The Comeback of a Canadian Pop Supergroup
Lead Vocalist Kathryn Calder of The New Pornographers Shares Insight on New Album
The New Pornographers are coming back to Montreal this Wednesday, ready to sway the Corona Theatre with a whole lot of keyboards, plenty of synthesizers and energetic pop sounds. With the release of their new studio album Brill Bruisers, the band call themselves a pop super-group.
An indie-rock band originally from Vancouver, B.C., The New Pornographers have been around since 1999, moving the Canadian music scene with their catchy guitar strums and picking patterns that bear a musical resemblance to 1960s pop group The Bee Gees and rock iconoclasts The Rolling Stones.
“[We’re] a very unique collection of people,” said Kathryn Calder, the band’s lead singer. “There are a lot of really strong songwriters and musicians in our band. There are a lot of ideas and directions that we could go. It’s like an art collaboration.
“If one person is playing all the instruments it sort of lends itself to being the same type of melody or the same type of rhythm. As soon as you bring somebody else, it just changes. I love that collaborating and the meetings of the mind.”
Album opener “Brill Bruisers” captures that communal energy perfectly. The song starts full blast with the lines “Bo ba, bo ba ba bo, Bo ba, bo ba ba” and leads the way to the 13 songs written for the most part by lead singer Carl Newman, also known as A.C. Newman.
Newman told RiffYou.com that he liked to go into a new song without a concrete idea and work at it until it just sounds right—there’s no real formula to success.
“It’s hard to tell where songs come from,” said Newman. “I want it to burst out of the gate with a big hook […] We just gotta make sure we record this as well as possible. The drums need to sound great, the guitars need to sound great, and the vocals have to sound great.”
All eight members pitch into the collaborative process with their own colours and experiences, making the album flavorful, each song unique with different minds at work. “You get not only life perspectives of where everybody is, but also what everybody is listening to,” said Calder. “We’re all big music fans.”
Newman told New York magazine that he “didn’t really have plans for world domination; I just wanted to have an interesting band with friends.”
It’s a mutual feeling for Calder, who believes that being in a band is like being in a club—there’s a feeling of belonging. She joined The New Pornographers in 2005 on their third album, Twin Cinema.
“It’s weird, like one part happenstance, one part luck, one part connection.”
When Calder joined the band for their sixth album, Newman had already laid out the groundwork. For the most part, the songs had been written and structured, and Newman knew which direction he wanted to take them.
“I just get to come in and have fun,” said Calder.
“It’s a crazy experience. My brain is always so tired every day after recording to constantly keep coming up with new ideas, new ideas, new ideas, all day. It’s really a brain workout.
“Luckily when you’re working with other people and you’re collaborating, you don’t have to have all the energy yourself.”
Moreover, Carl Newman is actually Kathryn Calder’s newfound long-lost uncle from her mother’s side, who had been adopted.
“It was incredibly surreal at the time,” said Calder. “I would have been incredibly dumb if I didn’t jump all over this chance. Sometimes opportunities are just too good, you know, so you don’t even have a chance to think about what the implications are going to be. You’re like, ‘this is awesome and I’m going to do this.’
“I love being in bands,” Calder continued. “It’s like being on a soccer team. Any time you do anything with a group of people, it creates this little club that you belong to. I like that feeling.”
Many of the band members are either part of other Canadian bands or have solo careers. For instance, bassist John Collins is from The Evaporators, guitarist Dan Bejar fronts Destroyer and Carl Newman played with Zumpano. Like Neko Case, Kathryn Calder also has a solo music career.
“With my solo thing, I tend to write songs that are quieter and slower,” said Calder. “Maybe a little mellower. It’s nice to be able to express that side too.
“I think the rock band stuff comes naturally to me in the rock band setting and the quiet music comes naturally when I’m sitting there writing my own songs. I can really be all over the place if I let myself be,” Calder continued.
Her solo record was her opening experience in the music industry. Calder marked her debut as a singer and musician when her mother was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a fatal disease that affects the neurons in the brain and spinal cord.
“She’d always been [such] a huge supporter of my music that I decided I was going to dedicate an album to her,” Calder said. “I was going to write my first solo album and dedicate it to her.”
Calder turned her living room into a recording studio and recorded her first album, Are You My Mother?, released in 2010. A Kickstarter-funded documentary was made by Yellow Bird Project and titled A Matter of Time.
Her childhood was musical; both her parents played the piano. Kathryn describes her father as an “excellent sight reader”. He would sit down at the piano, open any music book and play whatever was on the page. “It was crazy to watch,” Calder said. Her mother, on the other hand, played jazz.
“Between the two of them, there was constantly music going.
“I find that when you’re working on music or writing, that’s it’s very important what you listen to before you start,” Calder said. “Whatever I’m listening to will seep into what I’m working on, even if I’m not intending on it. So I try to listen to really great things.”
The New Pornographers // Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre (2490 Rue Notre-Dame) // 8pm // $30 adv