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New Pornographers pic -- (l to r) Carl Newman and John Collins.  Photo by Marc Hirsh. Interview by Marc Hirsh

Conducted January 29, 2002

Despite the obvious benefits that the Band, Neil Young, Daniel Lanois and others have heaped upon the world, few word pairs evince an instant smirk like the duoetym "Canadian rock." Well, it's the New Pornographers' turn at the plate, and guess what? You're gonna blink first. Armed with a name sure to result in knee-jerk hysteria within some camps and a debut album, Mass Romantic (Mint), that was the must-have accessory for any self-respecting 2001 year-end best-of list, the Vancouver band are the ones to beat right now, chucking out more hooks over the course of three and a half minutes than many hitmakers can muster all their lives and fashioning them into songs so sprung as to make "power pop" an ineffectually wimpy name for what they do. Add to that a couple of turns by Neko Case, a fine country singer who turns out to be a superlative pop singer, and you've got yourself a humdinger. Space City Rock got guitarist and singer Carl Newman to open up and talk about big-ass movie deals, robotic Dutch singers and how, even though some journos might want bandmate Dan Bejar to kick his ass, he's not gonna.

SCR: I guess I'll start out with a hypothetical question. If an incredibly lazy interviewer were to ask you how to describe your music, what would you say?
Carl: I don't know. I think in the past I've just kind of called it new wave bubblegum glam indie rock. Something like that. A combination of those four things.

Is that what you had originally set out to accomplish?
No, I think those elements just kind of crept in. I think those are eras that we really liked. I like the feel, the beat, the rhythm, the attitude that British glam rock had in the early '70s. I don't think we really have that, but I think we looked at that as something to reach for.

Is it something along the lines of, that's what you shoot for and the way it comes out is what you sound like?
Yes. I think you always have to count on the fact that no matter what you do, you're going to mutate it in some way that's gonna make it unrecognizable. Like, even if we tried to sound like early Roxy Music, I'm sure we couldn't do it. We'd still end up sounding like ourselves. I think that has something to do with a certain degree of ineptitude. In some ways, it's not too good to be able to pull off what you're shooting for. I think the people that can do that often end up sounding really derivative.

How did the group get together?
It was just assembled, basically. I had an idea of wanting to do something and it was just assembled. At the beginning, I think it was just me and [multi-instrumentalist] Dan [Bejar] and [keyboardist] Blaine [Thurier]. And then we tried to piece together a good band. We went, "Okay, but we need a good drummer. Who's gonna be our drummer?," and that was the tough part.


The New Pornographers -- http://www.thenewpornographers.com/

Mint Records -- http://www.mintrecs.com/

Neko Case -- http://www.nekocase.com/

The Evaporators -- http://www.theevaporators.com/

New Pornographers pic -- (l to r) Carl Newman, John Collins, & Neko Case.  Photo by Marc Hirsh. Did you all know each other fairly well before you guys came together?
Yeah, we were basically all friends. The first drummer was a guy named Fisher Rose, and I think Dan knew him. He was recruited because we thought he was a really great drummer. We'd watched him play and we said, "Yes, he's the guy who should be our drummer." He was with us for about a year or two and then he basically quit playing music for a while. And then we got our new drummer Kurt [Dahle], who is equally great, if not better.

Where did he come from?
He was in a couple of bands called Limblifter and Age of Electric. Both of those were actually pretty popular mainstream bands in Canada. I think he has an Age of Electric gold record in his basement somewhere.

How does he compare the experience of being in this band with the experience of that one? Are you guys anywhere near the same thing?
Well, when you take into account that a gold record in Canada is for sales of 50,000, yeah, we're approaching. We're getting closer. It's completely different, but I think Kurt likes us a lot more, even though it's a more budget existence. Before, he would be on a tour bus and go on these tours where you were touring in style. But because you're touring in style, he didn't really make that much money. Now I think he likes the music. I think he's just happy to be playing in a band that he really likes. I think when he was playing in a band like that, he didn't like the music very much.

