In the midst of a lengthy five-month tour, head New Pornographer, Carl "A.C." Newman, told Boise Weekly he feels feeling quite chipper about his current state of affairs.
"I think I'm a lot happier than I used to be. I was your standard issue maladjusted young man, but I think I feel better than I've ever felt probably. Success helps with that; it's the funniest thing."
The New Pornographers came together in 1997 as a group of prominent Vancouver, B.C., musicians bound by a common love of music and involvement in the local scene. They've since released five records to critical acclaim, and members Dan Bejar, Kathryn Calder, Neko Case and Newman have all branched off into numerous successful solo projects.
But as a group, New Pornographers released their fifth record, Together, earlier this year. It may be the quintessential New Pornographers album, not because it's necessarily their best record, but because it's the most representative of the band's sound. It's like they took everything that makes the New Pornographers great--the densely layered and well-structured pop, bursting crescendos, over-the-top choruses, exceptional guitar-synthesizer interplay--and compressed them into one beautiful picture of who and what the band is.
Paste Magazine described the new album as "their most oddly cohesive and stickiest yet ... This messy-pop template is nothing new for the Pornographers, but they've never applied it to such satisfying ends."
"I feel like our records have had a certain progression as they go along. We're slowly morphing into a stranger, quieter band, which culminated in Challengers, our most mellow record," Newman said. "Then I think [Together] was kind of going backwards, but not in a negative way--just trying to look back at some of the things that were a good part of our style, while still trying to advance our style a little bit, yet still plug that into the computer program that is the New Pornographers."
That program includes a uniquely upbeat-sounding band. It's easy to describe their music as incredibly cheerful, even lighthearted and buoyant, but there's more to it than that. Often the seriousness in subject matter is masked by the exuberance in tone.
"It's always been a matter of the music," Newman said. "I think the lyrics have always been fairly strange and downbeat. 'The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism' sounds like a happy song, but ... it's about a person who's just chosen the dark side. And so I think there's been a lot of that, where you have a peppy song but with lyrics about breaking up or something."
The interesting dichotomy between message and music may have been what drew fans to the Canada-based band and may have played a big part in the New Pornographers becoming a full-blown international indie rock institution.
"It happens so gradually that you don't notice it," Newman said. "When we went from complete obscurity to suddenly being a band that people were writing about and paying attention to, that was a real shock. Like I remember thinking, 'Holy shit, I can't believe this is happening.' And you do that for years and years and you build up and get more popular and it just becomes normal. Only if you look back to 10 years ago do you think, 'I can't believe how far I've come.'"
With so much creative talent and individual egos in one group, it's safe to assume conflict crops up. But apparently, it's not as difficult as one might assume--Newman brings his ideas to the band and things happen organically.
"I don't know where to go with some songs, and I just think, let's run with them and see what happens. Other ones I think, I know exactly how this song should go," Newman said. "Like 'Crash Years' from this record, I went into that song with a very clear idea of how it should go, to the extent that I said, 'The bass line should go like this, and the cello should sound like that, and the drums should do that.'"
Things on stage, however, don't always go according to plan.
The New Pornographers made headlines last month after the once seemingly precious and harmless Neko Case threatened a fan with, "I'll pummel your fucking face," and "I am a piece of shit white trash and I will fuck you up." Case lashed out after the fan threw a fresh copy of Together at Newman. In the video of the incident, the audience--and the other members of the band--seems slightly uncomfortable until Newman makes a couple of jokes to lighten the moment.
"She didn't freak out at an audience member. She was just pissed off at them," Newman said. "I've known Neko for a long time and if somebody pisses her off, she's going to yell at them. So it didn't seem like a weird thing to me, but I guess maybe people haven't seen anything like that from her, so they thought, 'Holy shit, Neko got pissed off at a girl for throwing a CD,' and you think, 'Why wouldn't she get pissed off at the girl?' But I don't know, it all seemed like sort of a non-issue, but hey, there's no such thing as bad press, so I have no problem with it. If somebody throws a CD at me, and it ends up on Pitchfork the next day, that's good. I should be thanking that person that threw the CD."
All in all, life seems to be pretty stable for Newman. Even on the road, the thrill and energy of his band's live show keeps him truckin' along, completely satisfied.
"We don't do a huge amount of touring, but I do enjoy it. I've got a job I love, and the thing I dislike about it is that it takes me away from home. Though, it's not a bad sacrifice to do the thing you love. "