Oct. 31, 2012 - Issue #889-Human Trafficking Problem
Exile on Baker Street
AC Newman gets personal on Shut Down the Streets
The imagery wrapping AC Newman's third solo album, Shut Down The Streets, finds the man standing, drink in hand, in a lush forest. His posture's relaxed as if to suggest he was standing in his living room.
Turns out, that's basically exactly where he is: the photos of him in the dense green canopy (and subsequent shots of a baby blue house) were taken at his property in upstate New York. It looks both wild and tranquil and in that way matches the music on the Streets: like with his dayband The New Pornographers, Newman's solo work maps out a lush sequence of beautiful pop songs. But unlike with that band's penchant for particularly uppity anthems, here it all seems more relaxed—in a good way. It turns out showing a little restraint in power-pop isn't a bad thing at all. On the phone from Philadelphia, Newman notes that it takes some musical cues from "Baker Street," of all things: Gerry Rafferty's iconic ballad gently helped direct the album's course.
"When you're making a record you're always a little unsure," He says. "I think a lot of people just go in, and they're not sure exactly what they're going to do. So sometimes it's good to have a few guiding principles. It's not uncommon at all: sometimes a band has an album sitting on the board while they're working—they'll have a T Rex album on the board. It doesn't mean they're trying to sound like T Rex, they're like, 'Let's be inspired. Let's be inspired by this record that we love.'
"It wasn't like I followed it that closely. But I remember listening to 'Baker Street' and thinking, 'Hmm, this is cool. I should use this as a template.,'" he continues. "I thought, If I don't know where to go, I should just use 'Baker Street' as the template."
That lent the instrumentation a bit of a '70s pop sheen, a balance between (Neko Case sings some backups here, too). Lyrically, Shut Down The Streets takes Newman into unusual territory: in the past, both with New Pornos or his previous solo output, the meaning of his songs could be a little obscure, but the Streets finds Newman addressing head-on some real world changes in his life: the birth of his son and the passing of his mother. Reconciling those big life shifts wasn't something he could avoid in his songwriting, though he notes the difference in subject matter does feel different to sing about.
"It definitely does. But it's nice to have that direction," Newman says. "It's nice to know that like, well, this is what I'm going to write about because this is what's really mattering to me right now. It's difficult in that you want to be very respectful to your topic. And I think that could affect the music too. You're not going to write a punk song about your mother. You're going to write a song where you're trying to be very respectful to the way you feel about her. And so I think there's a lot of that on this record. I think the kind of record I made was how I felt.
"It's just what came out," he continues. "I really didn't have to look for any themes, because it was just so self-evident. Most of the time, making music, when you're living normal life, yeah, I think you're looking for themes. If nothing really crazy, if nothing's really happening in your life that jumps out, yeah, you're looking for themes. And on this record, it absolutely wasn't. I felt like I would be full of shit if I didn't write about these things that were happening. Because they're all encompassing. At least for awhile, they were all encompassing.
"In that respect, I felt like it was something I just had to get out of my system. I just had to do it, had to get this record out of me so I could get back to my regular life. I had to address the big things."
Mon, Nov 5, 2012 (8 pm)
With the Mynabirds
Starlite Room, $18
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