by Katie Rankin
English Words keyboard and saxophone player Todd MacLean is talking about the new Subway flatbread, but it could be a metaphor for the band’s new sound. “There’s more space now and everything is not as filled out as it used to be. Everything can just breathe.” Lead singer Ryan Crane chimes in semi-seriously, “We went from being Subway foot-long whole grain to being flatbread.” This winter, the Charlottetown group took a five month break from performing and spent their time writing new songs and rehearsing. Crane says it was one of the most rewarding experiences since starting the band.
The hiatus prompted a new sound from the Words that they debuted in April at the ECMAs. Ryan’s brother Aaron Crane gave up his drumsticks for samplers and a drum machine. There’s also only one guitar player, Andrew Murray, with Ryan focusing solely on singing. “I have to be more of a frontman. I can’t hide behind my guitar, I have to move around and engage people a lot more, which is challenging,” says Ryan. Bassist Josh Byrne will keep up his unique, chest-high playing ways. The Words say the new sound moves away from the aggressive, serious rock they were known for and has more of a hip-hop influence; it’s an electro-pop vibe without sounding like an 80s revival band. “It’s a lot less white-boy indie rock. There’s a little more funk and a little more soul in it now,” says Ryan.
The group notices the new songs get an immediate, positive response from the audience, making it more enjoyable for them to play. “It’s way more communal than our other stuff. There’s a lot more interaction between us and the audience. We are looking to entertain, but still be ourselves,” says Ryan. Despite the warm reception they’ve been getting at shows, the Words recognize there’s always a risk of backlash when a band changes so drastically, especially in a small music community like PEI. “You’re always going to get the people who are going to want to hear Young Flare,” says Murray, referencing an old fan favourite. Ryan points out it doesn’t make sense to stay the same. “It used to be a thing where a band had to evolve in order for people to stay interested,” he says. The group says it was a natural progression to drift towards happier, more upbeat songs. “This is a new English Words,” says Ryan. “Not just in the sound, but in the headspace,” adds Aaron.
Here it for yourself at Hunter’s Ale House on June 30 and at Baba’s Lounge on August 5.