“There are no more interesting rock and roll bands,” writes American novelist Rick Moody in The New Pornographers artist bio. “(The New Pornographers) are also unable, it seems, to resist the challenge to make a perfect album, a form so dead.”
If there’s any controversial comment to make in a bio, it’s probably to say there’s nothing good happening in pop music anymore. Carl Newman, The New Pornographers’ singer, clarifies the author’s statement.
“He didn’t mean it in an insulting way,” says the ex-Vancouverite and now New York-based artist. “He was saying it’s a noble gesture, trying to work in a format so many people think is dead.”
It’s true, Pornographers-like power pop — which draws from the Beach Boys, The Kinks and Big Star, among other punchy, harmony-laden rock bands — isn’t the rage these days, but it’s far from obsolete. Newman knows that, but he says classic pop has gone underground. “If Pet Sounds came out today it would be this weird alternative record,” he says.
If anything, The New Pornographers’ music has kept the genre top of mind for many music fans. The band isn’t pushing power pop into the mainstream — “I’ve had an underground career,” he says — but with thousands of records sold worldwide, and veteran acts like Animal Collective and new bands such as Library Voices playing more pop-focused music, they’ve had an influence.
The band actually took a step back from their polished distorted tunes on their previous disc, Challengers, in favour of softer, melodic sounds. Their new record, Together, combines that subdued band — which also features Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar — with their louder selves.
“It exemplifies my contrary nature,” says Newman, explaining how a song like Crash Years, a bubbly Case track winds up on the same album as the quiet, lo-fi piano song Valkyrie in the Roller Disco.
Newman admits that the disc is a bit of history lesson into the New Pornographers music. “It does take a lot of different things we’ve done,” he says, adding that the only difference between how he wrote this disc and the previous ones was that Together was based around riffs he had in his mind. “More than the other albums, this was built around some kind of guitar or cello line that runs through a verse.”
The band will tour behind Together for a while, but once that’s over, in the past, Newman has released solo albums. He says it’s unlikely he’ll write another A.C. Newman disc for a while.
“I want to do something different. Something that doesn’t sound anything like my solo stuff or The New Pornographers,” he says. “Or maybe I’m just talking out of my ass.”