New Pornographers release ‘a total monster’ with latest project Together
:: The New Pornographers ::
By Timothy Dwenger
In an era when so many claim that good old fashioned pop music, the kind you like to crank up in a convertible with the top down, is dead, The New Pornographers return with an album chock full of tunes that are begging to be played at full volume on a winding country road. Their songs, with heavily layered instrumentation and dense harmonies, have an unmistakable feel that is strangely familiar even when being heard for the first time.
The mastermind behind The New Pornographers, and their new record Together, is Carl Newman. While he is better known as “AC” to some of his fans, Newman is a visionary artist whose outstanding ear for harmony and fearless approach to pop music have made the five New Pornographers albums possible.
As his niece and bandmate Kathryn Calder explained when The Marquee caught up with her in Boston the day after she celebrated her birthday with a show in Montreal, “Carl’s philosophy is ‘the more vocals and harmonies the better,’ he doesn’t really shy away from too many harmonies. I have heard him bat around ELO quite a bit as an influence; he is a big fan of orchestration. He is kind of amazing with harmonies, actually. He is really great at coming up with them.”
Calder, who has played keyboards and sung with The New Pornographers since 2005 and has been involved with the last three albums the band has released, shared an improbable story about how they first met. “My mother was adopted as a child and when I was about 14 they opened the adoption registry in Canada so that mothers and children could find each other if they both wanted to,” Calder explained. “My mom and Carl’s mom wanted to find each other so they connected. Carl is the youngest of my mother’s siblings and my mother is the oldest. So that’s how we met that whole other family. It was quite amazing, actually. It was a little bit nerve wracking as well because the kids didn’t know that there had been this other child. All of a sudden I had all these aunts and uncles and cousins that I had never met before. I didn’t meet Carl until I was about 15, so it isn’t really like being out on tour with my uncle who’s known me since I was a baby. I met him as a teenager and quickly became a fan of his music.”
This time out, as they tour in support of Together, Calder and Newman are traveling with the band’s full eight person lineup that includes another gifted solo artist, and a member of The New Pornographers, Neko Case. “While Neko doesn’t always make it out on the road with us, she’s here for these shows and it’s been great because we love having her,” Calder said. “We’ve got a cello player with us, as well, so there are nine people on stage most of the time.”
Together, these nine artists have the incredibly difficult task of playing some of the most intricate songs in The New Pornographer’s catalog live on stage. As Calder explained, “It’s one thing to make a record with 60 tracks or whatever, but it’s an entirely different thing to try and play them with 8 or 9 people. You just have to pick the parts that you think are the most important. They are going to sound different from the album but I don’t think people are expecting to hear the record. In fact, I think people would be disappointed if they went to a concert and it just sounded like the record.”
While what Calder says is true in most cases, she would be hard pressed to find a true New Pornographers fan who would be disappointed by hearing Together played note for note in concert. It’s a masterful work that showcases the best attributes of the band and more.
As if their prowess wasn’t enough, Newman and company invited several special guests to join them on the record. Making appearances are Beirut’s Zach Condon, Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, the Dap-King horns, and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, who lends her guitar to one of the standout tracks on the album, “My Shepherd.”
Overall, it’s a relatively amazing feat that Together sounds as together as it does, given the fact that the band was spread out all over the country when it was recorded. With sessions taking place in British Columbia and New York, the band frequently made do with what they had available. While Calder explained that they “set up a really makeshift studio in the guest cottage — just off the side of Carl’s house in Woodstock — with a laptop, microphones and few pieces of gear,” she also mentioned that they were able to spend some time in some pretty amazing spaces. “We went to a place called Old Soul Studios in the town of Catskill, N.Y., where they have tons of old vintage keyboards. It was just so much more inspiring to sit down at an instrument and play something and then move within the room and sit down somewhere else at a different instrument and it makes a different sound.”
The final result is an album that is a “total monster,” according to Calder. “When it was all said and done I sat back and listened to the record and just thought it was amazing that we pulled it off. There is so much sifting through of tracks and figuring out what combination of sounds sound good together.”
Whatever the combination, the result is a very solid album of power-pop music that proves that the genre isn’t dead at all and is, in fact, as strong as it’s been in years. So roll down the windows, or pull back the top, and crank up The New Pornographers the next time the open road is calling.
:: The New Pornographers ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: July 28 ::
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