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Fans of sprawling, endearing indie rock should be foaming at the mouth in anticipation of Wolf Parade's return to St. Louis. It's a promising premise for a concert: The Montreal band's 2008 show at the Gargoyle proved it could transform the complex pop epics of its recorded catalog into cathartic anthems, while its newest album, Expo 86, is its most raw, immediate effort to date. Wolf Parade drummer Arlen Thompson talked to RFT about the stigma of befriending Arcade Fire, Expo 86 and the 1986 Montreal World's Fair, from which the album gets its name.
Ryan Wasoba: Since Wolf Parade released [2008's] At Mount Zoomer, its members have pursued an array of other projects, including Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs, Swan Lake and Frog Eyes, to name a few. Did Expo 86 feel like you were getting the old band back together?
Arlen Thompson: Well, at the heart of the album was just the fact that everyone wanted to make another record, basically just start making music again. We knew we could do it, but we came off a pretty long break and weren't sure how long it would take us to get together again. For us, we wanted to make a really honest record that didn't involve a lot of production, just the band playing the songs in a take or two.
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That seems like a different approach than usual. The previous Wolf Parade albums are these very grandiose statements.
I think we did the whole record in about four months, and it was faster than any of the other records. [Recording] was the only thing we did during that time because we wanted to rein it in. With Mount Zoomer we didn't set a lot of deadlines, and it took so much longer. We probably lost a little focus, so we really wanted to condense the working schedule for Expo 86 and have these concise goals to start and finish it in the same period of time. Both [debut album] Apologies to the Queen Mary and Mount Zoomer were done in broken-up periods. The main thing we wanted to do this time was keep a really fresh energy going and not get bogged down. When you're working on something for a while, it's easy to lose focus on what you like about the song in the first place.
Expo 86 is a reference to a world's fair in Montreal that every member of the band had attended when you were younger. What is the significance of that event to the record?
It was one of those cultural events where everyone in our age group kind of went to this same fair. We weren't there together or even at the same time, but we were all there independently. It's something where everyone in Montreal has that shared experience in the past, and it's something everyone can relate to. But it's also an inside joke kind of thing; our song titles or album titles don't really have anything to do with the records, but they're all about things that happened during the making of the records. Apologies to the Queen Mary refers to something somebody said when we were playing a festival really early on in our career; Mount Zoomer was a reference to the studio where the record was made. It's kind of hard to explain to anyone else; they're just a bunch of inside jokes. Nothing is significant; we're just a big, dumb rock band.
What's the most annoying interview question about Wolf Parade?
It's annoying when people obsess about the Montreal scene. That was a big thing when Arcade Fire started blowing up, but it was this event that didn't really happen.
Owen Pallett was here a couple of months ago, and he said something similar about people assuming anyone involved with Arcade Fire has piggybacked off its success.
Definitely. I mean, there was something going on, a lot of really great bands came out of Montreal at one time, but it wasn't what the press made it out to be. When you keep getting asked about something that happened five years ago and isn't really relevant anymore, it's kind of annoying.
Tell me about your opening band Ogre You Asshole. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that name.
Honestly, I don't know too much about them. They're actually friends with Spencer [Krug, Wolf Parade vocalist]. Sunset Rubdown played with them in Japan a few years ago, and he wanted to bring them over.
I know everybody in Wolf Parade is involved in other projects, and Expo 86 is all about that concept of shared experiences. Does it feel weird for something like Spencer's time in Japan — which is not a shared experience — to directly affect this specific band?
I think everyone's been doing this long enough and been in enough bands that it's not something we think about. We like being able to live independent lives. It's not like we're in an open relationship. It's not like you're at a bar, and you see your girlfriend talking to another guy, and you get jealous. It's not that intense.