A.C. Newman is in a good place. The New Pornographers frontman is in the midst of a heavy day of scheduled phone interviews to talk about the Canadian indie rock band’s sixth album Brill Bruisers, but he sounds completely at ease. Reaching him at his home in Woodstock, New York, where he’s lived with his wife and their child since the group’s 2007 album Challengers, Newman’s quick to describe the process of making the record being the least stressful.
“It just felt like a good time for working,” says the musician, his sentences occasionally interrupted by his son splashing water from a bathtub in the background. “I built a little studio on my property about six months before we started working on it. When you have your own studio, you’re not worried about wasting time and money, you just work freely and there’s no stress of being away from your family.”
While the band’s last album Together was shaped partially by loss—keyboardist Kathryn Calder’s mother passed away in 2010 and Newman’s mother a year earlier—much like its neon cover artwork, Brill Bruisers reflects a fitter, happier New Pornos. Recorded in upstate New York and Vancouver, where the rest of the members (save Neko Case) still reside, the “celebration record” features alliterative, four-on-the-floor power-pop (“Brill Bruisers”, “Dancehall Domine”) and tongue-in-cheek odes to vices (“Champions Of Red Wine”, “Another Drug Deal Of The Heart”), and ruminations on the band’s 15 year career (“Fantasy Fools”, “Backstairs”). Then there’s lead single “War On The East Coast”, which Newman refers to as a dance song influenced by 80s British new wave band Sigue Sigue Sputnik, with a music video that sees the frontman and songwriting partner Dan Bejar walk through the streets of downtown Vancouver while two gangs battle it out.
“As soon as you realize “holy shit, we can do this for a few years”, you start worrying about other things, you can’t spend too much time jumping up and down for joy that you’re a working musician,” says Newman of the group’s longevity. “I think most bands aren’t supposed to get older, you’re supposed to take Pete Townsend at his word and die before you get old.”
Perhaps the secret to their success lies in knowing when to take breaks. The group has become a springboard for several members’ solo careers, from Neko Case’s roots rock (her 2013 album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You received a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album) to Bejar’s half-dozen projects (he followed up Destroyer’s excellent 2011 album Kaputt with a five song EP entirely sung in Spanish). Newman released his third solo album in 2012, but he admits there’s a clear separation between the songs he writes for himself and the New Pornos’ recent material.
“I wanted Shut Down The Streets to be a very subdued, personal record, and I wanted Brill Bruisers to be a little more overblown,” he says. “Although there are personal elements on it, I didn’t want it to be any sort of confessional record.”
While the band’s not afraid to joke around in interviews and onstage—who can forget the Tom Scharpling-directed music video for “Moves”? (Scharpling recently described Brill Bruisers on Twitter as “Picture A.C. Newman reenacting the Drive soundtrack on an ABBA jag”)—Newman insists he doesn’t see a huge amount of humour in their music.
“Musically I think we’re upbeat, but lyrically I think we’re often very downbeat,” he says, citing English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe as an example of an artist whose lyrics are witty without being jokey. It’s this duality that fans of The New Pornographers have come to expect from the band and Newman says they aren’t calling it quits any time soon.“We’re too old to break up and reunite,” says the 46-year-old musician with a laugh. “We’re in it for the long haul now.”
Max Mertens is still searching for a karaoke place with “Sing Me Spanish Techno” - @Max_Mertens