What kind of stuff did Age of Electric play?
They were kind of like mainstream hard rock. I don't know how to describe them. I think he had fun doing it, but I think it's something he'd kinda like to put behind him. It was just a band that he ended up in with his brother and they ended up becoming popular. For most of the time it was just a job for him, like just having a good job.

How did Neko get involved? This seems rather different from the country albums that she's known for.
Well, I just asked her to be in it, basically. I was just friends with her. We were all pretty much friends with her. And it's completely different because the country thing is her thing. She's there for all the recording of the Neko Case records. That's her baby. But for Mass Romantic, she showed up for a few days and, and we had her sing, and then she'd be on her way again. So for her, when the record came out, it was kind of a shock, 'cause she wasn't around for much of it. I think she felt happy to all of a sudden show up on this record that she really liked. How did she put it once? I think she was telling somebody in an interview that it was like she fell asleep and then woke up with her house remodeled or something like that.

Does that bleed into live performance? She's touring with you guys, so she's now just tagging along in her remodeled house the entire time?
Yes, I guess so. I think she likes the change. It's musically completely different and I think the audience is a lot different. I think she appreciates that, so it's a change of pace.

Has there been any backlash from disgruntled fans of her country stuff who think that she's sold out or is running away from her muse?
You know, I expected that, but there really hasn't been any at all. At least, none that I've seen printed anywhere. I was expecting a lot of weird things when the record came out. I expected the Pornographers to be pitted against Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, and I expected me and Dan to be pitted against each other. Like people going, "Oh, I hate his songs, but I love his songs." That kind of thing.

But that hasn't happened at all?
No, not really. There's been a little bit, 'cause Dan doesn't tour with us. He played on the record, and he played live with us locally before the record came out. And he's gonna play on this next record, but I think people in the indie rock press invented some kind of feud between us. People were saying, "Yeah, Dan's putting his money where his mouth is. He quit the Pornographers because they were getting popular." Which was kind of ridiculous.
So he's still involved.
Yeah, he actually moved about a month or two after our album came out. He went to Spain for about four months, and then he moved to Montreal. But he moved back a few weeks ago, and he's living in Vancouver, so he's gonna be recording with us, which should be fun.

So, then, is the lineup of the band permanent? What happens to your "touring Dan," as it were?
Who, Todd Fancey? Oh, he doesn't really take Dan's place. We kinda reshuffled things around. It's not like Todd came in and just does everything that Dan did. In a way, we lost something, but also Todd's a really great musician. So in a way we're a tighter band when we play live.

I've read that you always want to put more instruments on the songs. I think the quote was, "Let's see if I can fit a pump organ in here somewhere." Is that hard to pare down for your live shows?
The main things that can't really get into the live shows are a lot of the weird sonic stuff, like the squiggles. Some times they are there. I think, once again, there's something lost and something gained in playing live, because you have the force of that rock band when you play. I think the energy of that makes up for the fact that you lose some things. There are some things on our record that even if we could play them live, you probably wouldn't be able to hear them. Because it's such a sonic muck. Sometimes you have to be listening very closely to figure out what's going on on our songs.

Do you have preference as to playing live or recording?
I don't know. I used to say I liked recording more, but playing live is a lot more fun. It's like a paid vacation. You get to drink a lot and have fun. I like recording, although recording is maddening and can be like smashing your head against the wall sometimes. I guess maybe it's what we're shooting for. I think we try and carefully sculpt our records. We're not a band that just gets together in the practice space and goes, "Yeah, we've got this song nailed," and we go and record it. It's always a long, drawn out process.

How are the songs presented to the group? Are they arranged in your mind? How extensively are they reworked in the rehearsal process?
There are a few songs lately where I've had them arranged in my head beforehand. Sometimes, if a song's kind of mellower, I just start playing it with a click track and sometimes I bring it to the band and do it with the rhythm section. It changes. We really just fly by the seat of our pants a lot of the time. Sometimes an arrangement comes together really quickly. Sometimes we use computer technology to tear songs apart and reassemble them.

