The New Pornographers’ Carl Newman on aspiring to a better place
At the end of March, the New Pornographers released their ninth studio album, Continue As A Guest. Their first release for Merge Records saw the band recording mostly virtually and definitely reflects the effects of the COVID pandemic. The sound on this album is somewhat darker than one might expect from the power-pop septet, but the hopeful notes strewn throughout provide a counterpoint.
The New Pornographers hit the Truman on Saturday, April 29, and we spoke by phone with bandleader Carl Newman about the new record.
The Pitch: What’s always interesting about The New Pornographers is that it is a band that changes and shifts, and there are different lineups on different records. On the new one, Continue As A Guest, you’ve got Dan Behar back in the mix.
Carl Newman: Well, I mean, not really. I just took an old song of his and kind of wrote around it. I talked to him about it on the phone. I said, “Hey, I’m gonna use the chorus from that song we didn’t use,” and he said, “Cool, go for it.” That’s about as much as he’s in the mix. He’d been doing some of the Mass Romantic/Twin Cinema shows with us, so he’s still in my life—in our lives—but, no, he’s not really in the band anymore.
It is an ever-evolving group of people, which makes it interesting, ’cause folks know that they’re going to get catchy songs on every album but not quite who’s going to be there.
I used to tell people at the beginning that I wanted to be like Alan Parsons Project, and people thought I was joking. I mean, I guess it sounds funny, but I like the idea that Alan Parsons Project had hits but was faceless. Nobody knew who the singer was, the records were whoever he used—it was just this project that was named after the producer who made it. I thought that was cool and that’s kind of what I wanted the Pornographers to be.
But then, my mistake, I asked some people to be in the band who were too magnetic, so we couldn’t be a faceless band because there were people who had a lot of character, and then, all of a sudden, we were one of those bands full of separate people that people know. I always just wanted an open-ended vehicle for songs, and I still feel that way.
I just have this tendency to, like, meet somebody that I think is cool and think, “I want this person to play on our record. I want this person to sing on our record,” because I just want to collect people that I think are cool. That’s how you end up with seven people in the band.
The New Pornographers were described as a side project when you all first appeared, but this is a band that is something more than the sum of its parts.
It’s strange. This is a side project for most people, but it’s not for me. It was always a side project for Dan. It’s always been a side project for Neko, but for me, this is my thing. This is how I put on music. I think I’m growing to accept what it is. These days, I just feel like the Pornographers will be whatever I decide it is.
I don’t know if that’s a good attitude or not, but I just want the Pornographers to evolve. I want freedom within the Pornographers—musical freedom—to do whatever I feel like doing.
That really comes through on all of the different albums. When Brill Bruisers came out. I was like, “This is different, and I love it because of that,” and it continues on throughout the various albums, up to Continue As A Guest. I can tell that they’re all the same band, but they’re unique and stand on their own. This one seems darker but with hope.
I think my songs have got gotten a little darker. It’s hard not to. It’s also a little lighter. I think that’s why the song “Really, Really Light” felt like a declaration of intent at the beginning of the record because I think it’s a song about aspiring. I was writing it when we were in the middle of the pandemic, and everybody was feeling very isolated. It was aspiring to a time when we’re not talking about this—when we’re just sitting around and talking about the weather, and everything’s really, really light. I think that theme runs through it. There’s that theme of being in a dark place but trying to get to a better place.
The New Pornographers play the Truman on Saturday, April 29, with Wild Pink. Details on that show here.