For new album, rockers Said the Whale went home

Indie band and Mother Mother to play the Grand on Monday

Said the Whale will be opening for Mother Mother at the Grand Theatre on Monday, Mar. 4.
Photo supplied by Julie Booth

A recipe for Dad Rock: marriages, engagements, children and the great outdoors. 

Said the Whale checks all the boxes, but it never gets tired. When they take the stage opening for Mother Mother at the Grand Theatre on Monday, the indie rockers are likely to prove that. 

Their latest album, Cascadia, is a grounded, acoustically resonant record. The layered synths and personal turmoil of their previous album-turned-experiment 2017’s As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide are largely gone. The replacement is a separate peace: the title track is a sincere tribute to eye-watering Beach Boys harmonies; the band is more likely to pluck a piano key than a computer’s. 

“It’s a return to our roots,” frontman Tyler Bancroft told The Journal over the phone. “That was really just because we did the sonic experiment on our last record and we wanted to sit down and do what feels natural to us.”

Making the record, the band retreated to guitarist and vocalist Ben Worcester’s cabin on Gambier Island, where they recorded a generous share of the album’s music. It seeped into their songs. Bancroft said the band eschewed the last record’s “bells and whistles” and brought the songs to their “original form—like sitting down and playing them on an acoustic guitar.”

With song writing duties split between Worcester and Bancroft, the songs are autobiographical, underlayed with lush, complimentary arrangements spotlighting the guitars and pianos. 

One album standout, “UnAmerican,” is a fitting pop-rock tribute to David Bowie’s sardonic late-career single, “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Said the Whale’s Trump era update retains Bowie’s smirking tone, complete with the thumping, industrial backbeat. 

A phone call inspired this jump to American politics. On the call, Bancroft could hear the water lap around Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene as the seminal musician took a bath. Drew was relaxing in the tub, discussing the idea of collaborating as a producer when Bancroft remembers him saying “you know what, just write a pop song.” 

Bancroft hung up, thinking, “Okay, Kevin wants to hear a pop song,” he told The Journal. 

“Un-American … [was] kind of a buzzword at the time being thrown around by Donald Trump,” Bancroft said. “He’s describing all of these things that are kind and decent and lovely things, and he was calling them un-American. So I was kind of thinking, ‘Well if these are un-American, then I want to be un-American.’”

Wellness, in nature or personally, is an undercurrent of the record. Cascadia shares a name with the bioregional name for the Pacific Northwest and a minor West Coast independence movement encompassing British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and sometimes California. 

Whether it’s the album’s final song and love letter to their cabin recording studio, “Gambier Island Green” or the ocean in “Cascadia,” evergreen forests and the Pacific are threaded through the album. 

“We’re a band from Vancouver, [and] we’ve always kind of worn that on our sleeves,” Bancroft said. “There’s always a nature song on a Said the Whale record. This one happens to have a few extra nature songs.” It’s a signpost for the natural calm of the band’s song writing process, made easier with experience. It’s the sound of coming to a rest.

“[Nature is] really easy to take for granted,” Bancroft said.  “But we try not to now in our older, wiser years.”

—With files from Brigid Goulem

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