New Pornographers ride the newest wave of Canadian invasion with Twin Cinema CD
By Chris McNamara
What do Cannibal Corpse, Nashville Pussy, and Insane Clown Posse have in common? They’re all bands with outrageously shocking names that produce outrageously bad music. It’s almost a rule in rock & roll — the talent of a group is inversely proportional to the shock value of its name.
So how do you explain The New Pornographers? Their name would suggest that the band members realized their music sucked, so they decided to adopt a moniker that would at least raise a few eyebrows — Barenaked Ladies was already taken.
But they’re an exception to the rule, as novel as a shaved bush in old pornography. With their third album, Twin Cinema (Matador), released in August, the Vancouver-based collective could make the leap from niche heroes to mainstream idols in the same fashion Jenna Jameson has. And nobody had to take it in the ass.
The Marquee recently sat down with multi-instrumentalist and band founder A.C. Newman.
The Marquee: The instrumentation on Twin Cinema is all over the map—xylophone, pump organ, ebow, melodion. What is your background with music?
A.C. Newman: I never had any training, no schooling. And I didn’t pick up a guitar until I was 18. (Newman is now 37.) I just approach writing from a D.I.Y. aesthetic. With most instruments I just pick them up and it’s easy to get cool sounds out of them. Like the ebow; that does most of the work. I can’t even play keyboards very well, but I can pick out some part in my mind and play it. I only play guitar and sing when we’re live.
The Marquee: What about your background with bands?
A.C. Newman: I was with Superconducter, a six-guitar band. We started out as a joke and accidentally became a real band. Concurrently with that I was in Zumpano. That was the beginning of me being a serious songwriter. We were very much influenced by the ’60s — The Zombies, Beach Boys. But then, like any band, I got frustrated with that. I formed The New Pornographers in 1997, but it was part-time so it took the longest time to get it going. Our first show was in 1998. In late 2000 we finally got our record Mass Romantic finished. If I’d known this would have taken off I’d have started it sooner.
The Marquee: The band roster lists nine names, though you and guitarist Dan Bejar are the primary songwriters. Describe the creative process.
A.C. Newman: We don’t write with each other, but we might rewrite songs in practice or in the course of arranging them. Sometimes my songs take shape in the studio — there’s a certain degree of spontaneity.
The Marquee: What’s your favorite line on Twin Cinema?
A.C. Newman: It’s from “The Bleeding Heart Show.” “Our golden handshake has been smashed into the shape / It’s taken magic to a primitive new place.”
The Marquee: That’s a good example of the cryptic lyrics you write. What is the Bleeding Heart Show?
A.C. Newman: A lot of my songs are just going for feeling more than a straight narrative. On this record there is a sense of me getting my act together. Picking myself up and flying right. Not being a screwup. Figuring out how to be a better person. And that involves relationships, which always seep in there.
The Marquee: There seems to be a lot of honest lyricism these days, with bands like The New Pornographers, or Postal Service or Arcade Fire. Is sincerity newly hip?
A.C. Newman: There are lots of confessional emo songwriters, but Postal Service or Arcade Fire are more about the joy of living. They inspire people; make them want to jump up and down. We try to make music to hit somebody on some level.
The Marquee: Band members are Canadian and American. Why, on tracks like “Broken Breads,” do you sound so English?
A.C. Newman: When playing pop music it’s hard not to sound English. The English really nailed pop music. We’re not trying to sound English, but so many of our influences are and those sounds seep in—The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Zombies.
The Marquee: Are you part of a Canadian invasion?
A.C. Newman: There is definitely more good Canadian bands now than there have been since the late ’60s. It is always happening in Canada, but like in the ’60s, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young had to go to the U.S. to do it.
The Marquee: You probably get asked this during every interview — why the shocking name?
A.C. Newman: Dan has a song called “Pornographers” on his Destroyer record. I don’t think of it as shocking. Maybe it’s shocking in an unshocking way. ‘Pornographer’ is a really bland word.
New Pornographers :: Gothic Theatre :: Oct. 3
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