JUNO Spotlight: Dan Boeckner Never Stops with Operators
Dan Boeckner is not a man who slows down. Over the past couple decades he's shaped
the indie music scene with awesome bands like the Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, Wolf Parade
and his latest project Operators. With more work on the way, and an upcoming Ottawa show we
wanted to talk to Boeckner about balancing his bands and keeping the creative juices flowing.
Operators join Charly Bliss and Potential Red for JUNO Fest, Thursday, March 30 at Zaphod Beeblebrox (27 York St.) 19+ – 8pm doors – $13.50 advance + service charges
Ottawa Life: There's definitely a much more electronic and synthetic sound to Operator's music compared to Wolf Parade, was this something you always wanted to do but just never felt was part of their sound, or was this trying to further what you did with Handsome furs or something new and separate?
Dan Boeckner (Operators): I think it's really an extension of what I was doing with Handsome Furs in a lot of ways. With them there was a progression of me playing and programming synths, as well as drum machines starting back in 2007. And when that band ended, it was part of my musical life that I missed and it was painful to not have that part of my artistic expression. It's also due to Wolf Parade not being the place to talk about my political points, with our four distinct personalities, it's hard to do. When Operators started I hadn't had an outlet for that either, so it became that project as well.
On this note did you know what you wanted to sound like when you guys came together or did it form after playing, when you realized this would allow you to do what you'd been missing?
I think I knew it was what I wanted to do, and when I got the band together it was a lot closer to where Handsome Furs ended, then where we ended up sonically. After playing it became more organic and evolved.
Why did you focus on your sound as a live first approach?
I wanted the band to be visceral live, so that the public had exclusivity on hearing songs in an unmanaged and unfiltered way. I felt like that was really important because it's really easy to over-market and over-curate your music. I thought that would only make us a better band.
Why did you feel it was necessary to scrap all your songs after touring extensively? Did you feel like the original set just didn't fit you anymore?
The delivery vehicle had changed, we'd recorded 16 songs in Montreal and I was happy with them. We released four of them on an EP and we hit the road supporting Future Islands. We started playing shows and they became very physical. Our songs were very New Wave, detached, German and cold but when we got on stage everyone got excited and we felt that feedback from the audience. So the songs and sounds went into noisier visceral territory and were reworked into our voice, while others became stepping stones we put away. We went back into the studio and that became Blue Wave.
After reforming Wolf Parade do you see yourself having to chose between the two projects? Or is it just coordinating schedules?
It's more making schedule line up for everybody. I do run into situations where I have offers for both bands on the same day and I have to chose. There's some prioritizing for sure, and I did before so you just don't stop working. We finished the Wolf Parade record three or four weeks ago, it's sequenced and mixed, and now I'm back in Operators world making demos and working the live setup. It feels like I get no time off but it gives me a sense of purpose.
Do you find this juggling act puts stress on any of your projects?
It really forces you not to be flakey or fall into artistic dips where you wait for inspiration. You have to be thinking six to eight months in advance. I know between now and when the next Wolf Parade record comes out we need to have gotten the structure for the next Operators record done by early summer.
With all your projects between Operators, Wolf Parade and even your time in divine fits and handsome furs, do you feel like you're constantly looking for a new outlet for your creativity?
I'm really always looking for new outlets for what I want to express or if I have something I want to express. Arlen from Wolf Parade and I over the winters started a non-vocal political dance techno project, no recordings but we're going to put out a mixtape since we've done two live shows and the band's called Frankfurt Boys. We were jamming in Berlin after tour, but we couldn't use live drums and came up with a completely different sound and thought it was cool.
How do you manage with the extreme distance between each member geographically?
I'm the only one who lives in Montreal now, Devojka lives in California and Sam lives in Columbus, Ohio. I'm a nomad so I can go to whoever has the space and wherever the tour needs to be. I settled back in Canada about a year and a half ago. I started a studio with Basia Bulat and Tim from Arcade Fire, so we have this clubhouse/recording studio in Montreal. A lot of times members will come up and rehearse or we'll rehearse at Sam's in Ohio. The record makes it a lot easier. If we were starting out it would be different and we'd really need to be in the same place since I had been in California when we started.