By Safiya Hopfe
If there’s anything Cayne McKenzie, Andrew Huculiak and David Menzel have mastered in their decade spent playing music together as We Are The City, it’s tapping into the hearts of listeners with raw energy and vulnerability. Tracks like “Time, Wasted” and “Astronomers” captured the Vancouver-based trio’s capacity to blend deeply melodic melancholy with sharp intensity back in 2009. Since then, albums High School (EP, 2011) and Violent (2013) have hooked fans with percussive variability, blunt lyrical awareness and authentic emotion. Above Club (2015) shattered any delusions that they might become predictable and now, three years later, they are returning, with two albums — RIP and At Night — prompted by a return to their roots as individual artists and as an unstoppable collective force.
Drummer Andy Huculiak describes the experience of working on the first of the two albums – RIP– from Cayne’s childhood home, triggering nostalgia and a layered search for creative freedom. “It was really potent. We’ve been a band for over ten years now and that’s a long time, a lot of things happen and things change. I would say that a lot of the music we make is influenced by where we make it, and we were kind of hitting a wall at a studio here in Vancouver, and were like, ‘Okay, how do we get out of this? How do we change things?’ And so we decided it would be a good choice to kind of go back to where it all started and that just proved to be the ticket.”
This was indeed the ticket for the construction of RIP, the more thematic and anthemic of the two records. But they couldn’t stop there. “We felt like there was something missing,” says Huculiak. “A scrappiness, or spontaneity? So we just picked up the pieces that we threw away in the RIP sessions and built something out of those too.” A two-week stint in Vancouver was all it took. Everything emerged quickly and fully once they allowed themselves to drop all inhibitions and free that which was dying to come out, come about, and come apart. “A lot of it was just pushing past,” Huculiak explains. “And once you push out the sludge out of the pipe, suddenly you’re free to say and do whatever you want. It felt like we were completely free and, in a funny way, back at the beginning of making music again. There’s no expectation here.”
The second of the two albums, At Night, is an emotionally-charged palette of hazy, dirty etherealism. At once erratic and still, quiet and hectic, it proves the band’s self awareness, and capacity to balance full creative freedom with mastery of all they have come to be renowned for. “WHEN I DREAM, I DREAM OF YOU” strikes a balance between simple, almost corny lyrical content and a truly idiosyncratic sense of rhythm and progression. “CHOICE IS UNLIKE ANYTHING” is under two minutes long and as chaotic as anything else on the album, but through its punchy asymmetry manages a fully formed and poignant narrative arc. Self-engineered, self-produced, and self-mastered, At Night truly epitomizes the freedom the trio aspired to in making it. It also demonstrates the focus required to produce a well-rounded masterpiece in such a pressureless environment.
When trying to sum up the band’s 10 years of musical material, Huculiak says, “ It’s trashy, sometimes. It’s beautiful, sometimes. It’s mixing those two things together.” RIP and At Night prove this succinct theory, finding peace in chaos, magic in the matter-of-fact and dramatic perfection in refuse and debris.
We Are The City perform November 8 at Lucky Bar (Victoria)