By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Seems the longer The New Pornographers are together, the more the band's coed lineup expands. Currently touring as a nine-piece, at the center of the band have always been the songwriting contributions of its two lead singers, Carl "A.C." Newman and Dan Bejar. Newman writes most of the material, while Bejar contributes a few songs here and there. But the group has always sounded like a fully-realized band instead of a solo project.
Odd since, well, most of the band's members have solo projects, too.
Now on their fifth record, Together, the band continues a streak of irresistible poppy rock that sounds influenced by '60s pop but doesn't try to sound just like '60s pop. With strings, keyboards and horns augmenting the stacks of vocals, guitars and drums, the band's recent expansion just made sense.
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"We don't need to have them, but it just sounded better to us," Newman says of the decision to cover the strings found on Together and its predecessor, Challengers, with added live performers.
It's a bold move—especially when you consider that, for a band that's been around as long as this one, its touring schedules have increased in frequency lately rather than decreased.
"The last few years have been the most we've ever toured, actually," Newman says. "For the first few years, we didn't do that much touring at all."
Since the band's formation, Neko Case has lent her angelic pipes to the band on record and live while not touring or recording her own solo albums. Given her schedule in the past, Newman's niece, Kathryn Calder, was brought into the group to cover for Case whenever she wasn't available to tour. Calder remains in that role today.
But Case isn't the only member who has had scheduling conflicts. The band has also toured without Bejar in the past. But the intent this time around, Newman explains, is to tour as the main eight-piece lineup—the one that always includes Bejar.
"It always is," Newman says. "But it's hard to do. Just like it's hard for Broken Social Scene to get all their members together."
Case, as well as Bejar (under the Destroyer moniker), had made a few solo records before becoming Pornographers, and they continue to work on solo records. Newman himself has released two solo albums, The Slow Wonder and Get Guilty, since the band formed.
The cycle of a New Pornographers record, then a solo record, then a band record, and another solo album was not, in Newman's words, "really anything conscious." Besides, Newman's not so sure if this pattern will hold in the future.
"I don't know if I'm ever going to make another solo album," he says. "So we'll see if that pattern keeps."
It's not always up to him, though: Newman often shows his songs to the band in person and sometimes has demos for them.
"There are many different routes you can take to make a New Pornographers song," he says. "Sometimes we start working on the song and we record a version of it and I hack it apart—or we hack it apart later—and reassemble it."
For instance, "Up in the Dark" was to be on one of Newman's solo records, but it ended up on Together.
"Usually, whatever songs I'm writing at that time end up on that specific album," he says. "There are some songs that I put on solo albums that I wished I saved for the New Pornographers, but what can you do?"
As for the current tour, expect a handful of songs from Together, but songs from all of the band's other albums as well.
"I don't like it when bands forget their first two records," Newman says.
In other words, those wanting to scream along with something from Mass Romantic won't be left out in the cold.
"I know we have a lot of old songs that a lot of people like," Newman says. "I try to just spread it evenly. But it gets difficult when you have five albums. So our set is as long as it's ever been. We're trying to keep it to around an hour and a half, tops."