Backstage at the Belle & Sebastian-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival: Bowlie 2, in Butlins Minehead, settled in a dressing room usually occupied by cabaret acts and furnished only with four chairs and 50 bottles of Stella, we find Carl Newman. Along with his red-tinted hair and ready smile, Newman’s enthusiasm is oddly youthful for his 42 years. Even after ten years’ involvement with the New Pornographers, he still discusses their work with gusto.
Despite an oft-changing line-up in the band’s infancy, with Newman at the helm there remains a consistent quality in their work which has led to a decade’s worth of acclaimed releases.
“Well, the line up has pretty much been the same for the past three albums,” Newman explains. ‘‘Because Catherine joined on Twin Cinema – although when we made the record we didn’t know that she was gonna join.”
Newman also mentions friends who have dipped in and out of recordings. One would expect such a haphazard creative process to lead to a rather chaotic sound, but for Newman, chaos is creativity.
“It makes it always a little bit more random – like, I never know who’s gonna sing what. More and more I find that I’m writing less and less of the really fast, bouncy pop songs that I used to write, which makes it more different and I’m always trying to add new instruments – there’s no method to it, there’s a lot of experimentation. Although sometimes I wish we had a ‘sound’.”
Like a definite label?
“I mean we sort of have a sound, but not like Galaxie 500 or Teenage Fanclub, where you go ‘Ohh, yeah, that must be….’”
“So you started out in Vancouver, how far do you associate yourself with that music scene and with that point of origin?”
“I don’t know… it’s great to see people that I knew back when we were obscure and struggling actually doing well. You know, there’s a certain sense of civic pride in that,” he admits, laughing. “So I can’t help but cheer for Vancouver!”
We discuss the nostalgic, uniquely British vibe at the Butlins and I can’t help but wonder whether this music gains much exposure outside the UK?
“I think a lot of British music is really popular in Canada, maybe because we are part of the Commonwealth and we have the Queen on everything! Like, I liked the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen… Actually, we did a tour back in 2002 when Cinerama (headed by The Wedding Present frontman, David Gedge) and I was like ‘so the guy from The Wedding Present is supporting us?! Whoa…’”
Their invitation to play ATP came from the band’s personal friendship with their curators: “We toured with [Belle & Sebastian] in 2006, for about three weeks in America and we became really good friends. I fought really hard to get that tour. It was the first time we had ever done a tour with a band that I liked that much. Most bands you tour with, you think of them as peers, but with them I didn’t think that. I felt weird over the first few days and then I got settled in and we became friends and then stayed in contact.”
So what of ATP itself?
“We did an ATP curated by The Shins and that was great. We just did the Matador 21st Anniversary, which was a similar kind of thing, except it was in a Casino in Vegas – that was an insane line up too, with Guided by Voices, Belle & Sebastian and Cat Power. It’s so cool at ATP because the bands are all just wandering around, even as a member of one of the bands I think it’s weird, cause I’m just walking around and I’m like- ‘Hey, there’s Stuart [Murdoch, of Belle & Sebastian fame]!’”
“Everyone in the group has their own individual projects, do you feel your side projects influence your life and work in the band?”
“Oh definitely- and it’s really good. It keeps things from getting too crazy. I think when everyone is focused on one band then everyone puts too much of themselves into it. I think that’s when bands start getting into terrible fights. Sometime you can lose perspective… so if there’s a disagreement or something in the band, then they’ll generally let me get my way!”
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