You Say Party! We Say Die!
"I think a lot of people probably thought I needed to be shipped home and sent straight to like, a mental institution. Maybe leave that out."
Becky Ninkovic, the lead singer of You Say Party! We Say Die!, laughs ruefully. We're inside the band's cramped rehearsal room in a building that reeks of stale beer and sweat, in one of Vancouver's industrial neighbourhoods where the prostitutes come out before the sun sets. It's the perfect setting for a dance-punk outfit about to be known for making the best out of bad situations. Just two years ago, YSP!WSD! were on the verge of calling it quits. Now, they're a few weeks shy of embarking on a six-week, cross-country tour supporting their third, and finest album, XXXX.
It was 2004 when bass player Stephen O'Shea and keyboardist Krista Loewen started jamming with Ninkovic in her parents' basement in Abbotsford, BC. A year later, they released their first CD, Hit the Floor!, and became a buzz band that whipped audiences into dance floor frenzies, largely thanks to Ninkovic's front-woman antics that often highlighted her dancing more than her singing. Floor! was a collection of propulsive, guitar-mashing, garage punk songs with occasional off-ramps into new wave. Their second release, Lose All Time, showed more diversity and less emphasis on noise, amping up the production values and musicianship with the addition of guitarist Derek Adam and drummer Devon Clifford. It also boasted YSP!'s most popular song to date, "Monster," an '80s-inspired pop number that let Ninkovic's vocals bounce over urgent drums and playful guitar riffs, and sounds most like the diving off point for XXXX.
Both Floor! and Time were decently reviewed, but YSP!'s real draw was the crashing, thrashing, lightning storm live shows ― something neither album could properly convey. But, now there's XXXX, which comes tearing off the speakers, layers of new wave throwback hooks and tones atop strong, sexy vocals and a smattering of big risks that pay off with an album that finally seems to capture the contagious energy and vitality of their stage performances.
"When we got the first mixes back, it actually sounded like a representation of what our live show is," drummer Devon Clifford says. "In writing it, we were all just trying to be really positive about bringing whatever we wanted to the table and at least experimenting with it rather than ridiculing it right away or laughing it off, like 'Oh, what's that garbage you're spitting out?'"
From the beautifully eerie opening track, "There is XXXX (In My Heart)," to the keyboard-driven dance number "Laura Palmer's Prom," XXXX is full of pop gems that tease and toy with sex, love, and kiss-offs.
"Making our albums before was a rushed month-and-a-half long process from writing to recording," Clifford says. "So to be able to spend close to a year writing all these songs is awesome. With Lose All Time, we didn't have a chance to discard any song we recorded, because we needed every song that we had. This one we've been able to pick and choose which songs we liked the most."
Even Clifford admits that the heavy '80s sounds led him to second-guess some songs. "With 'She's Spoken For,' when we first wrote it, I was like 'We can't play this, it's the same chord progression as Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield."' And the others were like, 'I don't think so.' So I went and listened to it and it's totally different. Then I was like, 'Oh, it's like this Pilot song.' But it wasn't. I guess it's just really reminiscent of some classic songs."
"I feel like it's our best foot forward, collectively," bassist Stephen O'Shea says. "It's really well-rounded because it represents all five of our writing styles. I really feel like this is Becky's record. Hit the Floor! really felt like my record, but she really owned this record. The rest of us became more disciplined in our playing and writing to allow her to have more room to grow and really step up. The last two years have been fundamental growing times for her and it feels like the right step in the arc of our progression, and it makes all the rest of our records make sense. I think this record really shows what we were trying to do back then."
On XXXX Ninkovic finally sounds like the woman seen on stage, commanding the audience with every high kick, a heart anchored by having come back from the dark side, a girl who's genuinely capable of having fun.
"I finally feel like a singer, rather than a dancer who loves being in a band," Ninkovic says. The changes in Ninkovic's vocal range on XXXX are symptomatic of the band's evolution, and really speak to surviving the 2007 Berlin barroom brawl that almost broke up the band, the first telltale sign of Ninkovic's impending breakdown.
Two years ago, YSP! were nearing the end of a 16-week European tour when a late-night drunken argument between O'Shea, Adam, and Clifford lead to Ninkovic attacking Clifford.
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