We Need Surgery ain’t exactly your high school garage band. It took five guys from five corners of the earth to collide in Korea to make it happen, and then you have to factor in nine brutal but ultimately triumphant months in Vancouver before you get to the band’s new home in Tokyo and the explosive debut album you’re holding.
WNS began in 2007 when lead guitarist Valentino Avignoni joined in on the jam sessions for vocalist Miso Stefanac and drummer Brandon Butler’s band SunRadio. SunRadio was on a short hiatus at the time, leaving the huge Joy Divison and Smiths fans the room to explore new musical directions. After spending a summer listening to DFA 1979 and The Rapture, WNS decided to design a sound tailored to making girls dance.
“Basically, I had met Valentino,” Miso explains, meaning the Vancouver-raised guitarist. “He was helping me paint my studio, fooling around on my guitar, I pulled out the keyboard. Brandon and (original member) Adam Brennen were around, and with our new vision we just sort of started We Need Surgery. That was a Wednesday inJanuary 2007, and on Friday we had our first show.”
In the spirit of forming an instant band with the desire to write two chord songs containing 808 beats, techno bass lines and chaotic guitars—all in the name of making Seoul, Korea’s indie music scene a better place—the four newly christened Surgeons set about writing eight songs that very same night (including “Simon Says”, “Sisters and Brothers”, and “Go Go Go”). Clearly, they had some precious chemistry— the instant success of the first show was to start a new wave of “indie electro rock” in Seoul city and also to set the band and new musical vision in stone. This created a demand WNS was more than happy to supply, and they went on to play one-to-three live shows every weekend for the next three years.
After the departure of Adam in 2009, a revolving door of seven different short lived bass players began to spin, with rhythm guitarist Paul Johnson (from Sacramento) gradually taking on the role. Finally, WNS brought Korean national and Seoul indie legend Jungkyu Lim (aka Johnny Q ) into the fold as the newest member and rhythm guitar player. With one ramshackle demo, We Need Surgery had become local media darlings, appearing on magazine covers, TV shows, radio interviews and scoring a slot on almost all of Korea’s major music festivals.
Which brings us to the brutal winter of 2010. “We were really burned out on Korea,” says Brandon. “We just said, ‘Let’s go to North America and try to get a record deal.’” Visa issues and Canada’s relative tolerance for indigent foreigners working the club circuit for beer money meant that Vancouver became the band’s new home, where they holed up together in an apartment and dedicated themselves to the business of being good-looking music-obsessed bums.
“It was tough,” sighs Miso. “We decided to be starving artists. The first six months or so were quite dismal, but the music part was good. We were always practicing—but it was hard.” Dismal or not, within two months of arriving, We Need Surgery found themselves in a tug-o-war between the two most prominent labels in the city. The rest of the story is contained in the grooves of their self titled debut album,
The band had already put three tracks in the can with producer “Futcher”, including the spiky “Time to Unwind” and the indelibly hooky Joy Division inspired effort “Simon Says”. After getting We Need Surgery to sign on the dotted line, Light Organ Records went and stuffed the five-piece in Vancouver’s fabled Armory Studios with legend Dave “Rave” Ogilvie and Fake Shark Real Zombie’s main man Kevvy Maher for another seven tracks—including the retro-future death disco of “Just like a Lion” and “Sisters and Brothers”, and the animal nitrate-juiced first single “Go Go Go”, a song that seems to explore the territory between the Killers and Hot Hot Heat. Not insignificantly, a wildly impressed Steve Bays elected himself to mix the entire album.
On “She Told Me”, meanwhile, We Need Surgery come up with something that sounds like NY legends Television attempting to play country music, while another three self-produced tracks recorded in Korea— “Cocoon”, “Stranger”, and “Gotta Be This Way”—all fit seamlessly into the mix. With its slightly rough edges, angles and indefatigable grooves, WNS conjured an album that nicely bridges the gap between angular pioneers Gang of Four and modern practitioners like Bloc Party.