20 years later, Carl Newman’s all-star squad is still putt-putt-putting along. No thanks to Donald Trump
Cover | by Stephen Whitworth
The New Pornographers
When The New Pornographers tour Canada this fall, one expatriate might be looking a little longingly at his northern homeland.
Founding member and de facto band boss Carl Newman is an ex-Vancouverite who has lived in upstate New York since late 2005.
It’s mostly a good place. Mostly. When I ask Newman about the weather that day (I’m such a pro), he says it’s “pretty nice” right now.
“It’s sorta humid,” says Newman over the phone. “It’s that time of year where the weather gets a little schizophrenic. You think it’s Fall and leaves start falling, and nope — it’s summer. It’s humid and it’s in the ’80s.
Unfortunately, the election of Donald Trump has rained shit on his otherwise sunny life.
“It’s incredibly Liberal where I am,” says Newman. “You live in your little world. But of course you can’t help but follow it now, because it affects us. Everything affects us so much.”
America might have gone to hell but at least things seem to be going well for his band. The New Pornographers (est. 1997) are still a powerhouse rock/pop outfit, currently comprised of Newman, John Collins, Todd Fancey, Kathryn Calder, Estevan-born Blaine Thurier and (sometimes but not on this tour) the incredible Neko Case.
On the band’s latest album Whiteout Conditions, new drummer Joe Seiders replaces Moose Jaw’s Kurt Dahle, who left in 2014. Original member Dan Bejar of Destroyer also recently stepped away.
The beat goes on, but Whiteout Conditions does sound, maybe, a little different than the last few records.
There’s a new rhythm, for one thing.
“I’ve thrown around the catch phrase ‘bubblegum Kraut rock’,” says Newman. “We wanted it to have a different drive, you know? Maybe a lot of songs we’ve had in the past have had a ‘baow-baow-baow-baow’ swingy lope to them. We wanted this one to have more of a ‘putt-putt-putt-putt-putt-putt-putt’.”
It does, and it works. Whiteout Conditions motors from start to finish. Standout songs including “High Ticket Attractions,” “Colosseums” and the title number.
As for the putt-putts v. baow-baows? I can vouch the change is incredibly noticeable when one accidentally set one’s New Pornographers iPhone library to “shuffle” during a treadmill workout.
Anyway. The putt-putt-point is, it’s tough to do something new while staying true to your band’s identity.
“I feel like the whole thing of being in a band is trying not to repeat yourself, but trying not to veer too far away from what makes you, you,” says Newman. “Like, don’t try and avoid repeating yourself to the extent that you’ve sabotaged the band.
“Who knows? Maybe we’ve done that already,” he adds.
Nah. But they have done a lot. This is a now 20-year-old band and it’s still vital and alive. Whiteout Conditions is (unless I’ve miscounted) the seventh New Pornographers release. Quite the feat given how many side projects its musicians have.
How does one keep an all-star band together for two decades?
“We realized, I think it was around 2005, that if we want to actually exist as the band, we had to figure out a different way of doing it,” says Newman. “And that was thinking like, okay, well, everybody in our band is so busy that if we had to wait for a very specific line-up of people, we’d never play.
But Carl saw a way.
“I felt very much like brethren to Broken Social Scene,” Newman says. “I’m friends with those guys. it was always a different line-up. Feist was in it for a while, but then she left and became famous. And somebody else came in, like Amy Millan, and then she left. And somebody else came in.
“It’s a weird way to be a band, but it’s just the way we’ve always been,” he says.
It seems to work. Unlike a certain country to the south that Newman cureently calls home.
“They want to take away health care from literally everybody,” says Newman. “They want to get rid of Medicaid and Medicare. I think a lot of people are becoming politicized in America, because it’s all hitting home really hard. You know? ‘Hey man, we wanna take away your rights. Are you a minority? We wanna take away your rights AND we wanna get rid of you.
“And for even like, you know, straight white males like me, who aren’t in poverty, it’s still like, ‘I’m not rich enough to pay $2–3 thousand a month for health care. So I might be forced out. And it’s hard to think like, I’m in America — the land of opportunity. I’ve made my home here, this is where my son’s growing up, and we might be forced out just because you can’t live in this country anymore and survive.
“It’s hard not to think about,” says Newman.
No kidding. ❧
The New Pornographers play the Exchange on Friday, Oct. 6. Opening act is Born Ruffians. Doors at 7:30, show at 8. This show is sold out.