrics and saying okay three different times, three different ways… that must be so cool for you guys to experience.

SPENCER: Well yeah, it totally is. It’s very cool to get that feedback from somebody. Like when they come up to you and are like “Oh my god when I heard this song I cried” and you’re like ‘wow, that’s crazy, I was just trying to sing it well’. But that’s kind of the thing—enthusiasm doesn’t really have a place in those small venues so it is nice every once in a while to do a smaller show and throw in an extra really low key song or two. But it’s always a balance between this intimate thing where everyone hanging off of every word or it’s like whoa this is a crazy fun show where everyone is having a really good time! We can’t pick a favourite.

CAN: Speaking of intimacy and low key song choices, Curse of the Currents sounds to me like one of the most intimate songs you guys have ever written, very personal. Do you guys have anything that you want to say in regard to that specific song and its level of emotion?

TYLER: Well Ben’s not here, but I mean take it all with a grain of salt. I know that song has got many people coming up to him and saying like “I know what that song is about, like I’ve lost somebody too” and that’s really nice and everything but that song’s not actually about losing somebody… well it is about losing somebody but it’s not like losing somebody because they’re drowning in the sea.

CAN: Really… because I heard a story and I was kind of hoping to find out the truth behind it.

TYLER: It’s not about his dog. But that’s one fan theory that someone has suggested was the story behind the song.

CAN: Haha the story we heard is from a buddy of ours who said he was at one of your shows and he was just wondering aloud about what inspired the song, and someone in front of him turned around and said they had heard from a friend of Ben’s that it was totally about when Ben was working on a ferry that went back and forth to Vancouver Island and that his girlfriend or fiancée was working on the same boat but opposite shifts.

TYLER: [laughs]

SPENCER: Oh woah this is so great.

TYLER: Okay, okay...

CAN: So apparently she worked the night shift and Ben worked the day shift, and his girlfriend or fiancée had drowned while he was off shift and he came in the next day.

TYLER: Oh my god, keep going.

CAN: Well that’s the extent of the story is that he came into work the next day to find out the love of his life had passed away.

TYLER: That’s the best one we’ve heard so far.

(We had to pause again here for another fan moment)

SPENCER: OK back to this story.

CAN: Well the thing is that our buddy said that this guy told him that Ben hates talking about it so don’t ever ask him, so of course I had to find out.

TYLER: I kind of don’t want to say anything, that’s so good that I just want to let that one ride!

CAN: I almost don’t want to know because it’s so romantic and heartbreaking and what not, but I had to ask. Because I have a feeling it’s not entirely true.

TYLER: Well, I’ll tell you one thing: He never worked on a ferry. And also nobody died.

CAN: Was it about a fish that got away?

SPENCER: That could really break Ben’s heart. It could have been the one.

CAN:  That was actually one of my questions if Ben was going to be here, was “What’s the best fish you’ve ever caught”

SPENCER: I know for a long time, it was like a couple of months that had gone by and he was like ‘Ugh I almost caught a fish’ and a couple months went by and he went out a couple more times and one day he was like ‘GUYS I CAUGHT ONE FISH!’ so maybe not the best fish but the best moment of catching was that one.

TYLER:  I think a really great fish that he caught was one we were all a party to. We played a music festival up in Haida Gwaii and the organizer let us stay an extra day and took us out on his boat and it was just the start of the salmon run. We caught like seven salmon and it was amazing, and he took us back to his house and fileted it for us and we spent the evening vacuum sealing all of these chunks of salmon and flew back in a tiny ass little air plane and maxed out our luggage weight because we had all this fish.

CAN: See the one line in Narrows made me think that someone in the band definitely does a lot of fishing. “The weight of it” on the line and “the chartreuse and blood red” which are two popular colours used on fishing lures, it’s definitely got a fishing feel to it but also one of anticipation that moves a bit past fishing.

TYLER: About that song though, I know that it’s one of the ones just like curse of the currents that’s not so much allegorical.

SPENCER: More metaphorical.

TYLER: Yeah, whereas some of them are just so literal. Like BC Orienteering, where people will be like “Yeah so I’m trying to read into this song” but that one, that’s so literal. It’s says exactly what it’s about.

SPENCER: Yeah, there’s just something about Narrows that gets a lot of people. About the process of working on things; the process of working on music is the same one as fishing. You definitely deserve an answer on that one because there’s a little more going on there than just fishing.

(Here we had a third interruption from fans passing through who stopped to take a few photos with Tyler and Spencer)

CAN: So you guys just said to those fans, “See you again soon”, does that mean you plan on playing Guelph in the near future or is that something you say to keep fans excited?

SPENCER: It was metaphorical. You know how we love metaphors.

CAN: I remember the first time I saw your guys play in Guelph, you were actually playing more of a jam session style on the porch of Raithby House, that little building with the porch in the middle of our campus.

TYLER: We were actually just talking about that earlier!

