by Christine Leonard
VANCOUVER – Orchestrating the polyphonic activities of the Vancouver-spawned supergroup known as The New Pornographers for over a decade and a half has given singer-songwriter/guitarist A.C. Newman a certain knack for capturing a musical snapshot of a moment in time and preserving its essence like an insect suspended in amber. Recently, when tasked with pulling together a cohesive sting on compositions for the band’s ongoing tour, Newman discovered that skimming through a scrapbook of past recordings unlocked the sweetest of memories. Those that have yet to be made.
“We always try and mix it up, it’s just about the math of how we’re going to split up songs, which takes a while cuz at the beginning of a tour because you’re just sort of guessing what the set will be,” says Newman.
“I feel like these days, we’re trying harder, especially on this record and Brill Bruisers (2014). It was the first time where we said, ‘Let’s go out there on stage and just try to be as close to our albums as possible.’ Whereas before that I think we were a little more lackadaisical about it, now we’re slightly more disciplined and it’s cool to go out there and go like, ‘Okay what you hear on the record – We’re going to try to do that live.’”
Thus far the popular response to conductor Newman’s dynamic, high-fidelity approach with Whiteout Conditions has been overwhelmingly positive. After all, what better way to secure affections of a new generation of listeners than by fulfilling every frustrated delinquent’s wildest fantasy and running amok in the hallowed halls of education? John Hughes would applaud the scorching adolescent angst vented in The New Pornographers’ video for their latest runaway single “High Ticket Attractions.”
“We were just talking to directors and Dan Huiting said ‘Okay, I know of a high school that’s slated for demolition and I think I could destroy it.’ And I said, ‘Let’s do that.’ The cool thing is that what makes that video look so high budget. It was real, filmed destruction! I made a couple of contributions to the video; I wanted the kids to have medieval weapons and I wanted a flaming motorcycle and after that I was just, ‘Do what you want!’”
Ordering up battle-axes and stuntmen on a whim may seem out of character for a thoughtful alt-rock troubadour who has coaxed so many to crash on the floor, or psychiatrist’s couch, of his well-appointed artist’s studio. But truth be told, Newman has always had his eye on the prize, it’s just that the prize in question has gradually gotten a lot more impressive.
“We just did The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and every time I’m in those situations there’s always that feeling of, ‘Holy shit. How did I get here?’ It’s almost like the nightmare where somebody throws you into a situation that you’re not ready for. But before we ever did TV I use to think, ‘Can you imagine? What else it there? That’d be the coolest thing in the world to ever experience that – to be a band that performs on a late-night TV show!’ And then it just becomes this weird thing where it becomes our reality. And it’s always surreal, and it’s fun, but there is an element of that nightmare scenario where you’re like ‘Oh my God. I’ve got to go play my song in front of a million people and I can’t fuck it up!’ It’s like child is the father of the man.
The New Pornographers perform with Born Ruffians at The Commodore on September 29.Commodore Ballroom, New Pornographers