They’ve been around town for a few years now, but it seems Wendy Versus are experiencing a real refreshing and colourful new beginning before they release their first album, Crayon Wars, next month. The trio of Wendy Leung, Dean Marino and Owen Norquay have re-vamped their electro-pop sound and their finished and live music comes off as confident and like a really active daydream.
Below you can read our interview with the trio and find out how Luke Skywalker got involved, how their music would be classified as X-Files, and what kind of hats they wear in this band and all their other bands.
Then go see them celebrate the release of Crayon Wars on June 1 at Sneaky Dee’s.
Dork Shelf: When and how did the band start, and how did you get to where you are now?
Wendy Leung: The long story is that this band is an evolution of my solo work. When i finished my last record I realized the music I was making wasn’t really in line with what I love to listen to. The musicians I was working with were also turning their focus onto other projects so it was a great opportunity to rethink and bring new collaborators on board. I wanted to create songs that focused on vocals and beats so I decided to experiment with drum machines on top of live drums. We were a 4-piece originally; half the songs on Crayon Wars were written with live drums, and the others were completed after our drummer left the band.
DS: Why did you change the name of the band?
WL: I think the music outgrew the name. I’ve always thought us as a band rather than “me with some musicians helping out.” We played as “Wendy Leung” for a couple of years but it was confusing to explain that the name referred to the entire band and not just me as a singer/songwriter. This record also sounds entirely different from my old stuff so it makes sense that it’s its own thing. We threw names back and forth for a long time before landing on one that stuck, which is why the change didn’t happen sooner. Crayon Wars is actually one that we came up with but it sounded more like an album title than a band name to me so we saved it. There are some others that also stuck but for completely the wrong reasons, so we figure one day we’ll make a line of “rejected band name” t-shirts to sell at our merch table…
DS: Can you explain the story behind Crayon Wars and the process of making it?
Owen Norquay: So there was this giant war between the reds and the blues and the leader of the red was named Luke Skywalker and he was a centipede. He fought with a hundred light sabers against his arch nemesis Baby Blue Bear and his tertiary nemesis Large Small Pox in order to save Crayon City. He was destroyed. By Little Sheep-Bird.
Dean Marino: Oh wait, you mean the record?
WL: Crayon Wars (the album) is a collection of songs I wrote both before and after we formed this band. We began recording in Owen’s house with Cameron Harding engineering and finished at Dean’s (now closed) studio, Chemical Sound. Because we were so close to the project we wanted an outside ear for mixing so we reached out to a childhood friend of Owen’s in NYC, Evan Sutton, who specializes in electronic music and sound design. The entire process took about a year and a half; we took our time and put a lot of thought into every little detail along the way, so we’re extremely happy with how it turned out.
DS: How have you developed your sound? How would you classify it?
DM: I would classify it as top secret.
ON: It’s an X-File.
WL: [hums the X-Files theme song]… It’s funny, my songs have always been described as dark and melancholic but I think this is the lightest collection yet. At least the most danceable, anyway. We’re veering back towards the dark side from a sonic perspective though, so stay tuned for that in the next album.
DS: What’s it like being a musician in Toronto?
WL: It’s pretty awesome. There’s so much going on in this city that you could go out every night of the week for months and see a different local band each night. There’s also a great sense of community – bands are really supportive of each other, and sometimes you end up meeting people to start new things with. I think it’s common for musicians in the city to have more than one project on the go.
DS: What’s it like for all three of you being in multiple bands? How do you prioritize? How do each entity’s sounds influence this band?
WL: We get to wear different hats in each of the bands we’re in.
DM: I wear a fedora in my other band – and I shred.
ON: In this band I wear a toupé.
WL: My hat falls off in the other band because I dance so much. Wendy Versus is kind of my baby – I pour my heart and soul into it but I also spend a lot of time managing the logistics, paperwork, etc. I love playing in Papermaps because it’s pure fun, and because it’s such a different genre from what I’m used to it pushes my creative boundaries.
ON: My roles are different in each band – I’m the primary beat-maker in this one but I’m heavily influenced by working with my brother Chris, who writes the beats for Soi Disant.
DM: It’s nice to play different roles in the various projects I’m involved in. It keeps me “fit” musically. I really like playing in Wendy Versus because it allows me to focus on my guitar playing (rather than carrying the whole performance, like in Papermaps). Musically, it’s exciting because I get to explore more atmospheric textures than the more concrete stuff I do in other bands.
DS: Where do you like to play in Toronto?
WL: I think we can all agree that we feel at home at Rancho Relaxo, not because of the venue necessarily but because Two Way Monologues, which puts on most of their shows, has always been supportive of all of our respective musical projects over the years. After that I have to say I quite like The Cameron House. It’s a smaller space but it’s intimate and great for quieter acts.
DM: We’re lucky to live in a city with so many great venues! I think it really comes down to who’s there more than where we are at any given time.
ON: Any place with a stage and a mic!
DS: What other local acts do you like?
WL: Lovely Killbots, who we’re so happy to have playing our album release party! I also love Ketch Harbour Wolves, and Volcano Playground.
DM: Born Ruffians, The Elwins and lately I’ve been excited about a Guelph-based band called From East to Exit.
ON: Little Foot Long Foot, Meanwood, Rock Plaza Central, Orchards.
DS: What’s on your Dork Shelf (movies, books, music, games)?
WL: X-Files, Fringe, The O.C. DVD sets, the Infernal Affairs trilogy, most of Coupland’s fiction, and my Colecovision console with such excellent games as Frogger, Smurfs, and Q-Bert. In iTunes rotation is a lot of electro-pop but on my shelf are vinyl of The National, Florence + The Machine, Jay-Z.
DM: Blade Runner; it’s like a basic course in existentialism and film noir all at once. Also I’d like to own every Stanley Kubrick film. I’m addicted to buying books, including ones by Don DeLillo, Nicholson, Baker, Nick Hornby.
ON: Star Trek: all of the series and movies except Enterprise. I only read non-fiction books ’cause unlike Dean I LIKE FACTS…
DM: I also have a large collection of non-fiction! And I like Tame Impala.
ON: …and I’ve never owned a video game console. That being said I do relax with Tiger Woods Masters Golf on the Wii from time to time. I also never listen to music.
DS: What’s next for Wendy Versus?
WL: We’re releasing Crayon Wars (vinyl and digital) June 1, throwing a party in its honour at Sneaky Dee’s with Lovely Killbots, Mix Chopin, and Patrick Grant. After that we’ve got a NXNE showcase at The Cameron House on June 16, and then we’ll be gearing up for an August tour with Papermaps.
DS: What else should we know about Wendy Versus?
WL: We’re all left-handed, and I think all wear the same size pants.
ON: It’s weird playing in a band where I’m so much older than everybody else.
DM: Uh…yeah. And, we’re actually nice people so you should stop us on the street if you see us.
WL: It’s true!
ON: Free hugs!
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