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Play Money: An Interview with The New Pornographers

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The New Pornographers. Photo: Jenny Jimenez


In the world of indie rock, there have always been bands that skirt the trends and do their own thing.  Sometimes, bands come along that always feel more grand that everyone else in the genre, which couldn’t be more true for Canada’s The New Pornographers.  Now 17 years in, the band is back with their most focused and concise album to date.  With Whiteout Conditions, the band that’s always flown on the edge of pop heroics sounds more hypnotizing than ever.  Free Press Houston was more than thrilled to chat with lead singer and principle songwriter Carl Newman about the new album and what they have in store with their upcoming appearance at White Oak Music Hall.


Free Press Houston:  You guys have a pretty extensive tour this time. In fact, it’s the biggest tour I’ve seen the band do.  Are you comfortable being known to be a band that doesn’t really tour a lot?

Carl Newman:  I never really thought about it.  I like being at home, so hopefully it helps if you’re known as a band that doesn’t tour much.  I mean, who knows today what’s oversaturation and what’s undersaturation.


FPH:  Your date in Vancouver is at the Commodore Ballroom, which is a large sized and historic venue.  Is it a validation of where you’re at by playing such a stoic space in the city where you formed?

Newman:  I guess so, though we played it 15 years ago for the first time.  It’s cool in that I grew up going there.  I went to a lot of shows as an audience member at 19 and 20 years old.  So it’s cool to be a band playing there now in a room where I saw so many other bands play at.


FPH:  The new album Whiteout Conditions is possibly your most focused album to date. Was that intentional when you were writing it?

Newman:  More in the recording process.  For me, the intent all starts to come together while we’re recording.


FPH:  I’ve always felt that your catalog is full of albums that are perfectly crafted, but this is the first one you wrote solely correct?  Were you worried about going it alone this time?

Newman:  Yeah.  I don’t know, it’s a strange dynamic.  Not having Dan involved didn’t affect my songs and what I do.  It was all about putting it all together rather than just one person’s input.


FPH:  There are definite Krautrock elements as well as more electronica touches to this release that I don’t remember being on previous albums. Do you ever think about how people will perceive the songs while the band grows into newer territories?

Newman:  I always have to make the assumption that we sound like us.  We’ve always had synth squeals on our records going back to the second album.  We’ve just arpeggiated them now and they’re more sequenced together on this album.  


FPH:  As a band, you’ve always seemed to know who you are by making songs that seem to really have their own world to exist in. Is that part of how you approach making your albums, or do you just get together and that’s what comes out?

Newman:  It really is.  It feels like artists with a canvas and it slowly takes form.  We don’t follow any trends and we always just do what we want.  


FPH:  The opening track “Play Money” has some stark lyrics that some people could take the wrong way.  Are you ever worried that people will get the wrong idea from the lyrics, even if they’re tongue in cheek?

Newman:  I don’t know, somebody will always misconstrue what you say.  I thought it was funny to open that song with lyrics from The Frogs.  I thought, maybe don’t start an album off that way. But it ultimately works for the song.  


FPH:  I’ve always loved your live sets, the last one at Fun Fun Fun fest being one of my favorites.  For anyone who’s never seen the band live before, can you explain what people are in for when you return to Houston in May?

Newman:  We have something new, we did it last night in LA and I really liked the way it turned out.  We have Cindy Stone on violin and on vocals.  So now we have this triple female vocal attack, which sounds like ABBA.


If you haven’t heard the new album Whiteout Conditions, it’s available to stream on all platforms, and available to purchase from the band in various CD and vinyl versions here.  You can catch The New Pornographers downstairs at White Oak Music Hall on Thursday May 4.  The show will also have Waxahatchee on as direct support and opener, with doors at 7 pm and tickets between $29 and $33 for the all ages show.