We Are The City are High School

In the summer of 2010, two members of Kelowna’s We Are The City — Cayne McKenzie (vocals/keyboard) and Andrew Huculiak (vocals/drums) — started a side-project called High School. The project arose as both an escape and an outlet — We Are The City’s guitarist, David Menzel, was slowly drifting away from the band and wasn’t as involved as he had once been. So, with new monikers and their faces obscured with strange masks, McKenzie and Huculiak started playing shows in B.C.

“We were feeling that we wanted to write some tunes and play with this other band from Kelowna called Kingdom Cloud,” says McKenzie. “We couldn’t play as We Are The City because David wasn’t willing to play anymore, so we made this other band and we just recorded some demos in my basement. We created these alter egos and wore masks in the promo shots and when we played live because we were just going to throw together some tunes and just play for fun . . . so, we threw some t-shirts over our heads, made a makeshift Myspace and recorded demos in GarageBand.”

The emphasis was on deception ­– McKenzie and Huculiak really didn’t want anyone to know that they were members of WATC. They tried their utmost to protect the project they had put so much into, especially the $150,000 they had snatched by winning the Peak Performance Battle of the Bands in 2009.

“We changed our names, we changed our voices,” says McKenzie. “Andrew, the drummer, sang lead on one of the songs. We tried really hard to make it not sound like us. We Are The City didn’t have anything to do with High School. We weren’t endorsing it — High School was a different band.”

The plan was half-baked and fell apart under scrutiny. Despite their efforts to hide their identities, their rudimentary disguises failed and the B.C. music community was just too small to hide in.

“Our first show was in White Rock, which is kind of outside Vancouver,” says McKenzie. “We were playing with another band [Behind Sapphire] who are friends with We Are The City, but they didn’t know it was us in High School. No one knew except for our manager. . . . We were terrible — it was a good thing we wore masks. We played the most awful show — we had never really practiced or played in masks. My mom had made us these masks . . . kind of like a hood with a doily on the front. They looked ridiculous and we’d never played in them and we put them on before the gig and were just like, ‘Oh my goodness. I can’t even see my guitar.’ We had changed our voices and everything. As soon as we got to the gig we introduced ourselves and [Behind Sapphire] saw right through it. They were like, ‘Cayne? Is that you?’ They knew and they told everyone on stage. It was a total failure. Andy said, after that, ‘I’m not playing High School songs again!’ “

Despite the fact that High School’s debut performance was a total failure — they neither managed to play well nor hide their identities — and despite Huculiak’s insistence that he would never perform as part of High School again, McKenzie managed to convince him to soldier on.

“I was pretty insistent on playing another show — with no masks — and at this point everyone knew,” he says. “We played at a pool party with Kingdom Cloud and it was pretty fun but again, we played terribly, and after that, Andy was like, ‘I’m never playing those songs again — again.’ “

Things all changed for High School/We Are The City when Menzel finally parted ways with the band — McKenzie and Huciliak had to decide what they were going to do next and they immediately thought of High School as a source for some of the material for their next album.

“When David fully left the band, we were wondering what we were going to do,” recounts McKenzie. “The songs that we had together as High School that were finished and we could finally really work on for We Are The City, but they were these songs we had just thrown together and recorded in GarageBand. Blake Enemark, the guitarist on High School, helped us finish them all up and that was it.”

Though We Are The City did annex the High School project, it doesn’t necessarily represent where We Are The City will go. It fits in the band’s discography as a concept album and an anomaly.

“Now that I think about it, High School isn’t supposed to sound like We Are The City,” McKenzie says. “An important thing, for me anyway, is that High School is a different band even though we’ve brought it in. High School is like another band within We Are The City. The next We Are The City record won’t sound like High School at all and I don’t think High School sounds like the first record either.”

The band is currently weaving their way across Canada with Aidan Knight, in support of their new EP and they are also already looking forward to their next release, which will see ex-guitarist David Menzel return, despite his initial refusal to join High School.

“We asked David if he wanted to be in there with us — ‘Be in this other band with us!’ He replied in the most lighthearted way, and it may seem negative but it wasn’t; he said, ‘I’m already in one band that I don’t want to be in.’ We still have a great relationship with him and he’ll be playing on the next record with us.”

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