It’s been a big couple of months for Canadian music: Metric landed the Twilight Saga: Eclipse theme song; Broken Social Scene blew back onto the scene with nearly all of its original members; Stars and Arcade Fire returned with new albums as well (the latter thrilling Toronto fans with two packed secret shows this past weekend); and The New Pornographers dropped their fifth studio offering, Together, with Neko Case back on the mic.
We recently caught up with New Pornos leader A.C. Newman and his bandmate/niece Kathryn Calder to discuss Canada’s return to the musical spotlight and their important part in that…
FLARE: Brooklyn has been the center of music for a while now, are you trying to bring it back to Canada?
A.C. Newman: Considering I’ve lived in Brooklyn for the last three years, I don’t think I’m reclaiming anything for Canada!
FLARE: Do you consider yourself more of a New Yorker now?
A.C.: No, actually I live in Woodstock, New York now. I always think it’s obnoxious to move to New York and start claiming you’re from New York. For the last few years when people ask me where I live I say, “Well I live in New York, but I’m from Vancouver.”
FLARE: You guys did a lot of recording in Woodstock, right?
A.C.: Yeah, we did a bunch in Vancouver and we did some in Brooklyn. I just bought this house that had a guest cottage, so I said, “It’s summer why don’t we just set up studio in my guest cottage and we can all hang out in the woods and it’ll be nice and idyllic.”
FLARE: And, in the end, did that seclusion help or hinder the process?
A.C.: I think it helped. It’s nice to have a pleasant working environment to think.
Kathryn Calder: Yeah, it is. Particularly if you don’t have all those other distractions like, you only have so many options for dinner, and you’re not around all your family and friends, so you don’t take off for six hours to go do something else.
FLARE: Do you think there’s a different feel between the songs that were recorded out East as opposed to those that were recorded out West?
A.C.: I can’t say if there’s ever been a difference between what I’ve written in Vancouver or in Brooklyn or in Woodstock because, at the heart of it, writing is solitary. I think the best thing about being in Woodstock was that I finally had a place I could go and play my guitar as loud as I wanted, and sing as loud as I wanted—I could even walk through the woods and sing, and that was a cool thing because most people haven’t got a place to make noise.
FLARE: When you set out to record a new album, do you see it as building on the last, or do you want to completely rid yourself of the last one and start into new territories?
A.C.: It’s all kind of a progression. It started with Mass Romantic and then Electric Version was very much like Mass Romantic, with a few weirder elements thrown in. Then Twin Cinema was our first venture into strange territory where all of a sudden there were a few ballads, and then with Challengers all bets were off and we made a record that a lot of people thought was just strangely mellow. So after Challengers I thought, “We’ve gotten as mellow as we’re gonna get.” I mean, if we had followed in that progression this record would of sounded like M.Ward or something. So I thought, “Let’s go back to doing something a little more rock”, which is what we did.
FLARE: And does everyone in the band always agree on an album’s direction?
A.C.: I think we’re naturally a rock band. A lot of the mellower or weirder elements have been conscious efforts, because when we get together as a band and play I think we naturally sound more like this album. I remember on Challengers some songs we tried doing as louder songs but they didn’t sound right to me until everything was stripped away and then I thought, “Yes this is how the song should sound.” I don’t care if people expect us to be a louder, upbeat band, [I do whatever] the song needs.
FLARE: And does the final decision of what a song needs always fall to you?
A.C.: I like to listen to everybody, but, I’m kind of the person in charge…maybe a dictator sometimes, but if I was working on a song and everybody said, “This isn’t working at all,” I’d say, “Okay”.
K: Dictator…creative dictator?
A.C.: Benevolent dictator, I meant benevolent dictator.