New Pornographers

New Pornographers

interview by Stefano Bartolotta
For the release of the seventh album "Whiteout Conditions", we talked with A.C. Newman over the phone. With his answers, he told us about different aspects of how this band works and lives.

I would like to talk about the end of “Play Money”, because you just repeat the words “the song, the song, the song...” almost exactly how you did in “Letter From An Occupant” a lot of years ago. So, I don’t know if it was a tribute to your past or something like that.
It was sort of accidental, but then when we realized, we said “oh, that works”. It seems like a little, happy accident. The reason we did that was because earlier, in the song, I think in the third verse, we repeated the same words for just three times, it goes “how you got it for a song, a song, a song”. I thought that was sort of cool, so why not loop it back at the end. The core progression of the songa t the end, we had that there, and it was just instrumental, and we said “why don’t we just have that, that loop” and we started to harmonize it. Even if it has the word “song” in it, to me it just seems like an instrumental section, like we were just using the word “song” like we might use an instrument, or in the same way we might go “pa pa pa” or “sha la la”.

So it’s something different from that other song, when you sing “the song, the song, the song that’s shaking me”.
Yeah, but I like the tagging back. Always like when bands do that, when Paul McCartney starts singing “She Loves You” at the end of “All You Need Is Love” for example. Always loved self referential stuff.

While we’re speaking about “Play Money”, lyrics are about being able to make a living with your music, which is something that usually the audience thinks is much easier than it actually is. There are bands and labels that people who listens to a lot of music think that can easily make a living with their music or their releases because they seem to be popular, instead it’s ofetn much harder than how it looks from outside.
That’s true, I think a lot of people don’t know how that is, I think that when you grow up looking at musicians, you think of musicians as rock stars, you know. When you’re a kid, the idea of somebody in a rock band just being middle classi seems very weird to you. Then, when you start playing music, you realize the weird reality. When we played on TV a bunch of times, people you went at high school with think you’re super famous, because you’re on TV. And it’s hard to explain that yes, it’s great to be on TV, but it doesn’t mean, you don’t get paid a million dollars when you play on TV. But, when I say “I only play for money”, I’m not really being serious, but I think I’m just acknowledging that it’s become my job, and it’s a strange thing when what you love becomes your job.

Yes, for example I’m not a professional journalist, so I do it because I love it but I’m not paid to do that, so I can understand, it would be strange if this becomes my actual job.
It changes the dynamic, you know, because at one point, like, if the first record had sold nothing, I wouldn’t have cared that much, because I didn’t expect it to, but it’s strange when it becomes something you depend on, it changes the dynamic.

You were born as a band, and I think you are currently a band, made of people who have other musical projects. I just wanted to ask you, apart from the specific case of this album where Daniel (Bejar, aka Destroyer) is absent for scheduling problems, but in general, how hard is to match all the agendas and scheduling of everyone to record an album?
It’s always been difficult, since the very beginning. We had troubles meeting when we lived in the same town, and now we have a hard time, because we have to fly to each other. As people become more famous or more popular, it doens’t really change the dynamic in the band, when we get togther it’s still the same people. The difficulty of booking people is been there for like 15 years, it’s just something that never changes and I just accepted ita s a part of my life.

What about the songwriting? Are you the only songwriter in the band or are there contributions from someone else?
Aside from the songs that Dan wrote, he wrote 3 songs on every record, I’m the songwriter. Other people write songs, but, for this band, I think it’s just been agreed that I’m the songwriter. All the band contributes with a lot of ideas to the arrangements, and all of that, but ultimately, there isn’t anyboby in the band who’s fighting to get their songs on the album, there’s just an agreement upon that I’m the guy who writes the songs.

So, this is the first album written entirely by you, because Daniel is absent this time.
Yes, that’s a difference, but in a way it’s not that different, because, if Dan was on this record, it would be the same album plus 3 more songs, so, in that sense, writing songs for an album where there are Dan’s songs or there are not is not really any different for me.

As a band, how do you come to a decision about how a record has to sound? Do you work with an artistic producer, do you talk collectively as a band and make a decision, how does it work?
I have an idea on what I want to do, like “Play Money” was one of the first songs that came together, and I had this idea that it would be this sort of bubblegum kraut rock record, and I carried on from there. When “Play Money” came together, I thought “I like the vibe, I like the way I moved and I like the tempo”, and so, we agreed that all of the album should have had that vibe. At the beginning of an album, it’s just a tiny idea, then we figured out how we go.

Do you think it’s OK to say that this is your most keyboards driven album?
Yeah, definitely, it definitely is! There’s a lot of keyboards on the last record too, but I think on this one we went a little crazy on keyboards. I love playing keys, it’s very funny, it’s fun to manipulate sounds, and it happens more often with keyboards. Sometimes it’s fun to manipulate guitars and vocals too, but at some point, I started to get sick of guitars, I know there’s still lot of guitars in our sound, but I just wanted to move to a different sound.

I listened again to your previous album after listening to this one, and I found that the song “Champions Of Red Wine” would perfectly fit on this album too. Probably it’s the only one which is very similar to the new songs.
Yeah, I think “Champions Of Red Wine” is one of my favourite songs on “Brill Bruisers” because there’s a lot of crazy synthetizers on it. For this record, we thought “let’s go further down that road”. “You Tell Me Where”, the last song on “Brill Bruisers” is another song that has a similar vibe, but “Champions Of Red Wine” I think is definitley the jumping up point into this record.

About the tracklist of this album, I have the feeling that you just wanted to group the songs with similar melodic style. The first four songs have the most immediate and catchy melodies, and then you just do some different things melodically when the album goes on.
Yes, definitley! I think the first four songs are definitley like the pop songs of the record, and then it gets a little bit more prog after that. I think that it’s a common way to sequence a record, trying to hook the people with the most immediate songs and then going weirder.

About the lyrics of the album, do you think you can describe them in a general way, or do you think that any song has its own topic, and there is not a general concept that can be related to the whole album? For example, I read you said that “High Ticket Attraction” is about the impact of the election of Donald Trump.
I didn’t mean to write a political song, but it was hard to escape the anxiety of America. I think that shows up in different songs, not in a very conscious way, but I think there’s a sort of anxiety that goes thrgough a lot of the songs. I also think in a lot of our songs there’s always been a defined hope, like there’s anxiety and sadness, but the songs are fighting back against those feelings, and I think that’s a theme that goes through a lot of our music.

My last question is about your live shows, you’re touring America and then you’re coming to Europe, unfortunately not in Italy, and I don’t think you ever played in Italy, but if one day we’ll be lucky to see you in our country, what can we expect from your live shows?
I never know how to answer that. We want our shows to be fun, to be the most joyous occasion, we’re not a shoegaze band. I don’t know why we never go to Italy, I’d love to, I went to Rome 10 days with my wife and I loved it, I’d love to get back there.
Mass Romantic (Mint, 2000)
 Electric Version (Mint/Matador, 2003)
Twin Cinema (Mint/Matador, 2005)
 Challengers (Matador, 2007)
 Together (Matador, 2010)
 Brill Bruisers (Matador, 2014)
Whiteout Conditions (Collected Works Records/ Concord/ Caroline International, 2017)
In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights (Concord, 2019)
 Continue As A Guest (Merge, 2023)
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