The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.
We Are the City
By Jessica Lewis
High School was intended to be something on the side, simultaneously eschewing the bad feelings of a line-up change, welcoming in someone new and bringing up times of youth thought sour. Cayne McKenzie and Andrew Huculiak had to fend for We Are the City’s future when guitarist David Menzel left, and the pair turned to this project as a distraction. Assuming fake identities and wiping away the clues, it was something new for a while. Somewhere along the timeline, High School turned out to be the next chapter of the BC-based band, and once Blake Enemark was introduced, things became clearer, including the trio’s sound. Now on their second release, following 2009’s In a Quiet World, they’re playing more with speed and let pauses do much of talking. It’s experimental, in their pop rock world, and it works for them. Enemark brings a crunchy guitar sound, Huculiack shines on percussion in “That’s It, That’s All,” taking over vocals for the tropical “Dark/Warm Air,” while McKenzie’s fuzzy Rhodes and clear vocals carry bravery, self-consciousness and weight. Everything is laid out in the open, with storylines intertwined from each other’s memories, having the alternative reality bleeding in to what’s here, now, and we get to watch it all grow up.
Why was High School originally a side-project?
McKenzie: David, who is still our best friend and was our guitar player, is engaged now, so at the time last summer, he was spending a lot of time with his girlfriend and his family. Andrew and I were pretty alone and David had started to not love touring as much or playing lots of basement shows ― not desirable shows. He wasn’t into it anymore. Andrew and I live for the chance to play a pool party. I was trying to get into playing guitar, because I’m the piano player in the band. Andrew and I were just jamming, so we were like, “let’s just make up a band, what can we do for fun? The only thing we know how to do is be a band, so why don’t we make up another band?” And we just decided to call it High School, because that’s where Andrew and I met, and we just felt good times and remembering back to those times. We just thought that was a really good representation of our friendship. There’s this band from Kelowna called Kingdom Cloud and we basically started the band so we could play some shows in Kelowna with them. We wanted to play with them so much we started this band in my basement and we recorded some terrible demos, kind of about these shameful memories from high school and what we were like now. It was a little different from We Are the City because I find with our last record, I felt like we were writing about spiritual development and journeys, and that’s what the album is about: family and spiritual journey, for us, figuring out what you think about everything. Whereas we started to write about other things like actual memories and I feel like we hadn’t really done that before. We started a band, we made a MySpace and we didn’t want anyone to know that we were from We Are the City because we didn’t want whatever we did in High School to affect We Are the City and we didn’t want We Are the City to affect High School. We just wanted to do an experiment to see what it would be like to start over with different songs and, basically, a different kind of music. And then when David told us he was leaving the band, we were just like, “okay, well, what are we going to do?” We didn’t know Blake and we weren’t really sure what we were going to do; it was just like, “maybe we should record these High School tunes and make them into We Are the City tunes.” The guitar parts were written, the ideas were there, so we wrote a couple more tunes with that idea in mind and that’s how the recording came to be. I feel like we were really lucky that we did the High School thing because if we didn’t, I don’t know what we would have done when David quit. I don’t know what we would have recorded. Because High School was already just Andrew and I, it was a good transition into bringing someone new into the band, because it was like, “okay, we already had the band as just the two of us so adding someone new isn’t hard,” whereas taking someone away is hard.
It was the swap of members that made you decide to make it a We Are the City project again.
Definitely. It would have never become part of We Are the City if it hadn’t had been for the member swap.
Were you feeling lost, in terms of We Are the City, for a while?
Yeah. To be honest, Andrew and I were sure that there wasn’t going to be We Are the City anymore. It’s totally important to me, in what we’re going for in our ultimate goal, to show people so much love, and that’s still the most important thing, to me. But I still feel like I was more confident in We Are the City before and now I’m not as confident. I’m confident in myself being in We Are the City, I mean, but I’m not sure what will happen to it. We just went out on a limb here, especially with the recording of this album and then releasing it, as the songs are quite a bit different because they were written for a different band. I was feeling distance from We Are the City and now I feel a lot closer again.