The New Pornographers have shared punchy new track ‘Angelcover’ and spoken to NME about their upcoming ninth album, ‘Continue As A Guest’. Check it out below along with our interview with frontman Carl Newman.
‘Angelcover’ marks the second taste the new album – their first for Merge Records – and follows on from January’s lead single ‘Really Really Light’.
Speaking to NME, the band’s leader Newman said the song directly addresses his growing interest in the capabilities of his voice that defines the album as a whole.
“The chorus is: ‘Melody, melody / Ain’t got nothing on delivery’,” he said. “I wrote that because I was thinking about the way people listen to music. Have you ever listened to music and thought, ‘This is the worst fucking song, but it’s sung so beautifully’? I think there’s a lot of music out there that’s just highly polished turds, no song, but so beautifully produced and so beautifully sung that people just don’t care. So that song is a little bit meta, singing about the process as I was doing it.
He continued: “I was obsessed with the vocals on this record, I wanted to sing in a different way. I think that when you’ve been playing music a long time, you’re always trying to find that balance where it sounds like you but you’re not repeating yourself.”
Newman took the newfound time afforded by the coronavirus lockdown to teach himself home production. The fact he was learning as he went along also helped keep things fresh as The New Pornographers enter their 25th year as a band, as he explained.
“I think everybody who’s been doing music for a long time is trying to figure out a new way to approach it,” he said. “I remember there was an album where The Walkmen switched instruments just to change things up.
“In this case, me becoming the producer/engineer was exciting, I was learning things I should already have known. Also, for whatever reason I found it changing the way I was writing songs. Lyrically I think I’ve always written weird, outsider lyrics like David Byrne or Eno or someone like that. I was never very concerned with narratives, I never wanted to be Bruce Springsteen, but I started thinking, ‘Maybe it would be fun to try and write songs that make sense!’”
For the album’s lead single ‘Really Really Light’, meanwhile, Newman revisited an unused recording with The New Pornographers’ former member Dan Bejar, aka Destroyer. “It’s the chorus from a song we didn’t use on [2014 album] ‘Bill Bruisers’. I thought, ‘I’m going to take this chorus and write a whole new song around it. I’d been listening to that song ‘I’m The Man’ by Aloe Blacc where he interpolates Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, and so I thought ‘I’m going to interpolate a Dan song that no one else has ever heard!’”
Newman added: “Speaking of trying to figure out ways to keep doing things that are new, it was a fun challenge trying to make it all fit together, it took quite a while. I wanted it to sound like it was all written by the same person, even though it’s verse by Newman, chorus by Bejar. It was pretty high concept.”
The record also features a collaboration with Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis, ‘Firework In The Falling Snow’, which also took an unconventional form.
“It’s funny, I’ve still never met her!” Newman said. “I’m a fan, I had the music, so I just cold-called her and said ‘Hey, would you be willing to write some lyrics?’ Then within a couple of days she sent me back a song with her singing along. She had all these lyrics that I thought were really great, especially the line ‘Firework In The Falling Snow’. I started cutting bits out, cutting up her lyrics and adding my own, but I felt like I needed somebody to come in and show me what the centre of the song was.
“Collaboration can be tough. I’ve tried doing it with various people who are incredibly talented, and sometimes it’s not what you want. It’s not a New Pornographers song.”
His most unusual collaboration, he recalled, was for an abandoned Broadway musical project based on the Archie Comics universe. “That’s the weird life of a musician. Weird things dangle in front of you and then they just go away.”
The title of the new album, ‘Continue As A Guest’, reflects a sense of alienation that Newman sources from a number of different places. “There’s a lot of levels to it,” he said. “Everybody who’s spent some time buying something online sees that phrase, ‘Would you like to continue as a guest’? and I’m constantly clicking on it like ‘Yes, yes, I’ll continue as a guest!’ The world was such an ugly place [when the album was being made]. Trump was president, the far right was taking over. I felt like I was trying to figure out a way to be in the world, but not of the world.
“It brings you back to the reason you became an artist or a musician too. Because you felt like an outsider, outside of the mainstream, and how you carry that with you through life. I hope, when I say ‘I think I want to continue as a guest’, that it doesn’t come off as negative. Sometimes I read the lyrics of [the title track] and I worry it reads like a suicide note!”
While Newman’s enthusiasm for his craft has not dimmed since he began his career with alternative rock outfit Superconductor in the early ’90s, he admitted that “I’m kind of jaded by a lot of the music business”.
“I hate selling myself, I was never the kid who wanted to get up on stage and perform for people, I was always the kid who loved music,” he said. “I think there’s always that element that will remain pure to me. That’s why you surround yourself with likeminded people.”
The band’s recent signing to Merge reflects this desire. “They approach music from a pure and honourable place,” said Newman. “I’ve known these people for a long time because Destroyer has been on the label for 20 years. They’ve had bands like Arcade Fire so they’ve had records that went to Number One, but they’re also OK with putting out records that only sell 1,000 copies.
“To them, that can coexist. That’s why I was so happy to sign with Merge, because they seem like people who are just in it for the love of it, and they’re in it for life. Hopefully it can be a long relationship.”
Newman revealed that The New Pornographers are already making good progress on the follow-up to ‘Continue As A Guest’. “I feel a certain pride in our stubbornness,” he added. “We don’t give a fuck, we’re staying. You don’t like this one, well we’re gonna make another one, and we’re gonna keep doing this until we die. It’s what we do!”
‘Continue As A Guest’ will be released on March 31. Check out the full tracklist below.
1. ‘Really Really Light’
2. ‘Pontious Pilate’s Home Movies’
3. ‘Cat And Mouse With The Light’
4. ‘Last And Beautiful’
5. ‘Continue As A Guest’
6. ‘Bottle Episodes’
7. ‘Marie And The Undersea’
9. ‘Firework In The Falling Snow’
10. ‘Wish Automatic Suite’