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.
In terms of sound, you can tell that you were letting go a bit more.
Yeah. Andrew and I were talking about this the other day because the High School EP is not at all how we hope to sound, eventually. I feel like it's a good experiment for us, also in making the step of making High School into We Are the City, I was hoping that it would become another band within the band, sort of like Sgt. Pepper. And I was hoping that in between each We Are the City album there would be a short High School album, kind of like this one. So that's how I hope for it to go, but it's impossible to say until we release the next one and then get to the point where we would record another High School.
You're working on your next album now, right?
It's funny because High School is not how we hope to eventually sound; we were talking about how it's definitely not as technical or progressive as we would like to be. We definitely are a progressive band at heart and we're hoping to become more progressive than we've ever been, trying new and harder things for us, more challenging things. High School wasn't that, it was definitely letting go in the way of going out on a limb with something and trying to do… I feel like a lot of times it's hard to write a pop tune. I'm not saying our tunes are really poppy, but "Happy New Year" was very close to not making it on because I felt it was much too poppy. Having said that, we're working on a new one. It's weird because even though this album will have new songs and everything, half the record will be songs we wrote with David, so it won't be completely new. The tunes that we do write now will be tunes we write with Blake. That's how it's looking to go.
What made you want to revisit high school? You wanted to talk about the fun times?
Actually, none of the tunes are about the fun stuff. They're all about these memories of a person that I am not anymore and a person Andrew is not anymore. But it is funny to go back already when I've only really been graduated for four years.
What kind of themes do we have on High School?
All the tunes are about these two people ― the characters in High School have different names, they have alter egos. We just made up these characters because they're supposed to embody these people that we grew out of, these memories that we wouldn't be living anymore. All the tunes are about things that we just wouldn't be a part of now, like drug use ("Dark/Warm Air"), and "Happy New Year" is about how sad you can get and how you just feel like you're in a movie when you're drunk. The imagery is supposed to be like that. Those are totally ways we wouldn't live now; we're not those guys that we were. Some other tunes are talking about how your friends in high school always go a different way than you. You were so close and then all of a sudden they're at the club and you're, like, never going to the club. And then some other tunes ("An Angel in White") features a reoccurring theme; it's a series of dreams that I used to have ― when we were writing, I had another one in the same series. You know the song from In a Quiet World, "There Are Very Tiny Beasts in the Ground"? These tunes are about the same thing and so that dream is a little different. "1987" is about my character in high school. There's really nothing said except for the statement at the end of the events in the year the character was born, which was when I was born.
Do you feel a huge difference, as your last album was looking forward?
Well, maybe a little bit, but I feel like it totally suits the time. It suits the feeling of the band right now, because at the time when we decided to do High School, it was impossible to look forward. Is that band even going to be a band anymore? I've never even thought about that until now, but it is weird, at the time it was impossible to look forward because it was impossible to know what would happen at all. It felt kind of comforting to look backwards; we found some things that were worth writing about when we looked backwards.
Do you think there will ever be a time when you guys can focus on the present?
Totally. The tunes that we have done for the newer album, they're totally focusing on exactly what's happening right now.
How did Blake come into the picture?
Well, when David told us he was leaving, he gave a three-month "I'm going to stay until the end of our already booked shows." It was the end of July and we had shows booked until the end of October. He was like, "I'll stay until then and then I'm moving from Vancouver to White Rock." We met Blake at a show that we played in Victoria. We were having a sad ferry ride back during Riffliandia in September; we were coming closer, we had four more gigs with David, we were realizing, "oh man what are we going to do?" David was upstairs in the ferry and we were just sitting in the van in the lower deck just talking. Andrew was like, "I met this guy Blake, maybe I should send him a message." He messaged him and we were in White Rock at the time jamming in the sanctuary of this church and he ended up coming over. We didn't even play, we just talked with him, jammed a tiny bit and then we were like, "cool, you're really nice so let's take it one step further." It's not like we tried out a lot of people; we kind of just jumped on it. It all happened pretty fast. We moved in with him right away and started finishing the tunes with him and teaching him the tunes that were already done. I feel like it's going really well and I feel like we're becoming good friends really fast.
So you're living with him?
With his mom and dad at their house in Victoria. (Adventure Boys Club)