Carl Newman has found himself in quite the compromising position, yet one that he is inadvertently pleased about. Sandwiched between red-neck, boot-stompin’ crowd pleaser, The Zac Brown Band, and the high-pitched ear sore that has driven many angelic-voiced teenage boys to fear the day puberty will destroy their chances of musical theatre fame (Glee, that is), is a strange place to find yourself, especially when you’re an indie rock group who never necessarily imagined ending up in the US Top 20 charts. Since receiving the news on the morning of our interview, Carl is still adjusting to something he admits dreaming about as a kid in his bedroom. “To think we hit the Top 20 is kind of crazy to me. When you see The New Pornographers in there between all the other bands, it feels like we just snuck in there and that security is going to try and remove us.”
With their fifth studio album, Together, composed of 12 tracks that are so incredibly catchy you literally can’t get them out of your head (and may just encounter a few angry glances and one “Shut the fuck up” when you sing them under your breath on a packed bus), there is little doubt that the eight-piece band deserve the recognition they have received since the public explosion following the acclaimed 2005 release, Twin Cinema. Carl may just be sick of discussing the merits of the new record given at least 90% of the reviews compare it with Twin Cinema—with a unanimous verdict that the former is their best work to date. “Twin Cinema was a certain kind of record that I wanted to make and I did, and I was so happy with that. With Challengers and Together, I thought ‘Let’s make another kind of record.’”
The group of ridiculously talented individuals that make up The New Pornographers are still largely Vancouver-based. Comparisons to fellow Canadian ‘supergroup’ Broken Social Scene are frequent at the best of times. Given that both bands just released records on the same day, there has been much speculation as of late about a rivalry, which Carl finds a little annoying, but mainly amusing. “Somebody told me that in Canada, the press was trying to invent a competition between us, which isn’t the case. Mainly because I know in Canada they are going to beat us. I know Broken Social Scene are more popular than us in Canada, so I thought that it was a given that they were going to sell more records than us!”
From reading about the band, one could imagine that they have implemented some sort of wacky media clause demanding any reference to their music include the words ‘brilliant harmonies, classic hooks and abstract lyrics’—in the same way Mariah Carey will only let journalists view her face from the left side. This is not at all true—in relation to the former that is (ION still haven’t managed to pull through with the Mariah interview). Carl was determined to point out that his lyrics are not always as intricate as people think. “People want to think of you in a certain way… they look at me and say ‘He is the guy who writes cryptic lyrics that you can’t understand, so you don’t even bother trying to understand them’. I think it comes from pigeon holing people. You’re a pop band, so your lyrics are not worth listening to. I think if my songs sounded like Bob Dylan, people would say these are really heavy meaningful lyrics, but when you take these lyrics and put them into a pop song, people just think it’s nonsense.”
Not that his fellow Pornographers are grappling with the front-man for the limelight. Each of them are very much leading their own successful careers, most notably Neko Case, whose solo career has blown up since her 2006 album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and Dan Bejar with his bizarre, but brilliant musical outlet, Destroyer. Getting the whole gang ‘together’ for the latest album was more like a reunion than work according to Carl and when they hit the road this summer, he’s hoping to encounter a few more rock star experiences like he did this morning. Although this time he’s hoping for a Lady Gaga/Sade sandwich—hold the mayo, relish the thought. Coming to a lunchbox near you.