Published Aug 26, 2020When You Say Party! We Say Die! released their third album, XXXX, in 2009, it felt like they had just opened a new chapter in their career. Channeling the radio-radio pop hooks of mainstream indie rock and the gauzy melancholy of Twin Peaks without compromising the scrappy dance punk of their early days, the Abbotsford, BC-bred band were ready to level up and break out.
But that's not how it worked out. In April 2010, drummer Devon Clifford collapsed onstage in Vancouver due to a brain hemorrhage and died soon after, and the band understandably were unable to regroup. They changed their name to You Say Party (dropping "We Say Die") and changed lineups a couple of times before calling it quits in 2011.
They eventually reformed, releasing a mournful self-titled album in 2016 with their classic lineup (minus Clifford): singer Becky Ninkovic, guitarist Derek Adam, keyboardist Krista Loewen and bassist Stephen O'Shea. XXXX, meanwhile, still stands as the purest expression of the band's golden era: the culmination of their years as a hotly tipped buzz band with a tight chemistry and a bright future.
With the band reissuing the record through Paper Bag for Record Store Day on August 29, we caught up with the group about what XXXX means to them, the tragedy that followed the album, and the group's current status and future prospects.
Looking back on your career with You Say Party, what place does XXXX occupy in your journey?
Becky Ninkovic: I've been thinking about this and my memories flood over me every time! I feel mostly a healthy sense of pride and happiness to think back to those days. I'm definitely coming out the other side of a decade of mental health and chronic health conditions that made it difficult to always feel these joyous, grateful emotions. Time and therapy are amazing components of recovery!
Krista Loewen: For me, XXXX was an album I was so proud of, that felt like the coming together of so many things, musically but also ourselves as a band family. Looking back on it, it feels like a crystallized moment in time. I have so many good memories wrapped up in it, and — particularly since losing Devon — listening to the album feels like revisiting that time with our friend.
Becky Ninkovic: I couldn't agree more and I know that Stephen and Derek both feel this way too.
At the time, XXXX felt like a celebratory culmination of your career to date. How did the tragedy that followed shape the way you now think of this album?
Becky Ninkovic: I visualize it as an ascending and descending line: we started off as these young adults goofing around in our boring town. We cared about social justice and politics but didn't really have the skills, or language —back then we didn't have all the woke language of today — to really hone in on our mission. We were just wanting to have fun, create an atmosphere of playfulness and creativity within our conservative, religious suburban environment and make some songs.
All the momentum to tour and produce records and tour and produce records — that whole old beast model of being a professional touring band, that all happened so quickly and with so much anxiety as well as excitement. It was the best of times, yet also had its downsides. Mainly for my own health.
So XXXX really and truly was a celebration. It felt like an epiphany. A breakthrough. We had just gone through all this collective and individual healing from our experience in China and Tokyo and the joyful, cathartic release of performing these songs together every night to warm receptive crowds was feeling so amazing for each of us. It was the peak, but we didn't realize it. In hindsight, This album truly feels like a time capsule. It was the calm before the storm, yet there was nothing calm about it!
Listening back to the album now, what stands out to you?
Becky Ninkovic: I feel such enthusiastic pleasure and humour, pride and nostalgia when i listen to this album now. It is so far removed from who and what my life is now, that I no longer experience any cringe-y feelings. I used to really struggle to listen back to our recorded stuff. I felt like I wanted to hide on a deserted island for the rest of my days. I was never comfortable with the way the music industry and society sets up women (and others) to "prove" their worthiness to be on stage. I could only pick up on the undercurrents of pressure and stress I felt to strive extra hard for the "perfect" take. But now! When I listen now, I am feeling a genuine sense of compassionate and loving emotions mixed with a lot of laughter. Humour is my best medicine to date. And I've tried a lot of medicine!
You Say Party has been largely inactive since 2016. Does the band have any plans to return?
Becky Ninkovic: I think that Stephen is the most game for the band to get back together and go on in some capacity. We are all in such different places now: physically, emotionally, mentally, geographically. It would be tricky to accomplish due to a variety of logistical issues. Sometimes we chat about ways to all go on a vacation together with our children and bring some gear along and see what happens. Who knows. Derek's little one loves the guitar, our daughter is always singing and dancing and exploring a range of musical equipment and creative expression. We used to joke that we would keep the band going forever and just eventually replace ourselves with younger, more good looking versions of ourselves. At the time, we thought it a joke, and never imagined we would be where we are now — literally having younger, more good looking versions of ourselves now! Ha!
What are the band members up to these days?
Becky Ninkovic: Derek lives with his partner and child in Vancouver. His other band, NEEDS, is still going, though not too active due to COVID. He is a graphic designer and a happy father. Krista lives on Vancouver Island with her partner and child and is now finished med school and a doctor. We couldn't be any more proud of Dr. Loewen! Stephen is the Executive Director of the Arts Council in New Westminster, and we amicably co-parent our seven year old child together. As for me, I am continuing to work on several creative projects as I balance motherhood and my work as a professional bus driver while managing the complexities of it all as a white, neurodivergent artist mother, living with complex mental health needs while managing my highly focussed levels of passion for social justice, anti-racism and all the intersectionality of feminism in 2020 that is so vitally important for our futures.