Wescali debut as champions at band battle
By Sue Tiffin
Published Feb. 27, 2018
The crowd in the darkened room is chanting,“One more song! One more song!”
Soon, the chant becomes the name of the band they are beckoning for an encore – Wescali.
The members of that band, Wesley Stoughton, Liam Bergman and Cam Espina, alongside Wesley’s dad, Shawn, who’s joining them on bass, come back to the stage, run their hands through their hair, chug some water, thank the crowd and break into their version of Funk#49 by James Gang as if they’ve been doing this for years.
But the young band has only been together for about two years and Battle of the Bands, held upstairs at the A.J. LaRue Arena, is their first major performance.
“We all knew our parts pretty well,” says Stoughton. “So we knew we were going to at least have fun and not worry about messing up or anything.”
“I was getting some crazy cold sweats,” Espina laughs. “There was a lot of anticipation. We were the last band in the competition – the whole time we just wanted to go up so bad. I got really restless before. But once that first note comes out ... It all becomes familiar, feels comfortable, feels great.”
“We just thought, our first song was going to get the crowd involved, it would be a tune that everybody was familiar with and was going to get them going and on their feet,” says Bergman. “But I was just overall really surprised with the turnout on how everybody reacted when they first heard us. Everybody started coming up to the stage and moshing a little bit.”
Wescali plays four songs that night, covering Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the aforementioned James Gang and introducing the crowd to their own material, a song called Buffalo Slander.
“We had an improvised riff from Cam, and we transcended that into a song and [it] turned out to be an original,” says Bergman. “We finished the original in the week that we practised it. We basically just put the burners down and started going at it.”
The song, which is getting attention on YouTube thanks to the work of their friend Rowan Tofflemire of X2 Productions, keeps the crowd moving.
“It’s not about anything specific to our lives,” says Bergman. “[It’s about a] woman or relationship that an individual knows is going to be a bad one or like a hairy one but they’re going to do it anyway because this woman is so enticing and intriguing.”
“Unbelievable,” says Stoughton of the Battle of the Bands experience. “It was like getting a high off the crowd. Seeing that many people into your music when they’ve never even heard you before is such an amazing feeling. There’s nothing like it.”
The band closes the event, a fundraiser for the Haliburton Junction Skate Park, and is awarded the prize of the night in the competition just moments later.
“It felt great, it was like, I didn’t think we’d win,” says Espina. “I had no idea that we’d win. It was crazy. You just get the goosebumps ... and it kind of makes you realize again why you like doing it so much. It’s a magical feeling.”
Stoughton, Bergman and Espina became fast friends when they met at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Soon into their friendship they realized their love for music could be combined into a band, and so they began practising – Stoughton on drums, Espina on guitar and Bergman as lead vocals – often, and largely at Stoughton’s parents’ Gooderham home.
“The first couple of times were a bit of a trainwreck,” laughs Espina. “But once we got the grip of our instruments a little more, or as far as we have so far, we’re all very connected.”
“It’s basically a collective thing,” says Bergman. “We just feed off of each other and try to see what works best and what doesn’t.”
Naming influences like Led Zeppelin and Van Halen, the band says their sound is mostly experimental psychedelic rock.
“We try to be as versatile as possible and not contain ourselves to just one genre,” says Stoughton. “We have one original song that’s a hard rock song, and we’re working on something that’s jazzy funk.”
Their connection is clear – when they speak, they support each other and understand what works for each band member. Even their band name, Wescali – made up of the first letters of each of their individual names – brings them together.
“We were trying to think of band names, and we had one that sounded cool but we weren’t sure about it, had this feeling there was something better,” says Stoughton who said his dad pitched Wescali, which the band thought sounded good. “Then he explained what it meant and we were like, ‘what!’ And we just kind of knew, that was it.”
Though for some groups it takes years before they find the confidence and a cause to speak out about, Wescali knows they can use their stage time to champion ideas that are important to them. During their Battle of the Bands performance, they wore Kindness Matters T-shirts in support of the Phoenix Foundation, speaking out against bullying in honour of their close friend and classmate Phoenix Acero, who died last year.
“We wanted to put out a message that everybody can hop on board, and it’s like a community of people that are trying to do things for the betterment of everybody in general and life,” says Bergman. “[Phoenix] didn’t tolerate bullying and was such a kind and loving person so we wanted to express that.”
“It’s a huge problem in this town,” says Stoughton. “There’s so many people that don’t realize that, I don’t know if they just don’t have a filter or something, but there’s a lot of bullying going on. Being able to have a voice against that is something that we’re really, really excited about.”
“I think it definitely makes [the crowd] think about it a little bit more, and realize if it’s enough of a problem to the point that there needs to be a foundation for it, it’s enough of a problem that everyone should be doing something about it,” he says.
“A lot of people in the world are clashing heads too much,” says Espina. “All you gotta do is relax and love one another, so I take any chance I can get to support that, for sure. We all do.”
In interviews, the band members are humble and excited. They correct any slips of language to be respectful, are grateful for an interview, and speak of the future with certainty and drive.
“I just love music,” says Espina. “I love to play, and guitar is my way to say what I want to say, so I’m just going to keep doing that.”
“[We’re going to] keep playing music, try to get gigs, try to perfect our craft, so that’s going to be a long time coming, but basically we’re just making music,” says Bergman.
“It’s hard to not be motivated,” says Stoughton.
To learn more about Wescali, follow @wescaliofficial on Instagram or via Wescali on Facebook.