Monday, June 28, 2010

Interview Outtakes: Carl Newman of the New Pornographers, in town tonight at the Pageant

Posted By on Mon, Jun 28, 2010 at 12:51 PM

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New Pornographers, "The Laws Have Changed" With Kathryn now singing more lead vocals on the records, you're now writing for three voices with this band. When you're writing these songs, do you base it off the vocalist's persona or their vocal range? How do you approach writing for the two ladies? I've never really written for anybody. In fact, the song "My Shepherd" on Together, it's the first time I ever actively tried to write a song for Neko. It's sort of a torch song, and I wanted to tap that vein. I wrote that for Neko, but other than that I just write songs, and then I try to figure out who would work the best for it. From the beginning I've always wanted to sound like a group of people. I never wanted it to be "Here's a Neko song, here's a Dan song, here's a Carl song." I always wanted it to be different people singing.

So I always liked having two people singing the verse, and then somebody else sings the chorus, and then they all come together on the bridge. And then a different person is a solitary voice on the outro. I've always wanted to do that kind of thing. That kind of method I just wing; I make it up as I go along. In the middle bridge section of the song "Unguided" on Challengers, there's a part where it breaks down and it's just Kathryn singing. I always thought that was such a great thing because she's not really anywhere else on the record, but then in this little bridge section it breaks down and she has this very key line in the song, and then it continues again.

So it's less like writing like Stephin Merritt does, where he can write for three or four voices or personas and more like a conductor trying to figure out what voices sound best in a song? Sometimes that is it. What voice seems to really work the best? You hear stories about the Cars, when they made a record Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr would both sing a lead vocal, and they would just pick the one that sounded the best. Sometimes we do that. There have been other songs where I sang it just because I was the only one left. The song "Electric Version," I wanted Neko to be the lead singer on that, but then we had a computer malfunction the last day Neko was in town. Neko had to leave, so I said, "I guess Neko's not singing that song." So I sang it. There's no method to that.

That's been the case when I've seen you play without Neko or Dan. You still sing those songs without the quote-unquote lead singer. Some songs more than others. Like "Jackie Dressed in Cobras" and "Testament to Youth in Verse" are songs I feel good about playing even when Dan's not there. But then there are songs like "Myriad Harbour," where I think, "We just can't do this without Dan." It just absolutely doesn't work without the arch-Bejar singing style.

With having the full band for this tour, what does that bring to the shows? I think it's gonna be awesome. We just did this European tour and we rehearsed in Woodstock for about a week. But we also have our friend Ben who's joining us playing cello and saxophone, so I think it's gonna be great. I feel like it's gonna be as good as we've ever been.

Speaking of the cellos, the rock & roll cello is all over this record, and you covered [Electric Light Orchestra's] "Don't Bring Me Down" last time in St. Louis. Is this just your way to cement your status as our generation's Jeff Lynne? I think I'm more of a Roy Wood than a Jeff Lynne. I love that stuff. I can't deny the influence of that music, because it's just music that I love. When I'm driving in the car and I'm going through the iPod - there's a lot of music that I love, but when I get to "Living Thing" my ELO, that's what I really love. It involves no effort on my part. It just goes straight to my pleasure synapses.

Challengers got tagged a lot as a break-up album. Do you find that Together, even in its title, is a response to the last record? The thing is, the last record wasn't a break-up record at all. Were people talking about it as in "a band is breaking up" record?

No, as in a romantic break-up record. No, it's really not. All the songs that are about relationships are about getting together, oddly enough. Ironically, songs like "Unguided" and "Challengers" and "Go Places" were all about meeting my wife. They might be very opaque and cryptic, but they were basically love songs. But on this record, ironically, which is called Together, has a song like "My Shepherd," and "My Shepherd" is a very dysfunctional song. People think it's a love song, but yet it's basically about a relationship that should be finished but yet goes on.

Your songs are sort of opaque in the sense that I couldn't pin down a straight love song that you've written. I don't know. I think "Challengers" is a pretty straight love song.

It's a straight love song that makes you fight for it, and that's what I heard a lot of on Challengers, with "My Rights Versus Yours" and songs like that. "We're in love, but this is not an easy walk in the park." A song like "My Shepherd" can kinda sucker-punch you if you listen closely enough. And when I'm writing songs, I always want that push-and-pull. If a song sounds happy, some part of in me wants to make the lyric kind of sad. And if a song sounds kind of mournful, something in me wants to make the lyric more hopeful. I don't know why that is. It probably doesn't help my commercial prospects.

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