about us | contact | links | archive

Features Article

Words: Kathleen C Fennessy

Image: Erica Henderson

Image of the New Pornographers

In late August, the New Pornographers released their third full-length album “Twin Cinema.” In some respects, as on the driving title track, it’s a continuation of the great power-pop that made “Mass Romantic” and “Electric Version” instant alt-rock classics. In others, it’s a step into more adventurous territory. Overall, the CD is a more personal, wide-ranging recording than before. There are also two new members joining the septet, vocalist Nora O’Connor (the Blacks) and Carl Newman’s niece, vocalist/keyboard player Kathryn Calder (Immaculate Machine). I spoke with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Newman while he was in New York doing press for the album and preparing for their fall tour, just a few weeks prior to the release of “Twin Cinema.”

First off, he told me the full band would be hitting the road this year. Only O’Connor won’t be able to make it, as she’s expecting, but Neko Case will be on board, even though she’s been busy working on her new solo album. (“I’m worried about her,” he added, implying that she’s a little overbooked at the moment.) Since Case is based in Chicago, I asked if she recorded her contributions, like the lovely “Bones of an Idol,” there or in Vancouver BC. “She came to Vancouver.” She usually does, Newman explained, except for two or three small parts in the past. Since we were on the subject, I asked if he was still living part of the time in San Francisco as he had been for a while. “Not anymore,” he replied. “Did you feel like an American when you were living in San Francisco?” I asked. “No, he replied, “I felt like a Canadian living in San Francisco.” Which wasn’t a bad thing, he added. He just didn’t think there was that big of a difference between San Francisco and Vancouver BC. He also had kind things to say about Seattle. “It’s always been great for us.” I asked if he spent a lot of time here when he was in Zumpano. He said he did and enjoyed it. “Will those albums ever be re-released?” I asked, when he confirmed they were out of print. He said Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman had contacted him about it, but he has his reservations. He didn’t feel like he was able to make the kind of music he wanted to in Zumpano (“It was stressful”), so he isn’t too excited about putting those recordings back into circulation. He doesn’t think they’re terrible; they just don’t hold the best memories.

I asked how Calder’s life has changed since she became a member. “She doesn’t really seem to be phased by it,” he said. Since she has her own band, “She’s still kind of a hired gun” as far as the New Pornographers are concerned. I wondered if the press attention was something new for her and he confirmed that it was, citing an interview the two did with “Venus.” “Why do they want to talk to me?” she wondered. He also mentioned that she actually lives in Victoria, although she spends a lot of time in Vancouver, and that Immaculate Machine’s new record comes out “a couple weeks after ours, on September 16.” I asked if it was easier or harder to have so many people in the band. He said it’s easier, for the most part, since they no longer have to worry about Case’s busy schedule. Plus, “We’re a band that doesn’t really ask a lot of people,” which means that, since Newman and John Collins (bass) write most of the material, everyone else has time to work on their own projects (producing, filmmaking, etc.) until they’re needed.

In the press notes for the album, Carl mentions his affection for the Fiery Furnaces and Frog Eyes, two bands that opened for New Pornographer member Dan Behar’s Destroyer on their last tour. I asked if there were any other new bands he was excited about. “Outrageous Cherry,” he said without hesitation, describing them as a Detroit band with a “’60s pop/psychedelic rock” sound. He even covered one of their songs, “If You Want Me”, while on tour in support of his sublime solo effort, “The Slow Wonder.” He also had praise for Stephen Malkmus. In those same notes, he mentions some of the older bands he thinks “Twin Cinema” sounds most like: the Moody Blues, Tubeway Army, Wings, Eno, the Stranglers and 10cc. I told him I could hear a little Moody Blues and some Eno and he enthused about the latter for a while. On the new album he and Collins use the EBow, which is prominent on Eno’s early works, like “Here Come the Warm Jets.” I had heard of the EBow, but wasn’t quite sure what it was. “It’s a little gizmo that you hold against the strings like a pick,” he explained. He added that it vibrates and produces a synthesizer-like sound. In the press notes, he adds that the EBow, “Fixes the problem of wanting cello, but not wanting a cello player in your band. They take up way too much room.”

After chatting about Eno, we talked about the LA band Love. Newman said he’s already started making plans for a fourth New Pornographers album, to be released next winter (if all goes as planned), and a second solo release. He said he’s always writing material and promised that at least one song will attempt to capture that great Love sound, circa 1967. You heard it here first.

The New Pornographers perform September 16 on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and September 24 at Seattle’s Showbox with Destroyer and Immaculate Machine. For more information about the EBow, check out ebow.com.

All content of Tablet is © 2005 by Tablet, LLC and may not be reprinted without expressed written permission.