Following the sudden death of bandmate Mike Taylor, Walk Off The Earth is back with ‘Here We Go!,’ one of their most ‘positive’ records yet. They talk with us about the album, why Drake needs to make their hotline bling, and more.
It’s been quite the ride for Walk Off The Earth. The critically-acclaimed Canadian band is back with Here We Go!, their new full-length album since 2015’s Sing It All Away. Fans were apparently eager for new music, as Here We Go! debuted in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Album Sales Chart, hit #3 on Canada’s Top Album Chart, and hit the #1 spot on the Nielsen’s Pop Album chart. But, with every ride, there are highs — and lows. Here We Go! comes less than a year after the band lost Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor. The beloved keyboardist and singer died of natural causes in his sleep in December 2018.
The band celebrated the life, love, and legacy of “Beard Guy” in their track, “Mike’s Song.” Though birthed in sorrow, the song is an uplifting ode to how love and friendship is everlasting, “Hey, I know you’ll always be with me / but I can’t shake the heartache / Even if the day don’t break / It’s gonna be okay / Yeah, I know / Hey, it’s gonna be okay.” The song is, like the rest of the album, absolutely radiant. Here We Go! displays Walk Off The Earth’s mastery at crafting energetic music that is full of life and, as band members Sarah Blackwood and Gianni Luminati say when speaking EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife, “positivity.” Even on “Under a Tree,” a funky love song about “doing what comes naturally,” is an infectious bop that will make anyone look for the closest shady pine.
The band recently released the music video for Here We Go’s lead single, “I’ll Be There.” With powerful imagery, the video depicts the unbreakable bond between family and how it can help lift one to the highest highs and pull them out of the lowest lows.
Sarah and Gianni sat down with HollywoodLife for a conversation about Here We Go!, how art allowed them to grieve the loss of Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor, about their performance at Game 4 of the NBA Finals was really why the Toronto Raptors won, and when if we can expect them and fellow Canadian Drake to collaborate anytime soon.
HollywoodLife: Here We Go is your first album in four years, correct?
Gianni Luminati: Yeah. We’ve released a lot of music over those four years, but we were just doing singles. We did put out like a small concept EP, but this is like the first original full-length album in a couple of years.
Sarah Blackwood: We had a crazy year, too. So we just wanted to compile everything, and put it into one thing and share it with everybody.
GL: And we’ve also been working on these songs for the whole time. Like we’ve had like 50 demos, and a bunch of songs that were 80 percent, so we had always planned on putting out an album. It just wasn’t in the books until now. So, we’re excited.
A lot has happened – both positive and negative – has happened since your last album, including the tragic death of your friend and bandmate, Mike ‘Beard Guy’ Taylor. First off, our condolences.
GL: Thank you, appreciate that.
SB: Thank you very much.
You honored him on Here We Go with “Mike’s Song.” Music is art, and art is one of the ways to process grief, and this is a fantastic way to honor him and his legacy. On the flip side, I was curious – did you feel any pressure or obligation to take this personal experience and turn it into a song?
SB: No, it happened pretty naturally. There are two worlds when you are in our situation. There are the family and the friends – like, really close family friends, hometown kind of people, who don’t really truly understand what we do and our reach as a band. In this case, Mike Taylor, Beard Guy, his fan base was massive — is massive. So we had to go through that with the family, and also give the fans something, so we could all go through it together.
SB (cont’d): And when we wrote the song, actually Joel [Cassady], our drummer’s mother, had just passed away as well. So, there were a lot of emotions. And that’s just what we do as artists, as creators. From when we were younger, to now, we feel our emotions through music. It was actually very therapeutic to get in there. Just singing those words and having that come from a place that really actually meant something and then to be able to share that side of it with everybody else who, in their own way, was grieving the loss as well.
SB (cont’d: We did a tribute through our live show for the last year. It was dedicated to him. And then, with the new record coming out, our new single, especially “I’ll Be There.” That’s kind of the next level of the grieving process, which is when you really realize who your friends and family are and how important that is. … We’re getting older, we’re losing people. We’re going to start going through that more often, and that’s now what we’re writing about. That’s what our art is now. It’s just our life experiences as we’re experiencing it.