How effective is that?
It's worked really well on a few songs, actually. I like the freedom of doing that. It's kind of like being in university and writing a rough copy of your essay into the word processor and then mutating your rough copy into your final copy. You can demo songs and fuck around with them, and then eventually your demo turns into your finished song. I love experimenting a lot, so it's handy.

Are you the main songwriter of the group? Who writes?
Yeah, on Mass Romantic, I wrote eight of them and Dan wrote four of them. On the next one, I don't know what the ratio is gonna be. It'll probably be a little more me. I'm not sure.

How do you determine who sings your songs? I'm particularly talking about the ones that Neko sings versus the ones that you sing.
Well, I gave Neko the two songs that I thought were the hits.

[At this point, Carl has to take another call. I call back.]

Sorry I had to do that. I had to order some t-shirts from Chicago for our tour.
That's all right. I wouldn't wanna get in the way of the New Pornographers' business, since I am one of the people to whom you do business. It would really be shooting myself in the foot if I were to do so.
Hmm. Yeah, if we didn't have t-shirts and you try and buy one, and then I'd go, "You've got a lot of nerve askin' me for t-shirts."

The last question I'd asked you was how you determine who sings the songs. You said that you gave Neko what you thought would be the two big hits.
And by some accident, they happened to be in the right key. I think that helped. Sometimes I've had problems with writing songs that I can't sing. Where I have to sing them in falsetto. So, they ended up working out well. Now that kind of thing is beginning to confuse me more. Now there's songs where I'm thinking, "Neko should sing this," and I bring it to her, and she goes, "This is way too low." And I'm realizing that if I wanted a song for Neko to sing, then I have to make it in a register that I can't sing.

Is that difficult to do?
I've realized that what I have to do is sit down with Neko and go, "Neko, here's a new song. What key do you want it to be in? Try singing it like this, try singing it like this," and then find it. I also have a problem where I think the melody lines in my songs seem to be getting crazier. They'll go from the lowest note I could possibly sing to the highest note I could possibly sing, and everything in between. It's hard to change the key to a song like that. You have to go, "What would you rather have, a high note you can't hit or a low note you can't hit?"

New Pornographers pic -- (l to r) Blaine Thurier and Kurt Dahle.  Photo by Marc Hirsh. What if you just switched off, you take the low notes and Neko takes the high notes?
I think we probably will end up doing that kind of thing. We kind of did that on Mass Romantic to a certain a extent. There are ways that I noticed, after the fact, that the vocals of different people come and go. There'll be two people singing in unison, like Dan and Neko singing together, and then there's a bridge where I sing, and then it's back to Dan and Neko and then me.

Like in "To Wild Homes"?
Yeah, yeah. And there's other songs, like "Mass Romantic." For some reason, I come in at the end and sing the end coda, even though Neko sings the lead on the whole song. And as an afterthought, I've gone, "That's kind of a neat effect." But we weren't really thinking about it at the time. It just happened. We were doing the end and Neko wasn't around to sing it, so I thought, "How about I just do it?" In a lot of ways, that whole record was like a junk store. It's like, "Who's around? We're gonna do this today. Well, who's gonna do it? I guess I will, Neko's not here." Or, "What are we gonna play today? Well, we got a Wurlitzer, why don't we use the Wurlitzer?" That kind of thing. I'm not joking at all. That's how the record was made. And I'm kind of afraid that this record's gonna be the same way. I'm not afraid, but I've found that while we've been recording new stuff, there's been, like, [bassist/engineer] John [Collins]'s pump organs been sitting around, which we used on the record. And I find we're using the pump organ a lot just 'cause it's there and I like it.

