“Winnipeg is sunny and warm,” says Ben Worcester, one of the principal songwriters for Vancouver’s Said the Whale. It’s Sunday afternoon and the band is headed home after seven weeks on the road for a tour that saw them start in California and will see them leave for the United Kingdom after a brief rest. Along the way they’ll have crossed the continent twice.
“The audience just builds and builds and builds,” he says, “It almost seems like if you make it as far as St. John’s, NFLD, people are just excited for you to be there. It’s a big party. Every time we play there has sold out . . . Touring in the States feels like touring in Canada did four years ago. The audiences are considerably smaller, but it’s like we’re just chipping away at this big iceberg and every time we go back it shows its working. When we come back they’re singing, and it’s not just the radio songs that people sing along to. People seem to give the same attention to all of it. We watch people sing along to all the songs. We played a show in Toronto with 580 people and at one point I swear all 580 were singing along . . . to watch them do that with a new album is really cool.”
The success of Said the Whale comes from the fact they’re a hard-working road band. Their current tour is to support their newest album, the double record Little Mountain. With more songs in their arsenal, Worcester talks about how the set list for shows has gotten longer. Little Mountain has fifteen songs of its own, plus another handful from last fall’s New Brighton EP, causing the sets to grow from forty-five to seventy-five minutes.
“This has been the best tour so far,” he beams. “We’re better at taking care of ourselves. A lot of bands like to party when they’re on the road, but once one person starts to get sick, everybody gets sick so you really have to take care. Our performance is what people are paying money to see, so if we’re not up to our fullest potential, we’re not giving people all they deserve for coming to see us and support us.”
While Said the Whale didn’t set out to record a double album, they did know that they wanted to work on their follow-up to 2009’s acclaimed Islands Disappear soon after coming off tour in early 2011.
“Tyler [Bancroft] and I went away and worked on our songs,” he explains, “we never write songs together. Tyler’s father piloted tugboats, so Tyler writes songs about tugboats. I grew up in a cabin in the middle of an island and I write songs about that. When I write, I write to honour and record the people and the places in my life that I love. So we wrote the songs and then went out on tour and came back with other people and other places, and so our geography expands. We write out our experiences”
“For example, ‘Big Sky, MT’ – I went there every summer for 22 years. I feel extremely grateful for all these places in my life and the only way for me to say thank you is to write about them. That song will never feel old for me.”
Worcester admits that other songs change their meaning, particularly ‘Big Wave Goodbye’. Initially inspired by the famed earthquake and flood that threatens to strike Vancouver in the as-yet undetermined future, it quickly took on a more metaphorical meaning “about the big wave propelling us along as radio acceptable music, because we’ve been told our kind of music isn’t radio kind of music because we don’t fit the musical standards people claim radio has.”
“Coming back, I can’t wait to come back and play that song, because it’s my city and when I sing I try to put myself in the same place when I wrote it. I’m different now, but it doesn’t lose meaning, it just transfers.”
Beginning on July 1, 2011, the band recorded twenty songs in two months, forming Little Mountain and the New Brighton EP. The day after recording was finished, Said the Whale hit the road again.
“The New Brighton EP was four of the songs from the twenty that could stand alone,” he says. “We wanted to keep the momentum going and give people a taste of what we’re doing.”
The decision to turn Little Mountain into a double vinyl album was a practical one, “The pressing as a single didn’t sound as good as a double. We gave it a listen and although it cost more, it sounded better.”
However the physical album gave the band the chance to shine in another fashion. Artist Andy Dickson, who does all of the band’s graphic work, from web pages, music videos, and even their member’s tattoos, created an elaborate cutout cover with a fold out sheet of 15 perforated photos – one for each song, enabling listeners to arrange the cover images according to their own whims.
“Little Mountain is a pretty universal place name,” Ben says, pointing out all the different places in North America that have it as a namesake, ”All the photos in the album are based around neighbourhood, and hopefully people can relate to that.”
The singing audiences would seem to agree.