You know when a band is really humble and low-key but also stupidly cool and incredibly talented, and you REALLY want to hate them but you can’t because they’re just too fucking rad (and also because the drummer is maybe the cutest person on the planet)? Well whatever band you’re thinking of, Nü Sensae is better. The Vancouver based trio (singer Andrea Lukic, guitarist Brody McKnight, and adorable drummer Daniel Pitout) makes the kind of heavy, violent music that is part punk, part noise, part grunge, and all angry.
I sat down with Daniel and talked about the origins of the band and the Vancouver scene, amongst (paragraphs and paragraphs of) other things.
So you and Andrea have been friends and been making music together since you were teenagers.
Mmmhmm. How different would you say the music you guys make now is from the music you made as fifteen years olds?
D: I would say it’s really different. I mean obviously we progressed as musicians, and I think that changed things. I played instruments and stuff, but Andrea didn’t really play anything until she picked up the bass for Nü Sensae. I think both of us were musically inclined, but we definitely weren’t musicians, and I had never played the drums before either. I think back then it sounded really sincere, because we were teenagers. I guess now, well we have Brody now so that obviously changed things, but even before that, we had progressed as musicians, and our tastes have certainly progressed over the years. We’ve been playing for so long now. Before I think we just thought we had to be really loud and fast and Andrea had to scream a whole bunch, and that’s what we thought we needed to do. Now we know we don’t have to do that, and we can be more melodic. I think sometimes playing loud and fast is a security tactic bands use when they’re young, because how can you go wrong with that if you’re a punk band? But I think you have to be a little more confident to make it more melodic, or slower, or weirder, or in our case, to have Andrea sing more. I think those are probably the big differences.
I also think before we didn’t think anyone cared, and probably no one did care, so we played exactly what we wanted. And now we still really try to do that, play what we want to play, but there’s an obvious difference. I don’t think Andrea necessarily feels this, but for me, when we’re writing songs now, I have the other party in mind a little bit. Now there’s an audience, and before we were just teenagers making music and it didn’t matter.
What made you two want to start a band initially?
D: Our whole friendship basically started over music. We used to just sit around and listen to music together. Andrea put me on to a lot of bands. When we would hang out as teenagers, we would meet up with our Discmans, we’d each make a mix CD, we’d switch them, and we’d just walk around town not talking, just listening to each other’s mixes. Then we’d talk about the music. We also walked to school together every day listening to music or singing Rancid or whatever. For me, I’ve always wanted to be a performer. I was an actor as a child and all that. But Andrea recently found a journal from when she was like 12 or something, and she had written in it that it would be so cool to play bass in a band one day. She specifically said bass, which is so weird. I think being in a band was just something we both always wanted to do. Andrea and I came up with the name Nü Sensae when we were fourteen, telling people we were in this band, meanwhile we didn’t even have instruments or anything. So we basically had this pretend band for a long time. Our first band ever was called Maggie Gutwrath, I played drums and she played bass, and our friend Isolde was the singer and our friend Hannah played guitar. Then one day Isolde and Hanna didn’t show up to practice so it was just me and Andrea, and we just started writing songs together at that practice. That’s when we decided “Oh maybe we should do Nü Sensae , since we’ve been joking about it forever.” And that was sort of how Nü Sensae started, it was almost by chance.
How did Brody end up joining the band?
D: After TV, Death and the Devil, which was our first full length album, Andrea and I knew that we just didn’t have it in us to keep doing it as just bass and drums, but only because we were bored with what we could with that. It was pretty limiting. And Andrea wanted to be able to focus on singing more and doing different stuff vocally, and we wanted more dynamic in the songs. Maybe if it had just been guitar and drums it would have been easier, because you have a bit more freedom with that. But it’s basically impossible, at least for us, to write anything else that would evolve us. Everything we were writing sounded the same as everything that came before. So we knew after that album that we wanted to have a guitarist. Our first choice was Brody because we had known him for many years, because he used to play in this band Mutators, so we had played shows with him.
I’ve known Brody since I’ve been in bands period. I mean he was at our first Maggie Gutwrath show. And we had always liked his guitar playing. Andrea had already been in a band with Brody called Mom Jeans, and I had been in a band called Eating Out with Brody. So both of us already liked playing music with Brody, and we all got each other and were friends, so it just made sense. His style is also so perfect for us. I feel like if it hadn’t have been Brody, we would have just broken up or something. I don’t now who else would have made sense. I felt like the band as a duo was done for us, and in getting Brody, it was almost like starting a new band in a way. We wanted it to be similar so it wasn’t a totally knew thing, but we also didn’t want people to listen and think “Oh, why did they add a guitarist, it just sounds exactly the same.” We wanted it to evolve. I think we’re always really focused on evolving. We want our next album to be really different from our last one. That’s something I really like about Sonic Youth, or other bands I admire, is that every album is kind of like a whole different thing. Even if it’s just slight, or just a vibe. I hate when people put out the same album over and over.
