Interview: Stephen O’Shea of You Say Party! We Say Die!

Vancouver, Canada’s You Say Party! We Say Die! is set to tour the States for the first time in five years. The tour begins with a March 9th date at Seattle’s Chop Suey. Bassist and founding member Stephen O’Shea talked with me recently about their new CD, XXXX and what held up the heir to synthpunk band’s return to the States.

Dagmar: You’re playing some shows at the Olympics this year?

Stephen O’Shea: On Cypress Mountain, where Women’s Alpine Skiing is happening. We didn’t get opening or closing ceremonies or anything but we’re still really excited to get the slot that we did. It’s right at the base of the snowboard half-pipe.

D: Do you snowboard?

S.O’Shea: Not me particularly but the rest of the band, I think, are all avid snowboarders. They like winter sports – I was more into summer sports.

D: You have a song called Laura Palmer’s Prom. Are you guys all Twin Peaks fans?

S.O’Shea: All of us. It started with Becky and me. At the end of a tour we watched the whole two seasons and then shared it with the rest of the band. Just being from the Pacific Northwest – it was filmed so close to Vancouver and Seattle that it really resonates with the culture we have here. We thought, this awesome, we should totally write a song about Laura. When Krista [Loewen, keys] brought the keyboard chords we thought it would be awesome if we wrote a prom song for Laura Palmer – the prom she never had.

D: Do you have a favorite Twin Peaks character?

S.O’Shea: Mine’s Agent Cooper, for sure.

D: Is the upcoming tour your first official tour of the States?

S.O’Shea: This is our first official tour after having been banned for five years. It’s actually less than five years. In the fall of 2006 we tried to cross without work permits. There was quite a big problem with that. You can’t cross the border without a work permit as a musician. The border guy took quite an exception to us. Due to a set of unfortunate circumstances I ended up leaving the border that day being turned away and told not to come back for five years. We got immigration lawyers and filled out a lot of paper work and we’ve worked it out. Now the band is returning. It’s really exciting because Seattle’s only three hours from Vancouver. The next closest city is eastwards across Canada is Calgary and that’s a thirteen hour drive. Like Seattle to San Francisco.

D: I’m looking forward to seeing your show.

S.O’Shea: We’ve only played one time in Seattle. It was a Vera Project show at the base of the Seattle Center. It was awesome. There’s a video of it on YouTube and where the person was standing, they were just kind of filming us. But you know how they’ve got the grassy fields right there? People were spread out all over it. But from where this person was filming you could only see like five or ten people. There’s all these people behind the camera. We’ve always had a good time in Seattle – we’re really looking forward to coming back.

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You Say Party! We Say Die! – photo by Todd Duym

D: You’re from Abbotsford, British Columbia. What’s it like there?

S.O’Shea: It’s a border town. North of Bellingham. It’s actually not as small as you’d think. There are 130,000 people that live here. It’s a suburb for sure but I really like it. There’s an historic downtown part that’s about six by six blocks big and it has everything that you need. You don’t have to go out of that area. It’s where the band started, so I’ve got all my roots here from when we were riding around as a bike gang. Everywhere I walk I have memories of where this band started.

D: Moped gang? Motorcycle gang?

S.O’Shea: Bicycles. Not all the current members of the band were in our bike gang. We were called the Smoking Spokes. We would ride around and cause havoc. Graffiti. Public drinking. Having fun [as] bored teenagers. Kind of like American Graffiti but on bicycles.

D: What are some bands you’d like to tour with?

S.O’Shea: There’s a band from Sweden called Love is All. They’re awesome. We did have the chance to tour with Pretty Girls Make Graves, who were from Seattle. If they ever reformed I would love to tour with them again. The Murder City Devils. Our keyboard player would love to tour with them. They just recently got back together. There’s an English band called Los Campesinos! – we toured England with them in 2007. To tour the U.S. with them would be awesome. Lots and lots of bands.

D: Do you like making videos?

S.O’Shea: I do. I’m not in all of them but I like the expression beyond the song that videos can have for people. It’s always a collaborative effort. It’s not always just the band representing themselves, it’s the director and other creative elements involved. We’re musicians – we don’t work in video so you have to collaborate with someone whose talent is working with video. There’s lots of ideas that get bounced around and I’ve been really happy with the videos we’ve made. I’m really excited about the ones we’re about to release with this record, too.

D: The new CD is quite different from the others. Was this intentional?

S.O’Shea: Yeah, I think a band can begin a bad pattern of repeating themselves over and over again and be dismissed quite easily. Every band needs to go through a bit of reinvention. It was our decision to kind of move out of the basement and maybe come up to the main floor – and make a more produced album. We took our time with it. We expanded the budget and hired a producer [Howard Redekopp] with a lot of talent who had worked with Tegan and Sara and the New Pornographers. It was great working with him and he really pulled a lot out of us. It was time for a change for us. I definitely don’t think it’s the end of what we’ll sound like. We’ll continue to change.

D: You recently toured Japan and China?

S.O’Shea: In 2008, so not that recent. It was absolutely mind-blowing. China is an amazing country. I think there are a lot of stereotypes that go with China, that people think it’s just a poor or developing country. It’s amazing how much money is there and how rich their culture is and how appreciative they are of bands coming from the west to play for them. People had no reason to know who we were but through word of mouth and the Internet we had over 300 people at every show, and that was our first time there. I can’t wait to go back. In June and July we’re planning to go back.

D: What can we expect from a YSP!WSD! show?

SO’Shea: You can expect that we’ll be onstage, stretching to loosen up before we start. We’ve always tried to be an inclusive band. We’ve never wanted there to be a wall between the audience and the band. We’ve always wanted everyone to be a part of the experience. It’s always great when people come ready to dance, sing and have fun, and not be held back with that scene attitude. When people come to our show to have fun and be uninhibited that’s when our show is at its best.

D: What are your interests outside music?

S.O’Shea: I work in a group home for people with developmental disabilities. There’s four gentlemen that live in a home and I help them with their day services and food and stuff like that. Help them live their lives. Our lead singer does that as well. It’s rewarding work. In a lot of ways the pursuits are in our private lives are humanitarian. We’re all trying to better people at the end of the day.

D: What’s your clothing style? What are you comfortable in?

SO’Shea: I usually try to employ Henry Ford’s rule, which is I can wear any color I want as long as it’s black.

D: I like that. In terms of flavors, like in foods or candies what’s your favorite?

S.O’Shea: I am guilty of sugar.

Check out a video of Glory from their rehearsal space here.

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