One thing that struck me almost right from the get-go from the album was the harmony vocals that you guys do. Is that something that you worked on? Was there something specific that you were going for?
A lot of that is experimenting with harmonies. We're not really a band that gets together and has our arms around each other and sings barbershop harmonies. A lot of it's done in the studio, and there're some times that I kind of wing it. Sometimes I'll be the only one there, and I'll do a bunch of harmony singing just to see what sticks. Like the song "Breakin' The Law." All the harmonies on that song, I think they came out great but they were basically accidental. Me and Dan were winging it and going, "What should we do on this one?," and just singing a bunch of crap, and we couldn't figure it out. And then we took all the tracks that we sang and put them all together, and we listened back and we went, "Holy shit, that's perfect." 'Cause it kind of reminds me of "Ashes to Ashes," the David Bowie song, a little bit. Although a spastic version of "Ashes to Ashes."

Which is where the glam influence comes in again.
Yes. And the spastic is the indie rock part. But Kurt's really amazing at singing harmonies. That helps a lot. He's a real secret weapon in that way, in that he's got a real natural flair for that. I think both of us are really good at the harmony singing, so I think that really helps. Especially live. We can just go, and we can gauge what the other people are doing and change our singing. Which is a fun thing to do, 'cause some times in our songs, it felt like we were kind of jamming vocally. We've kind of settled into what we're doing now, but in that song "Execution Day," there was a point where it seemed like we were always doing something different at the end. Singing together, but it came together.

You've said that on "Letter From An Occupant," you asked Neko to sing like a robot.
Why? What were you going for?
I didn't actually want her to sound like a robot, but I think we really didn't want to have her twangy voice in there. We wanted to use her clear-as-a-bell great voice, but without any country inflection. We didn't think she needed any country inflection, and, so, our way of saying, "Don't sing it country" was, "Sing it like a robot."

Was that the first song that she sang with the group?
Yeah. And there was also the fact that initially, when I thought of Neko singing with us, I thought of Shocking Blue. And of course we do a Shocking Blue cover live to illustrate that point. They're from Holland or wherever, and the woman has that great, clear voice that you could tell she was a European. I really loved that, and I know Neko loved it as well, so I think she knew what we were going for. I dunno, some people have mentioned Belinda Carlisle, but it's actually more of a The Girl From Shocking Blue, whatever her name is.
Well, I'll research that and make it look like you came up with it.
Yeah, Agnetha Gultsdürter, or whatever her name is. [Mariska Veres, actually. -M]

"Letter From An Occupant" was also in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. How did it end up in the movie? What's the story there?
I think Kevin Smith got our record and just really liked it, and at the last minute, he decided he really wanted to add the song into the movie. The first phone call I got about it being in the movie, I think, was less than two months before the movie came out. I think it was literally the last thing they were doing. I think it really helped us to negotiate a deal, because everybody involved with the production just wanted to go ahead with it. I think they put us in the credits before we'd even signed a deal. They were like, "Okay. Yeah, that sounds good. 'Cause we're gonna put your names in the credits." And we went, "Okay," thinking, "If they put our names in the credits..." That was the point where we thought, "This deal is going through."

Was there a huge windfall when that came about?
Not a huge windfall, but it meant I could quit my job with confidence. I quit my job and went, "Yep, I don't think I'm gonna be working for another year."

What job did you quit?
I worked with this place called Larivee Guitars. They make acoustic guitars. I actually had a pretty cozy job, even though I had grown to hate it. I was one of the people that set up guitars, strung them and played them and made sure they didn't buzz.

So, you come at your playing from something of a technical perspective, too. You know how to get the sounds you're looking for?
No, not really. I mean, I know a little more about the guitars than I used to, but I'm no hotshot guitar player. It was ironic that I was one of the people there that played the guitars, because I was not the least bit a gearhead or one of those people that's really crazy about technical expertise. I still approach it all from a very garage rock kind of way. For me the music is still, for the most part, just playing power chords and then coming up with a melody over top of it.

