After an introspective record, the pop group returns to the upbeat
Though Newman may still be in that
euphoric, sleepwalking state that follows a practicing musician who becomes a
working musician, to indie-pop audiences his work is satisfyingly real. With a
formula of ridiculously hooky musical composition, smart lyrics and the one-two
knockout punches of Newman’s own quintessentially quirky voice paired with
alt-country goddess Neko Case’s soulful tones, The New Pornographers carved out
a nice little niche for themselves with their first release, 2000’s Mass Romantic.
Newman explained the band’s dense, hyperactive pop sound to Pitchfork in a 2001 interview almost flippantly: “The New Pornographers sound developed out of fucking around.” After that playfulness partially disappeared from the band’s feelings-laden, introspective 2007 release, Challengers, the group decided to backtrack, leaning more on upbeat pop for their fifth, most recent album, Together.
is more of what people have come to expect from us,” Newman says. “With Challengers, some people thought it was
our best record, some people thought it was our worst. I like that. It’s that
really thin line between love and hate.”
Along with fellow songwriter Dan Bejar
of Destroyer, who contributed three of Together’s
poppier tunes, Newman strikes a balance between the soul-searching and the
exuberant on the album, wavering back and forth between heady energy and wry
witticisms woven with strings, brass and giddy, choral vocals.
Writing Together held a lot of stops and starts, Newman admits. “Sometimes
I have 20 melodies for one song and it’s really hard to not go back to those
and want to use them all,” he says. “I’ve often thought about releasing B-sides
of those songs with different melodies. I think Guns N’ Roses have one of those
sorts of B-sides. It’s cool to see I’m on the same wavelength with Axl Rose.
“Sometimes the band just doesn’t know
where the song is going,” he continues. “For example, I won’t have the vocals
done, and they really don’t quite get it yet—they still have it in their minds
that it’s just an instrumental song. I add the vocals; then they get it.”
To add to the interpretive,
seat-of-the-pants recording process, Newman and company invited guest musicians
to the roster while at Brooklyn’s Seaside
Lounge Recording Studios.
“There was no conceptual reason for
adding guest musicians; we were just almost done with the recording process and
a lot of the band mates had already gone home,” Newman explains. “We wanted to
add more parts still, so our manager said, ‘Why don’t you call Annie [Clark]
from St. Vincent to fill in on some guitar
parts? I wasn’t really happy with what I had originally been adding in on
guitar, so we went for it. Same thing with Zach Condon of Beirut; I called up Zach to add some trumpet
and he came in right away and played.
“The only musicians we had planned to
add were The Dap-Kings,” he says of the Sharon Jones horn players who
contributed to two tracks. “I’m not sure if they really enjoyed playing our
music or not, but if they didn’t, they never let on.”
The band plans to continue their guest
tendencies on the road for their Together
tour, where they’ll be joined by The Dodos and The Dutchess and the Duke.
“It’s looking like The Dodos might have
a trumpet player, so we’ll probably have him play with us at our show,” Newman
And will the band be ready for their
famous group-whistling stunts? Newman is pretty confident.
“I’m getting used to it,” he says of
whistling. “On my last solo tour, I did it a lot; in a big group it’s a bit
easier, actually. If a few people drop off, it’s cool.”
Newman pauses to give quick props to a
fellow indie-pop whistler. "I don't know how Andrew Bird does it," he
He should give his New Pornographers
just as much credit—sounds like they could give Bird a run for his whistling
The New Pornographers play the Pabst Theater on Saturday, June 12, with The Dodos and The Dutchess and the Duke.