SPENCER: It was just the most unique, such a definitive show. Whenever I think of going to play university shows, that’s the one I think of. Like just on the front porch of this old house. It was so cool.

CAN: Well thank you so much for your time and for answering all of my questions, I’ll let you guys go so we can all catch a bit of Tokyo Police Club’s set since I’m assuming you guys are sticking around for a bit.

SPENCER: Yeah we usually stay and watch. It’s nice to support the people you tour with

TYLER: Surprisingly, you can still really enjoy a band even after you’ve seen them like sixty times in the past couple months. We love ‘em.

After the show had finished, Spencer caught up with me to add to his comments on Curse of the Currents, and the rainy day/sunny day philosophy that was mentioned earlier in the interview:

SPENCER: So what was on the tip of my tongue was that I think that as people who live with rain and precipitation, clouds and stuff, we’re under the curse of the storms and clouds and weather currents. I think that we appreciate the sunny days the most. I met this guy from Middle America, and he was like “Man, I hate the rain, I hate the clouds” but he was showing respect for people who made the most out of their sunny days when they had the chance. So I think it’s a mix between content-ness for the holing up in the rain kind of thing and not being able to go outside and making the best of that, but when the sun comes out we also make the best of that. That reminds me of another thing: everything I know about fishing comes from Ben. The good fishing days are overcast, and so for him that’s his version of a sunny day. I’ve been realizing that more so lately. I remember one time we stepped outside and he was like “wow this is great” and I was like oh my god it’s so cold, fuck it I’m not used to this shit. There’s an appreciation for making the best of what you have.

CAN: So many of your videos are filmed in the outdoors: Forests and apple picking and fishing, so you guys seem like you really do incorporate that in every aspect of your music.

SPENCER: Funny, the apple picking was kind of a tongue in cheek thing, since that song only got any notoriety because it was in a Sun-Rype commercial. That was really a really really great move for us that that thing happened so at the time it was a lot of people coming up to us saying “Oh I heard about you through this commercial”. That was 2007-2008ish. That video was kind of like ‘oh it’s in a fruit commercial, let’s film it in an orchard, ha-ha’ and it was actually filmed in an orchard in Ontario. A lot of the other outdoors stuff is just because it’s what’s available to us. ‘What are we going to do for Press photos?’ Well let’s go to Queen Elizabeth Park!

CAN: Would you guys consider that Sun-Rype commercial your launching point, or was there any point where you guys thought “This is it. This is what’s going to make us”?

SPENCER: No, no, not for me.  If we go far back enough I remember when I joined this band just because I was a fan of the songs and the writing and I’m coming at this whole thing with an angle of none of this surprising me because I always thought they were this good.

CAN: So at what point did you join Said the Whale?

SPENCER: Uhhh, I had joined them in like 2007, but they had been writing and recording and putting up songs online since like 2003. The first thing I did with them was Howe Sounds. Which is confusing because I was on Howe Sounds but not on Taking Abalonia. Taking Abalonia was the first thing they actually recorded under the name Said the Whale, they recorded that and were about to book a national tour, and that’s when I joined. It wasn’t actually out yet, so I was one of the first people outside of the band to hear that stuff and that whole process since I was auditioning.

CAN: So what was it like for the Pre-Spencer era?

SPENCER: Well they were doing their own thing, Tyler was in school and everyone was working, and they would do a couple of shows, coffee shop things with just Tyler and Ben but it was different story because there was no kind of era where they transitioned. It was suddenly just like ok cool we’re doing this we’re making an album we’re going on a tour.

CAN: So it was a relaxed process?

SPENCER: Kind of! I mean, I’d say the initial four years of them recording music was the “relaxed” like let’s just chill and do this. There was a time when Tyler was deciding whether he should go and do more schooling in Australia, but lucky for me they decided to make a band out of it instead. That was the point of ‘okay, we’re actually going to make a work thing out of this’. There was this one early thing that was really cool that we did. We played on Parliament Hill on Canada Day.

CAN:  Was it familiar to people? Did you guys have a lot of fans there?

SPENCER: Not really, but it was exciting. Not the best, but definitely the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for. So I look back at that as like a “this is crazy for where we’re at as a band”. Then again, even that or winning a Juno. Like I can’t …they’re just both great moments. It’s hard for me to see a direct connection between those moments and the future, because when you’re in there you’re just so in there that there’s nothing else.  

CAN: Well thank you so much for your time, you guys played a fantastic set list and it’s always great to have you guys back. You can invade our porches and fishbowls any time!

Wrapping up the interview, Said the Whale hung out and chatted off the record with myself and plenty of fans for a good hour following Tokyo Police Club’s set, and even went for beers at Brass Taps after. The band mentioned during the show that they’ll be taking some time off after the holidays to hole up in a cabin in Vancouver and start working on some new material after their last record hawaiii (2013) was met with huge success.

Best of luck to all the band members and the production of the new album, and a congratulations to keyboardist Jaycelyn Brown who just recently got engaged!

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