Tell me what you like most about being a part of the Vancouver music scene. It seems like a really awesome best friend club or something.
D: I think that’s what I really like most about it. I used to be way more involved with it, but these days I feel a little detached from it, probably because we don’t really play in Vancouver all that often, because we’re always away on tour. But we were born from a scene in Vancouver called the Emergency Room scene. It was us and White Lung and Mutators and all these other bands, this string of amazing bands we all got to play with and hang out with, and we all ran this space. Everyone was doing it for all the right reasons, and none of us had like any goals in mind with regards to our careers or anything like that. We were all just friends in different bands making music and art. We just wanted it to be our little thing. I feel really proud to be part of that. People talk to us about that scene all that time. I like it because almost everyone from that original group of bands is still friends with each other. I’m still close with all of them, and if I see them out in Vancouver, I still feel such a connection to them. We were just from this old batch of Vancouver bands from a time when it was like, nothing was really happening in the city. Also I feel that in a lot of cities, one band will be doing something or have a sound that gets them success, then so many other bands in the city will have the same sound, and go the same direction. So it starts to be a “sound” of the city. Vancouver just isn’t like that. Every band in Vancouver is so different. Every show will have these crazy diverse bills with like a thrash band and a singer songwriter or something. That’s what I always loved, that there is so much diversity, and it rubs off on everybody.
People are always asking us what kind of band we are, and it’s hard to answer. People call us a punk band, but I don’t even really think of us that way. I don’t think of us as a grunge band either. I think we’ve had so many influences and been around friends who play so many different kinds of music, so I really struggle when people ask us what we sound like. I just feel like we sounds like lots of things.
You guys have traveled pretty extensively throughout North America and Europe. Tell me your top five bands you have played with, bands you want people to know about.
Okay, there’s this band in the UK called Skinny Girl Diet. They’re new. They’re three girls, two are sisters. I think the singer is sixteen, and the drummer is like seventeen. They’re all teenagers basically. It’s the most earnest, sincere but still really good music. It’s the kind of music I wish I could still make. They just don’t care, and all of them are so cool and so polite and so sweet, and they dress so cool. I was so blown away by them. I so badly want to bring them to America and tour with them here.
Destruction Unit are good friends of ours, and they’re an amazing band. I think I have pretty high personal standards for what I consider to be a really good band. I have a very short attention span for live music. I can only watch a band for a few minutes usually before I start zoning out. With Destrcution Unit I can sit through a whole set and be interested. They’re so cool to watch. Their music is so intense. The vibes on stage are super crazy.
Mac DeMarco is an old friend of ours. He used to live in Vancouver, but now he lives in Montreal. I think he’s the only real performer in music today, out of like anyone, top 40 or whatever. He’s such a personality on stage. Even if you don’t like his music, which I do, but even if you don’t, you can’t help but love him. He’s so successful right now because he’s just won over everyone with his performance and personality.
White Lung are our oldest friends. We were on a really similar path for a while. We were always touring together and being compared to each other, but I feel like now we are finally taking different paths. They’re getting so much success now, and I’m so proud of them for everything they’ve done and achieved. We always tell each other how happy we are for each other, because both bands came from basically the exact same place, and took this road together for a long time. And now we’re both doing this thing we really like in our own way. We have a really special connection with White Lung. They’re so good.
Audacity is amazing. They’ve been playing for longer than most bands. They’ve been playing for ten years or something fucking crazy, because they’ve been in that band together since they were like fourteen. I have so much respect for them. They’re all so good to each other and so sweet and nice, and all they care about is doing what they love and writing and playing music together as friends and having fun. They’re so positive. I really respect them, which I can’t say about many bands (laughs). I just feel like they’re doing it for all the right reasons. I feel like they don’t really care about business aspects of music, which is probably the only reason they’re not super famous right now, but I think they’re starting to pay more attention to that stuff, and they’re on Suicide Squeeze, which is great, because I think they’re like the next Weezer or something. They have such clever songwriting. On the surface it seems just like Cali punk but the songs are so well constructed and the lyrics are so thoughtful. I think Audacity is such an awesome band.
So what’s up next for Nü Sensae ?
D: We have a little bit of time off right now, and then in August we’re going to start writing our new album. We’re done touring until next year, until the next album comes out. We have a couple of singles coming out, one in the States and one in Europe, before our album comes out next spring, and then once our LP comes out, we’ll be touring a lot next year. We’ll do all the festival stuff, and a full North American tour and a full European tour. We’re hoping to go to Japan and Australia too. And that’s as far as we’ve thought!