The New Pornographers' Organized Chaos
Given their massive size and talent as a band, it shouldn't be surprising that The New Pornographers have such a sonic force to their new album. With almost every member of the band fronting their own side-projects and solo work, making records is as massive an undertaking as actually writing any of their records these days. On Whiteout Conditions however, they're tighter than ever, bringing electronic fury even without the help of member Dan Bejar. We caught up with lead songwriter Carl Newman ahead of their Oct 12 show at The Bronson Centre to talk their new direction, managing so many members and how they've managed to evolve so strongly over the years.
Ottawa Life: With your members more than ever all doing their own things between records, how do you manage to lock together for your records so tightly, and has it become harder over the years?
Carl Newman: It's always been hard. The circumstance have just changed slightly. It was hard to get everybody to practice when we were all in Vancouver, it's hard to practice when we're across North America. It's just always been the way the band works, I'm sort of used to it, because everybody doesn't have to be around. We've never been the band where we're always together in the same room. At some point we are, but there's arranging and messing around in the studio. For this record it was just me in the studio myself beforehand. It's a combination of things that's always been there, people have gotten more popular and their lives have gone in different directions.
Does leading the writing yourself rather than a band free-for-all help take away a lot of the potential creative nightmares?
That's one of the things about this band, no one has all their eggs in this basket. Nobody is saying "The New Pornographers is the only way I can have my creative voice be heard." Everyone have their own avenues. A lot of people know, this is more my thing, I'm essentially the leader of this project and no one is jockeying for that position. It's pretty mellow these days.
The sound and feeling of this record is noticeably way more focused than even Brill Bruisers, so was there a conscious effort to make this whole record in singular headspace?
Definitely. It was new for us. Brill Bruisers was the first record where we thought "Let's try and be a little more focused." On other records we just did whatever the hell we wanted. It wasn't even an effort to be focused on the first record, it was just us being a garage band. On the second record I was embracing the idea of the record being sprawling and a lot more varied. After years of that I wanted a much more focused record though.
You've spoken to Dan writing separate from you on the past records so was having him taking a break on this record part of what kept the sound so focused?
I think that helps. There have been times where I've been writing a record and I'd get demos from Dan and think "How will I weave this into a record?" I openly didn't worry about it that much though. On Brill Bruisers I remember talking to Dan about making a certain kind of record, Dan purposefully tried to write a certain kind of song for it. I told him where I was going. I thought if Dan's not there I'll use it as an opportunity to make a certain kind of record.
Did your switch from Kurt to Joe on drums change up the thrust of the record, especially considering there were drum loops as well this time around?
The big thing was that Kurt was more proprietary about drums. His thought was "I'm in charge of drums" so things were hard to slip through with him. This time it was fun to mess around with drum machines, and mix them with live drums, just experiment with that sort of stuff. Trying to give the album a different vibe than it would have had. Again it was thinking, with Kurt not on the record, let's use this as an opportunity to do something different with the rhythms section. Joe brings his own style in, but there's also something about having a member who's just excited to be there. You get jaded after 15 years in a band so it's nice to have some new blood to remind us "Oh yeah, it's exciting what we do?"
Considering all the members and sounds over the years, what do you think is the key core to the New Pornographers whether it be a sound or concept?
It's like in any band. It's a combination of people, but I think we always just want to make something interesting. I wonder about that because sometimes I think we should throw away everything we've done and do something completely new. But then I wonder, "Are we still the New Pornographers then?" The fact is yeah, probably we are. If we made a record and wanted it to sound like Chvrches or Sylvan Esso, you could listen to that sound and go "Well it's still them." The hope is that there's something innate that will always be there.
You guys have had a massive streak of licensing for TV and ads for a Canadian indie band, showing up on shows like Gilmore Girls among others every year or so. Why do you think your music has gotten picked up so much in other entertainment?
A lot of that was from way back. I don't think where I was based had any effect on it. It just giveth and taketh away. Sometimes people call and say "I wanna use this." Sometimes four big licenses will show up over a few months and then nothing for years. Labels always want you to do things like playing acoustically at an ad agency. That doesn't really help. It's a crapshoot, so much is a bingo game. There's so many lousy bands that are huge and great bands that are working day jobs.
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