New Pornographers pic -- (l to r) John Collins and Neko Case.  Photo by Marc Hirsh. What exactly do you use? What's your setup? Your guitar sound is very sharp, it's very ringy, but it's also sort of got a really good distortion.
You mean, on the record? Man, it changed. Some of it was Marshall. In fact, I think a lot of it was a Marshall sound. That's the sound I really wanted. I wanted a real solid rock sound. It's hard to find that balance where you don't want it to be too grungy. But you also want it to have that weight behind it. Maybe it's the Marshall sound, although I don't use a Marshall live. Oddly enough, I'm not overly concerned about guitar sounds. I have a vague idea of what I want. I usually just try and adapt to the situation that I'm in. It seems like it all changed, and depending on the shape of the room and the direction the wind's blowing and something like that.

In general, what are the songs that you write about? Line by line, they make sense and there's a logic that flows through them, but when you try and look at them in larger pieces, it's hard to get a specific peg on a topic. Is that something you get a lot, or am I just not paying attention?
I think that's kind of true, and I really have a hard time trying to piece together what it's all about, although a lot of 'em I think personally I'm just trusting my instincts for what seemed right to me. It's very easy, I think, to write lyrics that are very, very personal about things that are happening to you, but I find that kind of boring. So I think I try and write about other things that are verging on complete fiction, knowing that even when you try and write fiction it's always going to veer back and still be very subjective and somehow about yourself. But there's one song in particular, "The Center For Holy Wars," that really perplexes me now, because when I listen to it now, it really sounds like in the chorus, I'm singing about the World Trade Center attacks. And I look at it and I go, "What the hell was I talking about when I sang that?" 'Cause it sounds like it couldn't be about anything else but that, and yet it was written a couple years before, so it made me wonder...

Did you reconsider whether to keep playing that after September 11th?
Yeah, for a few weeks, I thought, "Maybe this isn't a good song to be playing." But then when I listened to it as a whole, the song is basically all about hope. It's got a big coda at the end about hope overcoming all things. And it does say in the chorus that "I hope it never comes down again." I dunno. But it's funny, 'cause I never had a clue what that song was about. The lyrics just kind of came, and they seemed right to me. Sometimes it's just the sound of words. When I write a song, there's a melody and there's some vowel sounds and some consonant sounds and I want to make sure to try and make the puzzle fit. I wanna keep that, that general feeling I have for what the work should be with the actual content. I actually hate doing that kind of stuff, but I guess it's necessary for songwriting. I wish I could start with the lyrics. I think that would be easy way to write a song, but I never do.

On the topic of song subjects, why Mary Martin, specifically? [One of the songs on Mass Romantic is called "The Mary Martin Show." -M]
I don't know...
What compelled you to write about her, rather than Mitzi Gaynor or somebody else?
I wasn't really writing about her. In fact, I think I was just writing about this kind of an archetype. Like a female archetype that perhaps you're looking for. It's funny, I think there were certain women that I just thought had that kind of vibe, which when I look back at pictures of Mary Martin, I'm like, "Hmm." I think I was thinking of somebody else. Maybe I just like the way the name "Mary Martin" sounded. But the whole song is about searching for something in a person that's just some stereotype, that is not real, and how that's not a very good way to live your life. If that makes any sense.

I've noticed a couple of your songs end in something like a repeated mantra. We talked about "Center For Holy Wars"...
The end coda.
Yeah, "Hope grows greener than grass stains," "This boy's life among the electrical lights"...
"To wild homes we go"...
"To wild homes we go," "Salvation holdout central"...
"Execution day"...

Is there a logic or a reason? How does that come about?
I don't know, I like singalongs. I like songs that have that quality. I don't know, there's something I like about it. I think we could be accused of doing it too much, but some of those points on the album are some of my favorite points. Especially the end of "To Wild Homes." For me, it's not so much about hammering some statement home or message, it's just the melodic part of it. If there's a really good musical idea, then I like just playing it over and over again, you know? Much like a post-rock band who like to play the same thing over and over again for 15 minutes. It's a similar thing. If you've got something good, you just want to repeat it. Whenever we play live, the end of "Mass Romantic," where it dies down and it's just guitar and vocals and it builds up into that big end coda, I always think it's the best part of the whole set. I don't know why, I like slogans.

