Carl (AKA A.C.) Newman heads The New Pornographers, Vancouver's rock band laureate. Now based in New York, Carl has returned to headline a show -- appropriately, as part of a birthday bash concert series for the ensemble's hometown.
Crystal Chan: You're playing a show at Summer Live, a celebration of Vancouver on the occasion of its 125th birthday. Vancouver hasn't exactly been 'celebrated' recently. Where were you during the riots?
Carl Newman: I was home in Woodstock [New York]. I didn't even watch the end of the game; I couldn't take the heartbreak, it was too painful. It was like if your girlfriend dumped you during dinner and you say, 'Let's just call this dinner off...'
CC: Do you think the riots were characteristic?
CN: Maybe it's unfair of me to think, and people got mad at me because I said it on Twitter, but when it happened in 1994 and I was downtown, I really got this sense that downtown just got trashed by people that didn't live downtown -- that people from the suburbs of Vancouver just came downtown, destroyed it, and went home again. Of course, that's just a theory of mine. You just write whatever comes into your head (when you're) on Twitter. It did annoy me how people started saying, 'All of Vancouver is asshole-hooligans.' It makes you angry because most of Vancouver is like what you think Vancouver is: a bunch of mellow West coast people. I love it.
CC: What else do you love about Vancouver?
CN: It's good to see my family, friends, go to some favourite restaurants. I really love the Szechuan Chong Qing on Commercial at 12th. I've been going there for 20 years. Also Gyoza King on Robson and Guu --there's one on Robson, one in Gastown. Vancouver really nails the Asian food. Even when I lived in New York City, I couldn't find any Szechuan that approached Chong Qing!
CC: The New Pornographers made headlines last fall when Michigan's Calvin College cancelled a performance due to your risqué name.
CN: It never occurred to me that our name would be a problem. I remember being a teenager and there was a fun band named The Dayglo Abortions. That seems much worse. Or even 10,000 Maniacs is more excessive. I also never saw us singing something popular enough that people would even be paying attention! Sometimes I think, 'Why did we pick this name?' because in some ways this name holds us back. Our record can't be sold in Starbucks or in a million places in America. But at the same time, people remember our name. I feel like so many people who are listening to us started listening to us because of the name.
CC: Your song titles are catchy, too. Grant Lawrence even published a book named after a TNP song, Adventures in Solitude. Did you read it?
CN: I haven't read it yet. He hasn't sent me a free copy!
CC: Making a name for yourself has also led to all kinds of collaborations. Even people doing quite different things -- like Margaret Cho.
CN: That came out about a year ago: The Cho Dependent. It came out of nowhere. She sent me some lyrics that I initially didn't know what to do with. The song's called "Your Dick." It was just all about this guy's dick, and I thought, 'How am I supposed to write a song about this?' But then I met with her in NYC, recorded a demo into her phone. It was a fun exercise since it was so outside of my comfort zone. And cool to work with somebody who you admire. She's a very sweet person.
CC: Any dream collaborations?
CN: I think it would be really cool to work with a producer that would really reinvent your sound, like Danger Mouse, say. 'Here are our songs, turn them into whatever you want to turn them into.' Someone like that who you trust their judgment so much that you could give up that freedom and make that leap of faith. But for the most part we're really controlling! When we're working on a record, we think that nobody knows more about making this record than we do.
CC: All the TNP members are involved in other projects. Doesn't it get unwieldy to coordinate and unify the expression of these different musicians with different things going on?
CN: Yeah, it's been unwieldy, but what can you do? It's just always been that way. It's part of being in TNP. It's trying to take the seemingly disparate elements and creating something cohesive. Some of it is just getting everybody together at the same time.
CC: How have you not lost steam going like this since starting in 1997?
CN: I don't know. People always think as Neko [Case] (who opens for The New Pornographers with a solo set) gets more and more popular that she's going to just leave the band. But it's not the case. It's hard for me to talk for other people, but everybody still seems into it.
CC: So there's no possibility of it ending anytime soon?
CN: I don't think so. It's just the nature of the band. Sometimes Neko's not playing with us, sometimes Dan [Bejar]'s not playing with us. The band goes on. I don't think the band's going to dismantle, but who knows. It's like any relationship. You think a couple's happy, and all of a sudden, they break up. Maybe the fact that everybody always says we're going to break up means we'll be together forever!
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