With inspired vocals and dramatic guitar atop a distinctive rhythmic foundation, David Quon (vocals, guitar), Derek VanHeule (bass,vocals) and Nathan Warkentin (drums/vocals) are We Barbarians – a three-piece indie rock band that evokes a wholehearted, earnest sound with subtle undercurrents of an ’80s-era U2. Searching for new inspiration, the trio bid farewell to their lifelong home of California to take on the hustle and bustle of New York City. Their brand new release, Headspace, is their most cohesive to date and according to Quon, a reflection of the band’s current state of mind.
Why migrate from Long Beach to Brooklyn?
We’d been in Southern California all of our lives. There’s a vibe there of chilling out and just letting things happen, so we wanted to put ourselves in an environment where we’d be forced to work really hard. New York kicks you in the a– and it’s good to have that refreshed inspiration. We’ve been tying loose ends on the EP we just put out, and doing demos, and writing a lot. We’re getting our juices flowing.
Tell me about your new EP, Headspace.
We recorded it with Dan Gallucci. He plays in Modest Mouse and does some producing for them and it was cool to bring him in and have him help us solidify our songs. Our LP (2009’s There’s This There’s That) was something we did when we were still trying to find our sound and get our s— together, but with these songs, we really feel like they’re an indication of what we want to be doing.
So it took time to find your sound?
Yeah. I think it takes awhile to come together, establish roles in the band, get into a groove and feel confident with what you’re doing. With our latest stuff, there’s a real genuine quality that we tapped into. When you first form, you have this idea of what you’ll sound like, but to actually be able to sit down and tangibly create it is harder than you think. With [Headspace], we’ve got a lot closer.
What is it about you three together that works?
I met Nate at 17 and Derek a year after that. We became friends before we started playing together and we’ve really run the gauntlet together as far as touring, getting signed to a major label and all the s— that can go with that. We’re like brothers and I think that’s a rare thing. We sift through our s— and we’re honest and vulnerable with one another and that makes being in the band so rewarding and easy. I think you can see that when we’re on stage. It adds to what we do.
You’re compared to early U2 – how do you feel about that?
I mean, when you’re at the airport with your guitar, someone is bound to ask what you do and what you sound like. A prideful part of you wants to say that you don’t sound like anyone else and that you’ve created something new, but we’re where we are because of bands that have come before us. Even a somewhat tainted band like U2 have a huge influence on what we do so we take it as a compliment. If you listen to songs on Boy or War, they create an atmosphere and depth that you get lost in – and that’s what we strive to do with our music.
Give me the description you give at the airport.
(Laughs) At the heart of it all, we’re a rock band… an atmospheric rock band. Then people ask, ‘Well, who do you sound like?’ and I think it’s easiest to reference bands like U2, The Clash, Joy Division…anything in the vein of post-punk rock. That’s not to say we sound exactly like them but they influence how we do things. But I think there has to be more to a band than just their music, though. Great bands are about art or politics… there’s substance.
And how do you convey substance?
Nate and I studied art and graphic design so we’re very interested in creating an aesthetic that communicates our sound. Bands like Joy Division or New Order really created a distinct perception with their artwork and that’s something that’s very important to us too and we all collaborate on our artwork. As far as politics, we’re more straightforward on Headspace than we’ve been in the past. Even our name itself is sort of a social commentary. In the most civilized areas of the worlds and at the root of everything, we are all barbaric.
For more information on We Barbarians’ Headspace EP or for the latest news, visit www.webarbarians.com or follow the band on Twitter.
*Originally published under ‘Interviews’ on MyTelus.com.