That's one of the reasons that whenever I play the album, I can never let it end on "Breakin' The Law." I always have to press play again to hear "Mass Romantic" one more time. So in my mind, the album starts and ends with that end coda.
It's the reprise. Actually, there was kind of a logic in the sequencing, in that I really wanted "Mass Romantic" to be first and "Breakin' The Law" to be last because they both end in these big gang vocal endings. I thought that was a good way to set the tone for the album and then end it. But what you do works as well.

New Pornographers pic -- (l to r) Todd Fancey and Blaine Thurier.  Photo by Marc Hirsh. Mass Romantic has been out for a little bit over a year now. What you guys been doing? I know that you've toured a couple of times.
Yeah, we haven't done that much, but we went down the coast. We did the East Coast last February, did a few shows in Canada, played Chicago in September, we played New York and Toronto and Boston in November. Yeah, so this tour coming up's going to be the first time that we've gone to Georgia and Chapel Hill, a lot of places we haven't been to. We'll be coming to New York for our record third time, so we're worried about overplaying New York now. Although we're playing Brooklyn.

Have you guys been writing new songs at all?
Yeah, we're actually working on a ton of new songs, but it's hard to get them to that point where we play them. When we play this time, this tour coming up, I think we're gonna have about five new songs in our set. In terms of recordings we're doing, I think we have about ten in the works. Maybe ten or eleven. And there's gonna be more. I figure we're still at a point where it's probably a good idea to play a lot of Mass Romantic because it's still new to a lot of people. Even though our record's been out for a while, people are still kind of catching on.

So you guys aren't desperate to move on to something else just quite yet?
We want to do new stuff, but I don't really wanna throw out songs that seem half-finished to me. I wanna feel very confident about the songs that we play.

You've expressed the fact that if you were left unchecked, you'd spend six months to a year working on these songs and mixing and remixing, and you wish you could go back and remix a couple songs on the album. How do you know when you're finished with what you have?
I don't know. I don't think we even thought we were finished when we did the last record. We were kind of under the gun, and it just turned out that it was finished. But, yeah, nothing ever seems really finished to me. I'm just strange that way. I've come to accept the record as being finished just because people have heard it and people have liked it. I think, "Well, it's good enough for them. Then maybe I should let it go, start working on something else."

I know that the press has been fairly positive, but have you guys been finding receptive audiences or do you still have to win people over?
No, it's been shocking, the amount of people that know us. Everything's been good. I mean, I kind of like to go into things expecting the worst, just so I won't be let down, but everything's always been going really well. Even when we did our first tour of the East Coast. Our record came out in the U.S. in November, and we toured in February and there were a lot of big shows. It was nice. No, now I'm worried about some kind of backlash.

Have there been any differences between American and Canadian audiences, as far as how you're treated or how many people show up?
Well, the big cities are obviously places where we do well. Places like New York and San Francisco and Toronto, we seem to be a pretty big draw. When we played in New York last time, I think we sold out the Bowery Ballroom, and that's, what, 650 people. Which was far more than we anticipated on coming. We've also had good shows in places where nobody ever has good shows. We played in San Diego, and there's never huge crowds in San Diego, it seems. But we had a decent crowd and they actually seemed to be into it. People were actually doing things like dancing and having fun, which you never see at a San Diego show, and we were thinking, "There's something weird going on." In a way, this show in San Diego with maybe only a hundred people at it seemed like as much of a triumph as our sold-out show in San Francisco where we had 600 people. We thought, "Hmm, we seem to have some appeal here."