GL: Another cool thing about the album is that he knew about 90 percent of the songs. He had worked on some of them with us. He had written on some of them with us. So it does mean a lot to us, to be able to put to these works of art out, because he was very excited about it, so.
This album’s name has an interesting subtext to it. Here We Go can be taken as a celebration of life, both its ups and downs. It could be said when really excited – “here we go!” – but if you’re atop a roller coaster and afraid of heights, ‘here we go’ takes on a different context.
SB: Actually, I never thought of it that way.
Why did you pick Here We Go as the title?
GL: It’s kind of a funny story. The album actually had a different name, up and to the moment it was already been delivered to the distribution companies and stuff. And we were finishing our US tour and driving the bus home back to Toronto. And we were listening to the album front to back, and we’re having a bunch of drinks celebrating. And we were never 100 percent on the original album name, because it was kind of forced, and we just couldn’t think of anything proper.
GL: And we were listening to it. And “Overtime” came on. Now, the song’s also called “Here We Go. We were singing the chorus and we literally, me, Sarah and Joel, literally looked at each other, while we were singing the chorus. And we all knew what we were thinking. “This is the album name.”
SB: Yeah, everyone’s on the bus, singing, “here we go!”
GL: And you’re right, it does have multiple meanings. And at the end of the day, we’ve gone through all this stuff over the last year, we’re all about positivity and ass-kickery — for lack of a better term. We want to motivate ourselves, motivate our fans to take those experiences, and use it to get jacked and just go forward. Do your thing.
GL: We’re firm believers that, obviously, it’s easy to get caught up in dark places. You know what I mean? And a lot of people don’t get out of that and feel like, it’s no disrespect to someone when they’ve left, for you to be like, okay, I’m moving forward. You can still remember them and honor them and stuff. But when you stay in that dark place too long, it gets harder and harder to get out, sometimes for people.
SB: We just like to promote, whatever the case, whatever it is, the song that you’re listening to on the album, whatever story it is you’re connecting with, it’s still a launching pad for making your life better.
Initial listening to the title track — “Here We Go (Overtime)” – invoked this odd, funky vibe, as if G Love & Special Sauce teamed with Soul Coughing. That just might be me, though. Was there a little throwback to the 90s in there?
SB: I don’t think so.
GL: I don’t think consciously, when we’re working on music, we’re like trying to be any genre. And it sounds cliché to say, but it’s pretty true. But, we’re glad you like that song because that’s our favorite song. As artists, we do what we want, for sure, but we are also trying a pop band. So, we try to keep things in a certain area, so we have a chance to get it on the radio and get into certain places. But that song was a song that we knew that probably wouldn’t get radio love, because we were doing exactly what we wanted. Even the drum beats, if you listened to, it’s off-grid, and there’s experimentation going on and just—
SB: —weird sounds—
GL: —weird sounds. There are so many tracks on that. There’s probably like 200 tracks on that song.
SB: Yeah. It’s the song that’s us, it’s the most us, and we’ve actually pitched that song in a few other situations, where the reaction has been, “Well, it’s a little bit too weird.” So we were glad that it got to make it on the album because there’s just so much cool stuff going on in the production.
Since you’ve been touring, have you performed it live?
SB: We haven’t performed that one live, no. We’ve done “Home Alone” and “I’ll Be There,” off the album. And “Mike’s Song,” of course. But that’s as far as we’ve made it with the new songs, so.
GL: We’re not a band that will learn songs before they are recorded. We’ll record them, and then we’ll go into the rehearsal space and start learning. We’ve squeezed in, the new single and Home Alone, from the new album, into the live set, just from soundchecks and stuff. But because that one is a little bit more intricate, we’re going to wait until we get into the rehearsal space in like a month and a half.
SB: We have, in 2020, we have all kinds of new tours coming up. So we’re going to change the show up.
GL: Like, the official Here We Go tour is starting in January in Australia – at the Sydney Opera house, which we’re very stoked about. So that’s kind of when the official new show is going to start.
