Interview: The New Pornographers Get Born Again
From across a boardroom table at the Last Gang Records headquarters in Toronto, Riffyou.com sat across from the beaming vibes being distributed by A.C. Newman and Kathryn Calder of The New Pornographers.
At this time, they’re still a couple of weeks away from the release of their sixth studio album, Brill Bruisers (out August 26 in Canada), but you can’t help but feel that they’re already as pleased about how it turned out as you are.
If people ripped The New Pornographers – Newman, Calder, John Collins, Blaine Thurier, Dan Bejar, Kurt Dahle, Neko Case, and Todd Fancey – for colouring too far outside the lines on Challengers (2007) and Together (2010), they’ll bow down to them once again for perfectly edging the lines with a beautifully fluorescent crayon…sort of like they did on Twin Cinema (2005).
“The songs on Together and Challengers, as well as stuff on my last solo record (Shutdown the Streets), felt more personal and downbeat. I just wanted to make what we think is a rock n’ roll record,” relays a green-shirted and relaxed Newman when speaking with Riffyou.com.
Explaining his shift from the downbeat to the upbeat behaviour on Brill Bruisers, Newman says that a lot of it had to do with getting beyond issues in his life (including the passing of his mother) that would’ve made him feel “full of shit” had he just ignored them entirely. Shutdown the Streets helped him open the gates.
Freer and clearer now, Newman has publicly described this album as one of celebration.
“For the first time, it felt like there was a very clear vibe,” says Newman about the direction of Brill Bruisers. “From Slow Wonder – my first solo album – on, there are a lot of songs that could’ve been switched back and forth…solo songs that could’ve been New Pornographers songs, and New Pornographers songs that could’ve been solo songs. With this one, I wanted it to be very clear that there is Shutdown the Streets, and there is Brill Bruisers.”
It’s at this point where we ask Newman if he subscribes to the theory that it’s generally easier to write the darker material, than the celebratory type. When you’re dark as a musician, you can build mystique and attract listeners that want your guts upon their plate. When you get happy, they think you got sober, boring, and attracted to yoga. Or worse, they think you want to become a pop star.
“I think people who love writing about really downbeat things do so because they’re so happy that it entertains them to write like that,” responds Newman. “Me, I find making depressed [music] so crippling that I can’t work. I’m happy not to be depressed, just so that I could be clear-minded enough to function and make music.
He continues: “Now, if you have the luxury of being depressed and capable of spewing out great work [at the same time], well, I’m happy for you. I’m happy that you’re so well-adjusted.”
One major positive in the life of Newman is his young son Stellan Johan, who arrived upon this earth in early 2012.
While Newman explains that Brill Bruisers is not a heartfelt tribute to his son, he says that knowing that he could go into his home studio, mess around with music, and know that his wife and child are nearby, brings up his level of happiness.
“When my son was born – and we were anticipating that – there was a feeling that nothing but bad things were happening, so there were worries that something bad was going to happen to him…we were worried that there’d be problems with his delivery,” confides Newman. “It was all of those things you worry about when you have a baby. To get to the other side and be like, ‘okay, he’s here and life seems good, [is great.]’ There are still things that make you sad, but he’s here.”
Adds Calder when asked if she’s seen a change in Newman since fatherhood happened to him: “I’ve seen him at all different points along the way…and you’re never one thing forever, or for a long period of time. Even when people are depressed, sometimes they’re not – sometimes there are those moments when everything is okay. Emotions come and go. I feel like I’ve known him for too long to compare just two moments [of his life.]”
When asked the same question, Newman views it from a different angle: “I totally understand [how fatherhood changes you.] You can see that academically, like ‘yeah, how could that not change you?’ When it happens, there’s a real gut-feeling.”
Track nine “Wilde Eyes,” explains Newman, is the Brill Bruisers track that connects to his son. He recites the lyric: “If I see no hope for me / I still see a hope for you.”
That hope right now appears to be on the side of Newman and the band right now as well. He speaks with a wide grin when discussing how this album feels like a return for how the band likes to do business. He even goes as far as to declare that Brill Bruisers may very well be the greatest musical accomplishment achieved by The New Pornographers.
“I think it’s my favourite thing we’ve done. I like how focused it is. It is the only record that I can listen to from beginning to end and go, ‘yes, that’s the way it should sound,’” concludes Newman. “All of our other records have felt very flawed to me. Like, there’s always one or two songs that bug me for some reason. I’d want to knock them off the record, and someone would say, ‘no, we can’t,’ so I’d say, ‘okay, let’s just put it at the end so that I don’t have to listen to it.’ It’s nice to feel like, yes, this is what we wanted to do, and we did it.”
(Click here to win tickets to see The New Pornographers at Riot Fest in Toronto!)
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