Canadian icons continue their standard of excellence after 17 years together
Time is getting to Carl “A.C.” Newman. He’s fronted the power-pop supergroup The New Pornographers (an eight-piece band that features Neko Case, Destroyer, and John Collins) for 17 years now and never dreamed it would take him this far.
“It seems insane to me. That’s the thing with time. So much has happened in that period. I always think, ‘God, has it been 17 years? And then I’m like, ‘Yeah, 17 years of life has happened,’” Newman says over the phone in his Upstate New York home. “I didn’t think past making the first album, Mass Romantic. Before the first record came out, Mint Records asked if there would be a second record and my honest answer was ‘I don’t know.’”
There were many records after Mass Romantic with the latest, Whiteout Conditions, releasing this past April.
Listening to the album reveals that Newman has not lost his pop songwriting edge. In fact, Whiteout Conditions may very well be The New Pornographers’ most cohesive work yet with almost every song playing at 160 bpm. It’s an aspect that was found on 2014’s Brill Bruisers and then expanded upon with the latest.
“That’s the one-cent version definitely. I basically took my favourite songs from Brill Bruisers and thought, ‘Let’s do more than that,” Newman says.
Whiteout Conditions is absolutely a pop record, but in parts, it has elements of the late ‘60s krautrock genre. Just after the record’s release date, Newman called the new sound “bubblegum krautrock.”
“This record was influenced by a vague memory of krautrock. We took a few elements from it, but we’re obviously still a pop band. It’s just our fate,” Newman says.
It’s a new, weird sound for The New Pornographers, something Newman has strived to do with every record since Mass Romantic.
“I’m always trying to write a new kind of song or at least something that’s new to me,” Newman says. “I know that I’m always going to write a certain kind of song and that gives me the freedom to explore.”
Those certain kinds of songs are always without fail, catchy little ear worms that have a way of burrowing into your mind. Whiteout Conditions is full of them. The chorus always grabs you and you can’t help but sing along or at least hum the melody.
“Maybe my mind has a formula and I wish I knew what it was. It would be so much easier if my mind had a computer program to just make our records,” Newman says.
The lyrics found on Whiteout Conditions encompass anxiety, depression, and fear, themes that have followed The New Pornographers’ sound since day one.
“I feel like a lot of my songs have that element of trying to escape from the self,” Newman says. Trying to escape the ruminations and the part of yourself that tells you ‘You suck.’ Usually, the music is quite upbeat, but the lyrics can come from a dark place.”
Whiteout Conditions is the first record not to feature singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, who has been a core songwriter for The New Pornographers since the first album. During the writing process, Bejar was busy with his own project, Destroyer.
“I’m actually amazed that this is the first time it happened. For 12 years, I’ve been wondering what’s the record and band going to be like when we lose Neko or we lose Dan,” Newman says. “One month after Mass Romantic, Dan came over and said ‘Hey I’m moving to Spain.’ I was like ‘Well shit. I guess Dan isn’t in the band anymore,’ but he always came back.”
Due to many members having other prospering projects, Newman became aware early on that The New Pornographers would not always have a full lineup on every single record.
“In order for us to be a band, we have to have a slightly malleable lineup,” Newman says. “We couldn’t not play because a specific group of people weren’t there. It’s just life in The New Pornographers.”
Wed., Oct. 4 (8 pm)
The New Pornographers w/ Born Ruffians