Getting ‘Together’ again
It’s been 10 years since their debut album, Mass Romantic, made local indie-rock group New Pornographers an overnight success story. And, though the band’s sound has largely stayed the same — catchy, perfectly crafted pieces of sunshine, melody, and hand claps — everything else has changed.
Almost every member of the eight-piece ensemble has crafted their own illustrious solo career, including co-founders and songwriters Dan Bejar and A.C. Newman (Vancouver’s version of Lennon and McCartney), and Neko Case, the band’s part-time songbird, whose throaty vocals and alt-country twang have pushed her into another stratosphere of fame.
Newman admits that it took some wrangling to get everyone on the same page, much less in the same city again, but the effort has already paid huge dividends. The group’s new album, Together, debuted at number 18 on the Billboard charts and its first single, “Your Hands (Together)”, gives long-time fans exactly what they want: pounding drums, happy rock, and heavy guitars. Newman spoke with WE over the phone from a tour stop in Washington, D.C., about Vancouver’s love-hate relationship with the band, the Polaris Prize, and why indie-rock fans are better than Lady Gaga fans.
WE: How’s D.C. treating you?
Newman: D.C. is my favourite place to play, because it’s always where our shows sell out the fastest. Even on my solo tour, I do about double in D.C. what I would do in another city.
I’d think Vancouver would be wanting to welcome you home with open arms?
Vancouver’s nice to us. It’s the funniest thing, but of all the Canadian indie bands, we’re not more popular in Canada than in America. You look at a band like Metric, they sell as many records in Canada as they do in America, they’re huge. But us, we’re even... Somebody had a theory that maybe because Neko’s American and I’ve been living in America, Canada thinks of us as not Canadian. It seems inconceivable. But, you know, I’m saying this as if Vancouver hates us and that’s not the case. Perhaps I should just drop it. [Laughs].
The Polaris Prize people don’t hate you, so congratulations on your long list nod.
Thanks... What is the long list?
I was going to ask you, does this even matter to you? You know what the Polaris Prize is, right?
Yeah, we were nominated for the first one in 2006, I think.
Yeah, and about two hundred music industry folks compile a list of the best Canadian CDs, It gets narrowed down to 20, and then narrowed further until one band wins the $25,000 prize.
Yeah, that’s nice, but I don’t think the Polaris Prize is for bands like us. We’ve been around too long. It seems like more of a new band prize.
Yes. Final Fantasy was just starting out when he won.
Exactly. I went to the awards ceremony and I’d never seen him play, and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s amazing, give it to him.’ I’m sure it made a bigger difference in his life, you know? For somebody who’s perhaps not hugely popular, to give them $25,000, that makes a big difference to them. To give it to us and split it eight ways, it’s like, ‘Thank you. This helps pay my mortgage for one month.’
It’s been horrible weather here, but then I was listening to Together yesterday and the sun came out. That’s what the album did.
Oh, that’s good. We’re known for that. No matter what we try and do, we always come up with summer records. I don’t know why. I think at some point you just have to acknowledge our niche, you know? Like, people want to come to our shows and it’s a fun thing, you know? They like to nod their heads and bob up and down. They want fun and community and like it to rock.
Indie music seems to be thriving, which isn’t the norm right now in the music industry. Is it because of the DIY ethic those bands have?
I think it comes more from the people that listen to it. That’s how success is measured: When people are buying your records and going to your shows. I think the people who listen to indie music care about music and are less likely to take it for free. Like, somebody who’s a fan of Lady Gaga; they don’t care about Lady Gaga. They have no connection to her. They’ll just download her songs and think, ‘She’s rich, who cares?’ Or, they don’t even think that far, they don’t even question getting music for free.