Photo by Jenny Jimenez
On April 7, power-pop phenoms the New Pornographers return with their seventh full-length, Whiteout Conditions, on Concord and their own Collected Works imprint. We've brought you a typically ebullient new song from that record, "This Is the World of Theatre," and we also got the chance to have a chat with New Pornos bandleader Carl Newman about the new record. Read on for our conversation while you rock out:
Noisey: This record sounds very electric—like an extension of the sound you were working within on Brill Bruisers .
Carl Newman: Yeah, we wanted that. From the beginning, the catchphrase in our heads was
"bubblegum krautrock." Our songs have always had a sort of bounce, but I wanted this record to have krautrock's drive. I couldn't think of another band that made that sound, but with lots of
melodies and harmonies. This is a fun direction.
There seems to be some political subtext in some of these songs, too.
"High Ticket Attractions" is completely about Trump panic. I know people have a hard time following my lyrics, but the whole idea of that song is, "Holy shit, what if this happens?" It seems like we were constantly reassuring ourselves with "It's not going to happen"—but what if it does?
There's a lot of that in "Avalanche Alley" too—the idea that we're currently traveling down a dangerous road.
Mass Romantic 's "The Fake Headlines" sounds a lot more relevant these days as well.
Also, "Centre For Holy Wars." That record came out before 9/11, but it sounds like I was writing about 9/11—so if I wasn't writing about 9/11, what the hell was I writing about?
In the past, we'd dabble in the iconography of revolution. Now, it seems flippant to do that. What western white prejudice we had, to sing stuff like that—because we thought it was entertaining. Now we have to deal with reality, even though we're still protected with our elevated status as white people in the western world. I should be careful about the things I say because people burning down the streets is not funny in 2017. I guess it never was.
Destroyer's Dan Bejar isn't on this record. Is he taking a back seat with the New Pornographers for the foreseeable future?
It's always been like that. Everything we were working on for this record was 160 BPM, and he's been working on a Destroyer record that's going to be very mellow. He was like, "All these songs I'm writing are quiet songs. If you know what you want to do on this record, maybe I'll sit this one out."
A month after Mass Romantic came out, Dan moved to Spain and we thought, "Oh, he's left the band." The idea of Dan not being in the band goes back 16 years. He never toured with us until 2005. It's just the way our band's always been—the door is always open. The last time we were in Vancouver, I asked, "Do you want to play this New Year's show with us?" He said, "Eh, no." Sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't.
It's crazy that the band's been around for almost 20 years now.
From the beginning, we didn't have a clue what we were doing. We were listening to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister and thinking, "We suck." When we made Mass Romantic, all I could think about was finishing it. I couldn't see past that. Our record label asked afterwards, "Are you going to make another record?" I said, "I honestly don't know."
Supply and demand kept us going. Mass Romantic became popular, so I thought, "If people want to see us, I guess we should go tour. If people want another record, I guess we should make one." Now we're past that and we don't give a shit. We're still going to give it to you, and luckily, people still want more.
This is the first record you've released that isn't on Matador.
Yeah, that was a weird move for us. Concord said to us, "What if we give you your own imprint?" Initially I said no—I wanted to be on the cool-kid indie labels—but the more I talked to them, the more it seemed very smart. We have a lot more control over what we do, and we have a bigger team working for us. It's been great so far.
Do you think you'll use the imprint to release records from other artists, too?
I can barely keep it together with The New Pornographers. I don't see myself as an A&R guy. If we did, it would be stuff connected with us.
Do you still work on solo material apart from the New Pornographers, too?
[2012's Shut Down the Streets] sold so little. I thought, "Oh shit, I have a family to support—I guess I should stop doing this, concentrate on my popular band, and stop putting out solo records that aren't popular." Which isn't to say I don't want to do something else. Maybe one day. I just don't see any non-New Pornographers songs taking the form of a solo album.
I really felt like I needed to make that record. My son was about to be born, and my mom had died not too long before—so there was a lot of loss mixed with anticipation and happiness. I felt like I had to try and adjust, or else I'd just be full of shit. But in terms of personal songs, "Whiteout Conditions" is probably the most personal song I've ever written. It's written in the point of view of a depressive episode. I just took what I was feeling that night and put it on paper. I've never really done that before.
Challengers initially received a mixed critical reception—but I think there's been a mass de-emphasis on the importance of criticism pertaining to music. Criticism isn't as prevalent anymore, and it doesn't affect what people listen to as much. Have you tuned what's left of it out yourself?
I've tried to, especially with this record. What purpose does it serve? I've found a place of peace—I've done what I've done and it's there. Whether you hate it or love it, it doesn't change
what I've done. It might change the amount of money I make, so we'd like to make more money from it—but I've gotten over any hurt feelings. I don't care whether some blogger in Indiana doesn't like us. I've gotten over that.