You guys backed up Ray Davies at South by Southwest.
Yeah, he played a song with us.
How did that happen?
It was just a crazy opportunity that came up. His people knew our people, and I think they were throwing around if he wanted to play a song with some band, and people are going, "What band would be good?" And I guess we were thrown out and he heard our record. And I guess he thought it was good and that he wouldn't embarrass himself being on stage with us. I don't really know the full story about it. All I know is that it happened and it really kinda weirded us all out.

Were you guys nervous?
Oh, yeah. 'Cause we just heard about it the night before. We arrived in Austin, and we'd only been there for a few hours, and we were just having dinner. We were all sitting around a table, and Neko got this call on her cellphone from our booking agent, and we didn't really pay much attention to it, although she was probably going, "Holy shit, are you kidding?" Then she got off and, and said, "They want to know if we want to play a song with Ray Davies." And then, from that moment on, it was like a day straight of us just fixated. We left there going, "Okay, we gotta go to a record store and buy some Kinks records and figure out what Kinks song we're gonna do." And we bought Something Else and Village Green, which happened to be the two albums I was most familiar with, which was handy. Then when we went back to our hotel room, we're listening to the CD DiscMan going, "What are we gonna do?" And then we decided on "Starstruck" 'cause it was a great song, and it was easy and then we went down to the hotel bar and had drinks and went, "This is fucked up."

New Pornographers pic -- (l to r) John Collins and Neko Case.  Photo by Marc Hirsh. How did Ray take to you guys?
Well, we didn't really have that much interaction with him. About a few hours before the show, he came backstage and we met him, you know, we kind of shook hands. It was kind of strange, like, "Nice to meet you, Mr. Davies. Well, uh, we were thinking of 'Starstruck'?" And then he was like, "I don't know if I know the words to that." And we had the words written out, and we ran through it a few times acoustically and we went, "All right, that sounds good." And that was the most interaction we had with him, and then he said, "So I'll show up about 10:30, then." And we went, "Yeah, okay..." And then he was just basically waiting at the side of the stage, and he came up at the end and played, and then he kind of drifted off into the night again. It was sort of weird.

It sort of sounds like the Chuck Berry thing, where he sends an advance notice that he needs a band that knows all of his songs, shows up five minutes before the show and then just goes up, plugs in his guitar, plays and leaves, and with the band just sort of standing there afterwards.
Yeah, that's a good angle. But what it comes down to is the weirdest part was practicing with him in the back room, 'cause I think it was just one of those things like, if you're thrown in a weird situation like that, you might not be able to grasp it, but you have to. For that 10 or 15 minutes, sitting there and playing songs with Ray Davies was my reality and I didn't think much about it. 'Cause when I think back on that, I think, "How could I have even picked up a guitar and played it in front of the guy? He wrote 'You Really Got Me.'" Yet it worked out. I mean, who knows what he thought, you know? Maybe he walked off stage and went, "I'm never fucking doing anything like that again. I can't believe I agreed to that bullshit." But for us, it was a huge moment. I remember through the whole song, I think I was just looking back at the band, making eye contact with the people, going, "Holy shit, can you believe this?"

Did anybody concentrate on the irony of playing "Starstruck"?
Not really, although in retrospect, it was a good choice. Also, the weirdest thing is that it turns out that's the only time "Starstruck" has ever been played live. They never did it live in the Kinks. So we got to debut this classic Kinks song live.

Do the members of the band spend a lot of non-band time with each other? Is it mostly a working relationship or are you guys good pals?
Oddly enough, we are pretty much friends still. It's strange. And it almost seems like because of the Pornographers, we see each other more. You know how sometimes when people play in bands, they don't see each other at all, they just get together to practice? Because they come to a point where they can't stand each other? We don't really have that. I remember after our New York show, we were hanging around with Sloan. They've been together for, like, ten years, they're all very sick of each other. After the show, we went to this place the Mercury Lounge and Patrick was with us and he couldn't get over the fact that all six of us after the show were getting drunk and hanging around. He just thought that was the strangest thing. I guess he felt a little envious that we were in this band where we had that kind of relationship. Which is probably because we haven't done it for so long that we're really desperately sick of each other. But it also helps to be friends. I think sometimes bands start and they're not friends, they're just looking for other people to play with. And I don't think I could do that. I think it's really important to play with people you like or else it's just a tense situation.

