Rock Candy Interview: The New Pornographers’s Carl “A.C.” Newman

The New Pornographers are, from left, Neko Case, Blaine Thurier, Todd Fancey, Kathryn Calder, Carl Newman, Kurt Dahle and John Collins.

By Kevin Coffey
© 2011 Omaha World-Herald

The New Pornographers are finally coming to Omaha. The Canadian band, who has never performed here, was formed in Vancouver in 1997 have produced four albums and received tons of acclaim.

But no stops here. That is, never before until next Thursday, April 21, when they’ll hit the stage at The Waiting Room Lounge. (I feel like it’s a small venue for them, but that’s me.)

All that critical acclaim continues with their most recent release, “Together,” is a mix of power pop and rock that employs the many instrumental and vocal talents of the band’s many members.

It’s talented group to choose from, including Carl Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case,  Blaine Thurier, John Collins, Todd Fancey, Kurt Dahle and Kathry Calder.

All of them are associated with other acts and some members, such as Case and Bejar, have achieved praise as solo artists or leaders of their own bands.

(Watch the new, hilarious video for the band’s single, “Moves” – and read Newman’s comments on it – at the bottom of this interview.)

Newman — known as A.C. Newman on his acclaimed solo albums — is known as the head of the band.

Last week, I called Newman at his home in Woodstock, New York, to talk.

Omaha World-Herald: A lot of people call The New Pornographers a pop band, but you guys really range all over the place. Are you comfortable with the pop label?

Carl Newman: People will call you what they want to call you. I think the thing about the Pornographers is that our songs have run through a lot of different styles. You could make a mix tape with 12 songs by us and go, ‘Yep, they are definitely power pop.’ Then you could make another one with the weirdest 12 songs we’ve done and people would go, ‘I don’t know what the hell is wrong with those guys.’

OWH: You guys have quite the lineup of people in the band. Is it hard to make music with so many talented people?

CN: People have things to add but because everybody has their seperate outlets, nobody’s concentrating on only this band. If this was everybody’s sole music outlet, people would be arguing more. Or saying “I need my voice to be heard.”

We do argue, but it’s all very good hearted. The running gag during the mixing was Kathryn. If ever anybody said, ‘I think we need to turn down the keyboards,’ Kathryn would say ‘I quit.’

We all laughed. If you changed anything on anybody’s parts, they’d said, ‘I quit.’

OWH: It seems like you guys have everything under control.

CN: I think we have it pretty good that way. As much as we argue about things, like any band that’s been around, and there are tensions that go in waves. But things are pretty smooth with us.

I also think there’s a general sense that this is my band that I started. Not that I rule anything like a dictator, but they’ll say, ‘He started the band and he wrote this song, so if we’re having a huge fight about this, it’s his band and we’ll go his way.’

OWH: Is everyone going to be on this tour?

CN: Dan (Bejar) won’t be. He’s on tour with Destroyer. But everyone else will be.

OWH: With everyone’s different projects, I think it’s pretty cool that everyone keeps coming back to The New Pornographers.

CN: I’m always shocked. Neko can’t always play with us. And I’m always shocked by Neko’s intersest in the band. If Neko was to say, ‘I can’t do this any more,’ I would understand.

I think, for her, it’s a nice change of pace in that we’re a rock band, and we’re slightly more fun rock band. What she’s playing as Neko Case is more downbeat, not less powerful in any way, but more downbeat.
And when she’s with us, she doesn’t have to be in charge of anything. She can just be a band member.

OWH: You’ve had some solo songs and some Pornographers songs in commercials and such. How does that usually come about?

CN: “Sweet Talk” is in a Amazon commerical for the Kindle.

The part that is in half the commercial is this quiet breakdown part. That was completely all arranged the day we mixed it. There was a part in the song where I was thinking, ‘This wasn’t working. What could we do here?’ There was a little ‘50s reverb amp that I played this little guitar line through. We found it and I thought, ‘This works.’

It was this last minute thing that we did on the last day of mixing — actually the second to last day of mixing that we did. And then that’s the part that ends up being in this huge commerical. It’s the things that come in the last minute are the things that stick with people.

OWH: Does that kind of thing happen a lot?

CN: That was definitely one that changed in the mixing, I remember. That one changed so much in the mixing that I listen to my little demo I made of it and find myself wanting to release that as well. It’s such a different mix and a different feel.

OWH: Maybe you should put all those together for a release.

CN: Yeah, for the super completists.

OWH: Anyway, do those commercials and stuff make a good source of income?

CN: It’s very important to me. As the main songwriter in the band, it’s been a good income for me.
It seems like things are moving in the other direction. People would get a commercial and say, ‘This is great. This will help us sell more records.’ Now you’re hoping you’ll sell more records to get a commerical. You’ll make so much more money doing that.

OWH: It doesn’t seem to be considered ‘selling out’ any more either.

CN: So far I haven’t had any offers I’ve had a moral problem with.

I haven’t been offered a Walmart commerical. It would be difficult because I don’t like Walmart like a lot of other people.

Then again, if Walmart came to me and said we’ll give you $100,000 if you let us use this song, I would be really torn.

But Amazon? An NBC sticom? University of Phoenix? That’s easy.

Nowadays, if you accuse someone of selling out, you’d be accusing yourself of selling out, too.

OWH: You guys are releasing a 7” vinyl single of “Moves” and “Drug Deal Of The Heart.” Was “Drug Deal” from the “Together” sessions?

CN: That one almost made the record. I really liked it, and it’s still one of my favorirte songs from that time. It’s got a very odd vibe to it. I think other people when they listen to the Pornographers, they like the most upbeat stuff. But if they listen to the weird groove it has and listen to the syncopation and the weird parts, they’ll like it.

OWH: “Together” came out last year and your last solo record was out in 2009. Have you been working on anything else?

CN: Right now, I’m writing songs, but I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. I’m trying not to think of it in terms of ‘Who is this for?’ We’ll see what comes up.

I’m also trying to change things up a  little bnit. It’s too easy to stay in one place and do what I do. After years of doing something, you realize you have a style. there’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to ask yourself, ‘How do it get out of this?’

Right now, I’m just trying to figure out all the things I can do to write interesting new songs.


OWH: So what’s the difference between an A.C. Newman record and a New Pornographers record?

CN: It’s just the people I’m making the record with, basically. I take my songs in there and I’m trying to perform songs the best I can.

OWH: When you were on tour last year, you took an Omaha guy, Dan Brennan, along to run sound. What did you think of him?

CN: He’s a great guy. He only did that one leg with us, but he was great. I’d love to work with him again, of course.


OWH: Well, a lot of people are looking forward to the show in Omaha.

CN: I am, too. It’s our first time in Omaha, so that’s always exciting.


One of the best videos I’ve seen lately is for The New Pornographers’ “Moves.”

Directed by Tom Scharpling, the video features tons of celebrity cameos and is titled “Moves: The Rise and Rise of The New Pornographers.”

It’s like a fake behind the music and poses The NPs as if they’re this top-of-the-world band doing piles of coke and selling millions.

“We hate being in our videos and we knew we weren’t going to be around,” Newman said. “So we said, ‘How do we do this without being in the video?’”

Scharpling came up with the idea of having various actor and musician friends appear as the band members and others.

For example, Horatio Sanz plays John Collins, Julie Klausner is Neko Case and Jon Wurster of Superchunk plays Newman.

Newman’s thoughts?

“Jon doesn’t capture my beauty,” he said laughing.

Enjoy the video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYyu5vbwvbA]

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments

This entry was posted in interview. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.