By Devon Motz
VANCOUVER — East Vancouver has secrets. Some are better than others, like the hidden creative hubs dotting the neighbourhood and the projects churning away within them. Little Red Studios is unassuming enough that you may not even notice as you stumble past the proud grunge of the Astoria Hotel on your way to the fabled Red Gate, and it is here that I will be sitting down to talk with local art-pop outfit Wishkicker.
Our interview was running slightly behind as Megan Magdalena, the band’s bass player and vocalist, was in the process of receiving a birthday neck tattoo – a couple of cherries. This was fortunate, as a neck tattoo is one of the few acceptable excuses for tardiness. That, and she brought with her a bag of actual cherries. To kill some time, I decide to explore some nearby streets and alleys. As the sun set on the faded murals and neon signs of the DTES, the old Rogers sugar factory was sprawled out like a comatose giant in the orange glow. It had me feeling sentimental. By that point most of the band has assembled at their super secret hideout, and it was time to eat cherries.
Much in the same way a house cat habitually returns to their preferred sites, the members of the band all firmly positioned themselves in their respective stations scattered around the studio. Overflowing ashtrays and well-worn butt grooves make it clear that a lot of time has been spent in this room. In fact it was in this fateful room where Magdalena first met Kyle Schick (vocals) and Alex Smith (drums/vocals), while photographing their previous project Malk. Guitarist Kaeden Teindl has been writing and playing music with Schick since they were teenagers, and the two share a musical vocabulary that makes for some incredibly cohesive song writing. Although Felix Fung has only been technically playing guitar in the band for a couple weeks, he has been working with his band mates on other projects for quite some time – including the Malk EP that introduced Magdalena to the rest of the band.
The addition of Fung to the band was an organic one. “We’ve been talking about it for a while, and he has been a pretty integral part of the process so it just made sense,” explains Schick. The switch was an easy for Fung as well, saying, “I love those guitar parts and I have no problem with people thinking they’re mine. Kyle is my favorite guitarist in town.” Schick jumps on the compliment train, adding, “Whenever I’m writing a guitar lead I’m just trying to emulate what I think Kaeden would do,” and suddenly it hits home that what may be Wishkicker’s most endearing trait, beside their infectious pop tunes, of course, is the realization that they have a very real and genuine reverence for one another. They are each other’s biggest fans, and the level of support and affirmation that hovers above the room leaves you feeling, against all odds, good.
To place Wishkicker into one or even several genres is next to impossible. The band manages to effortlessly careen from bubbly pop tunes to avant-garde jazz free form into beautiful airy choruses without breaking a sweat. Guitar licks like that from the title track “POR QUE, Y?” weave their way into your subconscious and are catchy enough that by the second time they reach your ear holes they are already etched into your brain. The band’s pop arrangements manage to be both complex while retaining a minimalistic approach, a sound reminiscent of bands like The Strokes and their early-oughts contemporaries. While the songs give off a undeniably upbeat tone like all good rock and roll they have their dichotomies. Lyrics that manage to reflect the malaise of young adult life while retaining their sunny disposition refuse to be ignored. “Destroy it all at your own expense, subtract yourself from well-laid plans, you based it all on only once glance, turned away.”
It’s no secret that Vancouver is an incredibly expensive city to live, especially for Millennials parting ways with more conventional lifestyles, but the band believes this shouldn’t make it impossible to support local art. “I’m always broke when I go to shows,” explains Magdalena. “I want to be able to wear bands’ merch, but I also want to be able to buy their music and I usually can’t afford both. I want to be able to offer both for cheap, because that’s what I would want at a show. We’re putting together these goody bags that will have buttons and stickers and a digital download code so you can have a piece of merch and be able to listen to our music without spending all your cash. It’s something you can sell with integrity and be proud of.” Wishkicker have wholly embraced the DIY mindset, as Magdalena reflects on the realization that if “the band needs something right now… you can just make it right now. And then it’s done.” Schick adds, “I gotta say, it’s been amazing, I have never been in a band where that aspect comes easily.”
Magdalena is no stranger to Vancouver’s creative scene, and has had her part in art, music, film and fashion in underground circles since time immemorial. “I just like to make stuff. I’m lucky to be around incredible humans all the time; it’s just a steady stream of badass creatives that keep me constantly going.” This constant outpouring of art only fuels Wishkicker’s fire, and its clear the visual aspect of their project is incredibly important to the band. “The artwork and the things they make everyday, it keeps this world up. It’s really complete, and it totally inspires the decisions we make,” explains Fung.
Wishkicker’s first release POR QUE, Y? is an incredibly fun collection of pop songs whose infectious guitar licks and vocal melodies worm their way into your head and stay there for you to hum for all eternity. The release’s artwork is a perfect match for the bright and quirky songs; the sunny colours and playful text perfectly compliment the five-song tape EP complete with a collage made from old science fiction cover art. As fun and charming as these songs are, Schick admits they were more akin to demos that he put together himself over time. With new members comes a new sound and Wishkicker 2.0 is coming with all sorts of changes.
The new songs, being the first the band has wrote as a group, instantly give off a more aggressive tone and a newfound sense of earnestness. “The writing process has been extremely rewarding so far, and I think this next batch of songs is really going to reflect that. The previous EP took me the better part of a year to put together by myself, but we just fired off these songs so quick,” explains Schick. A big part of Wishkicker’s new sound and live show will be Schick forgoing his guitar in an effort to focus solely on his front-person duties. “I just want the songs to be the best they can be, and now that we have someone competent on guitar, I can really focus on singing and performing.” Wishkicker’s tape release show at the Fox Theatre last weekend was Schick’s debut vocal-only performance: “It’s terrifying, and I might end up doing the Ricky Bobby all night … I’m still super nervous but that’s what you need to force something interesting to happen. I can’t get shit done unless there is a fire under my ass, otherwise I just lay around all day getting anxious and daydreaming about getting things done.”
With appearances at both Fringe and Rifflandia festivals this coming month and their sights already set on the next round of songs, there’s plenty to keep the fire burning. As the night draws to a close, drummer Smith’s late arrival gives an injection of energy and silliness, an occurrence that is clearly not a rarity. He regales us with stories of a possible touring van. There is talk of some “sick blue flames,” which has the band justifiably excited. Although no concrete tour plans have been made, Magdalena does my job for me, saying, “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re definitely going somewhere.”
Be sure to check out Wishkicker’s new sound and soak up the love at Fringe Fest Sept. 10, and the Copper Owl for Rifflandia Sept. 15 in Victoria.BC, British Columbia, Copper Owl, Rifflandia 2016, Rifflandia Festival, Vancouver Fringe Festival, Vancouver Fringe Festival 2016, Wishkicker