What are you looking to get out of the band? Where would you like to see it head? Are you guys where you wanna be?
I don't know. I guess I'd probably like to make more money. But musically, I'm not sure. I'd like to try and go somewhere slightly different musically, still trying to retain what was good about Mass Romantic but try and move in a different direction and add new elements. But the main change is I'd probably like to make a lot more money. That would be good. But not at the expense of the music. That's the tricky part.

Are the New Pornographers your main group right now or just another project?
Yeah, that's basically all I'm doing right now, is playing with the New Pornographers. And that seems like a handful to me. Maybe I'm just lazy.
Others are still in other bands, though.
Yeah, Dan does Destroyer, and, yeah, well, that's Dan, he doesn't play with us live anymore. He does his recording with us, but he doesn't wanna tour, so he does Destroyer and plays the records and makes his records. Neko of course has her thing. John plays in his other band called the Evaporators. They don't play an insane amount. He mainly spends a lot of his time recording, 'cause that's kind of what he does for a living.

You used to be in Zumpano. What do you get out of the New Pornographers that you didn't get out of them?
I don't know. I think New Pornographers is more of what I've really wanted to do. I think the combination of people in Zumpano locked it into a certain sound, and we couldn't really move that far out of it. And I wanted to do something different. I think I thought of the Pornographers as being a place where I could play all my really simple songs. And they didn't end up being incredibly simple, but I think I was just feeling the urge to do songs that chug in 4/4. Just propulsive rock songs, and I think I wanted to get a little crazier with the harmony singing and wanted to experiment with the pop a little bit more. And I don't know if it came off as experimental at all.

Have you had any problems with your band's name?
No, not really. I think most people can figure out that it's a harmless name. It doesn't really mean anything.

How about the album cover? When you see "The New Pornographers" and two naked people kissing in a field with a ram in the background, it sort of...
Has some connotations?
Has there been any difficulty at all getting either stores to carry it or people to talk about it?
No, not really. There have been some people that have said... I remember we got a really nice review in CMJ that was raving, but it said, "Please try and look past the terrible artwork because it's a good record." I think a lot of people have just thought it was a funny album cover. I could see why some people would dislike it, but I really like it. It's coming out on Matador Europe pretty soon, and one of the guys at Matador Europe was concerned about the album cover. He said, "I've heard the cover art has gotten a little bit of bad press. Have you ever thought of changing it?" And we said no, we've gotta keep the album cover art. And then Gerard Cosloy said he liked the art just fine, so that was the end of that.

Who do you consider your peers in terms of what you're doing? Who do you think you guys have a kinship with, even if it's not similar in sound?
I don't know who our peers are. It's been kind of strange, actually, 'cause it feels like we've been put into this situation where people that I've always been fans of all of a sudden are my peers. And it's not that I feel like one of their peers, but they just start treating me like one of their peers. Like Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices. I think we're gonna be touring with them in April, maybe. They offered us. I don't know if we can, but we're just hanging around with them. I was talking to Scott Kannberg from Preston School and Pavement, and he was talking about wanting to go on tour, and I thought, "How did we get to this point where these people that I recall listening to for years, all of a sudden I'm in the same circle with them?" It's kinda strange. There's a group of bands right now that are vaguely similar, that are getting kind of popular in indie rock circles. The Shins is one of them, and I think we've been kind of running parallel with them. And I really love the Shins record, so I'd like to think that maybe the Shins and bands like that are our peers. But I don't know. Maybe the Shins would go, "We want nothing to do with the New Pornographers." END


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