Formed in 1999 and composed of a killer cast of accomplished musicians —including the Grammy nominated Neko Case and the formidable front-man, Carl Newman, also known by his semi-fake initials A.C. Newman— The New Pornographers are true veterans of the indie-rock scene. Now, roaring to life with its titular anthem, “Brill Bruisers,” the bands newest album swirls with joyful arpeggios, pulsing rhythms, and the most energy the band has put on record. Brill Bruisers marks the end of a rejuvenating break for the group and the beginning of what Carl Newman referred to as a “celebration record” that brought with it some newfound critical acclaim.
In anticipation of their arrival at Montreal’s Corona Theatre on February 4th, we got a chance to speak with Kathryn Calder. Kathryn started playing keyboard and singing with The New Pornographers in 2006 —after discovering that Carl Newman was her long lost uncle— to fill in for Neko Case on tour and has since become a big part of the groups sound.
Q: I’ve been reading a bunch about the record; it’s gotten a lot of positive attention and it sounds great. I noticed your name is popping up more than it has in the past. Did you feel you were more involved in the studio than you have been on past records?
Kathryn: You know, I felt like I was involved about the same amount, so I don’t know what that is. I kind of went in and had maybe a week to ten days to do all of my keyboard parts and the vocals[…] There are lots of things going on with the record at all times and it’s anyone’s guess who’s doing what at any time. I don’t know why I’m getting mentioned more. But that’s nice! [laughs] I played on it!
Q: You guys are defined as a supergroup —a group of talented people who have done side projects and all kinds of different things. How does that contribute to how a record comes together?
Kathryn: I think that we all have ideas when we come in. The vision is Carl’s and John’s, so I’m just trying to keep up with them, just trying to come up with cool things that we all like. It’s not hard to be inspired when you’re in that kind of a situation where you’re recording with two very creative people. You all end up inspiring each other.
Q: Brill Bruisers has been described as the most modern sound The New Pornographers have had yet, but the title recalls the Brill Building —notorious for producing some of the best pop music of the 50s and 60s. Was the dynamic of past and contemporary music consciously a part of the record?
Kathryn: I think that that’s what the band’s always been going for. I think there’s definitely a lot of conscious referencing of music that has come before. That’s always been a big thing for the band. But then, also, we’re all living in the modern world with all the things that are coming out now and the cool things that people are doing now[…] Even just in terms of making music these days, like using software synths as opposed to analog synths. That kind of thing gives you a lot of flexibility in the sound. We’re not purists certainly, at least I’m not, in terms of what kinds of synths we use. We definitely try to go for particular sounds and there are different ways to get those sounds. We use modern technology and modern modulations.
[Carl has cited, among others, Electric Light Orchestra, U2, and the theme from Midnight Cowboy.]
Q: Did you feel that you were breaking any new ground as far as the band’s sound goes?
Kathryn: I don’t know, I think that’s how the band has always worked. I think that we had a very particular idea of what we wanted the record to sound like and I think Carl felt like he got it. He had a vision and he and John [bass, guitar, synth, and vocals] worked on it. They had this vision from when they started and, from what Carl says, he’s very happy and feels like we nailed it. I personally have no idea how one can have such a strong vision. That’s not how I work at all [laughs]. I have a hard time with visions and executing visions. I’m way more, “well let’s just see, I don’t know, let’s just try stuff.” It’s really cool to be involved with something that’s a totally different way of doing it than how I would approach it.
Q: Carl described the album as a “celebration record,” have you felt that on tour and in your live performances?
Kathryn: Yeah! Definitely[…] You have a break and then it’s really fun to get everyone together and go on tour. It’s been (for the most part) pretty easy and really good.
You can catch The New Pornographers at the Corona Theatre in Montreal on February 4th.