You mix in a lot of covers or reimagining of hit songs. You recently did a version of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag.” Do you have any interesting covers planned for 2020?
SB: Yeah. Actually, we have so many covers right now that we’ve just decided that in the new show we’re going to start doing more medleys.
GL: Squish them all in together.
SB: Right now, we do two medleys, one on this crazy, wacky table, with all these tubes and spinny things and stuff. And it has about five songs on it. Oldies, new ones, covers that we’ve done. And then we have another, one where we have a big dance jam party. We’re going to break down all the covers that we’ve recently done and then, of course, ones that we’d like to do in the near future and incorporate them into the set.
GL: We’re always putting content out. We’ve built a huge team around us of producers and engineers that literally travel with us and our whole backing musicians. We’re able to put out content, at least two videos per month. So, when we see a good song gets stuck in our head, we, deconstruct it and try to put [our spin on it.]
GL: It’s weird because our fan base is so eclectic, we have fans from around the world that are all different ages. So, a lot of these people, they’ll know it’s a cover because we’ll say it’s a cover, but they don’t know the original. So, then they just attach themselves to that song as it’s our song. So, when they come to our show, they’re like, ‘why aren’t you playing, whatever song,’ that they think is ours. And even though we’re not trying to trick anyone or anything, but it just becomes a thing.
SB: Our six-year-old the other day asked me when we were listening to the radio, and I can’t remember his name, he has a slow version of “Hey Yeah,” like a slow cover of “Hey Yeah.” And we also did a cover of “Hey Yeah,” and my six-year-old says, “mama, did this person steal the song from you, or did you steal the song from them?” I was like, ‘he’s starting to get it.’ He’s starting to understand that we cover other people’s songs, and I just laughed.
GL: Another cool thing too, about it is: there are a lot of artists that actually reach out to us, when they have a new single coming out, because nowadays, you need so many cylinders firing, to really make a song work, because there’s so much competition. So, there’s been countless times where management of big artists have reached out to us and said like, ‘Hey, does Walk Off the Earth have time to cover this artist’s new single?’
That’s amazing. You’re kind of like a new distribution service – or a streaming platform!
GL: Most people are stoked about it.
Are the Toronto Raptors stoked about you guys? Basketball season has started, and you guys performed during the NBA Finals – that the Raptors won!
SB: It is started. I heard. I can’t watch sports again after this year.
GL: Sarah got really into it.
SB: It was taking up all my time. I was so stressed out. These games.
They won their opener.
SB: They did. Yeah.
GL: They also won game six, and some people say it’s because of us.
SB: Well, game four. No, we [performed the national anthem ahead of] game four.
GL: Oh, game four. My bad.
SB: We did the anthem.
GL: Game six is when they won.
SB: Spicy P? [Pascal Siakam]
GL: Spicy P.
SB: Spicy P, we were jamming out, he was just looking at us, and we were doing, the four people on the one thing that we have, and he’s laughing, just dancing away grooving to it.
Have they reached out to you? Have you reached out to them? Has Drake slid into your DMs?
SB: You know what? I was going to wear — I actually did wear it, but you couldn’t see it — I was wearing one of his OVO t-shirts at the Game Four, and everyone on our team was like “Don’t do it. You’re in San Francisco. They’re going to boo. You can’t, it’s a bad look, blah, blah, blah.” I was going to wear like a big logo shirt and just be like “We’re for Team Toronto.” Obviously.
GL: They didn’t want us to do that, though.
SB: They didn’t want me to do it.
GL: I mean, the coach of the team reached out and sent us a thank you.
SB: We met a couple of the players, and they were stoked on it.
GL: Yeah. But we haven’t gone out for dinner with Spicy Pete yet. So no.
SB: Drake hasn’t invited us over.
JB: Maybe he’s waiting for you guys to cover “God’s Plan?”
SB: Maybe he is.
GL: We haven’t shown him any love yet. That’s probably why.
SB: Maybe we need to do the theme for the Degrassi reunion that they’re doing.
GL: Yeah, that’s right.
Here We Go! is out now on all streaming platforms.
This interview has been edited for clarity.