Interview with vocalist Brad Garcia | By Doug Nunnally
Safe To Say’s latest EP, Hiding Games—out now on SideOneDummy Records—is a pretty noteworthy EP, not only for the Ontario quartet, but for any band. The EP is definitely a step up for the group as they push the boundaries of pop punk in an ambitious yet natural way. The circumstances that led to Hiding Games make it utterly fascinating and impossible to replicate.
When talking about the new EP, frontman Brad Garcia can barely hide his enthusiasm, even if he’s extremely realistic about the conditions that led to it. “We started writing this over two years ago,” Garcia reveals. “I doubt we’ll ever have that much time to do something like this again. We got to be really attentive to how we want to present our band, both aesthetically and sonically, and we’ll probably never have that freedom again.” Two years is a long time to spend on any project, let alone a six song EP, but as Garcia lays out the lengthy adventure that ended this past July, it is clear that it was the perfect amount of time for the group to fully realize their sound.
While most people know Safe To Say as a quartet, they actually entered the studio as a three piece this time around, having amicably split with their previous guitarist Travis Morrison. “Touring wasn’t for him,” Garcia states. “It’s totally understandable. He just wants to do school, and that probably makes the most sense for people our age.” Garcia admits the band had no plans to add a fourth and were content with just using fill-ins for live shows. It wasn’t until the trio started to really dive into recording that they considered becoming a quartet again, mostly because of how well their producer was helping them evolve.
“We’d known our producer Cory [Bergeron] for a while,” Garcia remembers. “He had his own studio up in Ottawa where we ended up recording, and halfway through the process, we realized that he was the missing ingredient to the band. He had such a big hand in rewriting the songs and all of his ideas fit so perfectly with what we we’re trying to do. We actually would have had Cory join originally, but he lived five hours away from us. Once we saw how well things were working and he casually brought up that he could make it work, it was a quick decision to make him officially part of the band.”
While most bands go through member changes without much adjustment, Garcia was quick to point out how much Bergeron’s addition really helped the band realize their sonic vision. “He’s only the second youngest in the band, but he’s the most grown up by far,” he says. “He owns his own house and studio. It was really nice to have someone so levelheaded and on top of their shit.” Having someone that sensible was integral for the young band as they dealt with a level of freedom that few bands will ever attain.
Since the band were recording at their now-bandmate’s studio, the constraints most artists feel while recording were virtually nonexistent. “We had all the freedom in the world to take our time and try as many stupid things as possible,” laughs Garcia. It seems like hyperbole, but as Garcia explores the issue, it’s almost as if he is just now understating the freedom they truly had.
“Part of the reason it took so long is that I didn’t write songs just to write songs,” he explains. “It was two years since our first record, and two years in a band makes a world of difference. You start figuring out that you don’t necessarily want to play songs or make music—you want to play your songs and write your music. The first full-length was me being 20 and wanting to write a full-length. I wrote out 10 songs, and did it because I’d never done it before. That was fine and all, but for this EP, we treated every song as its own production. We didn’t track all the drums for all the songs first, then the guitar, etc. We’d take a week off a song, talk about it, listen to it, and change what we did. We recorded it as perfectly as possible, and then, broke it and did something weird to it. This just went on and on.”
While continuously deconstructing and rebuilding each song sounds like a manic recording style in the vein of Brian Wilson, it clearly paid off for the band here. The end result is a six song collection that makes Safe To Say’s 2013 full-length look like child’s play, a testament to the mature songwriting and production behind the new EP that seems almost impossible coming from musicians not yet 25.
Thanks to a snafu with work visas, the band have already begun work on the follow-up. Who knows, that new material could blow Hiding Games out of the water much like this EP did their first full-length. One thing is for sure: Hiding Games is a collection of songs that would be hard for any band to top. Luckily for Safe To Say, they have decades left to try, and their own personal studio to do it in.