Wolf Parade - Dan Boeckner on "Thin Mind" | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Wolf Parade - Dan Boeckner on “Thin Mind”

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Mar 05, 2020 Photography by Astrid Lyre Web Exclusive
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Periodically hitting a vaporizer while transferring drum stems to a hard drive at an Airbnb in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner is celebrating album release day. It's January 24, and Thin Mind, Wolf Parade's fifth Long Player, is out for public consumption. The prize Sub Pop band is playing at The Queen's, Nanaimo's pub and music venue that was originally established as The Queen's Hotel in 1892.

"Album release day is the only secular holiday that I celebrate," says Boeckner, who grew up in Vancouver Island, but lives in Montreal. "I'm very excited for this record, it feels good. We've been trying to rehearse for the last few weeks, and it has gone well, but a huge snow storm paralyzed us...the studio is inside a stone barn in the forest. People I went to high school with will be at the show tonight, and they'll say, 'Hey, Dan, what's going on? You guys have made it, you're selling out The Queen's.' Nanaimo is a small town."

Arlen Thompson, Wolf Parade's drummer, also grew up in Vancouver Island. Spencer Krug, the third core member, is from Penticton, BC, which is to the east. Wolf Parade recorded Thin Mind in a rotting building (Risque Disque) in the Vancouver woods, and Boeckner says that the album is indebted to Vancouver Island—the environment informed the songwriting. Vancouver Island might be melting.

"My part was the apocalyptic vision of this place, which is not sustainable," says Boeckner, making a Children of Men reference. "There's an erosion of social safety networks and the wages don't match the rent. It's totally different than Montreal, which has a strong arts community, but you have to try way harder. If you live in Vancouver Island, you pay double for rent with less artistic opportunities [compared to Montreal]. It's expensive and isolated, but the art scene is way better now than when I was a kid here."

Boeckner and Krug have always split the songwriting 50-50, and Boeckner says that they have two different viewpoints. Krug's songs deal with the internal and external meaning of life, while Boeckner's songs are more pessimistic on material conditions. Too much technology could be thinning our focus, making us feel hollow and weird; Thin Mind talks about that new reality, the new expressionism.

"We're there, and there's no unplugging from all the content," says Boeckner. "It's not about breaking your phone over your knee and living in the woods, it's about dealing with it and being a happy and functional person within it, learning how to do it."

Attention spans decrease as oversaturation increases. The struggle with clarity and sustainability in the present day. What shall be done?

"I don't know a solution, but investigating it is good," says Boeckner. "I'm exposing myself to a small amount of brain poison and forming an immunity to it. Creating an immune system to it, in the same way people thought low doses of radioactivity was good for you, but real."

Thin Mind has a more synthesizer-heavy palette than past Wolf Parade releases, Boeckner says, but Thompson still hits with the valuable, banging drums. Thompson's kit is a blend of live and electronic, creating an atmospheric dynamic to drumming. Wolf Parade worked with John Goodmanson—a Seattle record producer and sound engineer who is responsible for the music that shaped Boeckner's musical and political consciousness—for the second time in a row. Goodmanson was part of the bands' 2017 post-hiatus album, Cry, Cry, Cry.

"We have a really good relationship," says Boeckner of Goodmanson. "Unwound, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill...I love those bands. Growing up in BC, in a remote area, and these groups were making amazing music nearby. It wasn't corporate; Bikini Kill and Unwound were super important to me. Working with John has been amazing. He profoundly trusts us to write the music, so he's usually quiet and hands off with the arrangements at the outset of recording, and I respect that."

Wolf Parade went back to its original start as a three-piece after multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro left the band in 2018 once the Cry, Cry, Cry tour was complete. Between 2005 and 2010, the band was a five-piece with Hadji Bakara, then a four-piece after Bakara left. Krug, Boeckner, and Thompson have been running together since Wolf Parade started in the early 2000s.

"We're more interesting as a power trio, we have a smaller footprint," says Boeckner. "Dante retired himself, and it was an unforced evolution of the band, a condition to deal with. It wasn't difficult to write an album [Thin Mind] without Dante. Afterwards, we talked about another fourth member, but Dante is a singular player."

As a Sub Pop cult band with five full-lengths and a decent fill of EPs over 17 years, Wolf Parade has made the long haul, dictating what it does. Boeckner and Krug have been involved in multiple projects throughout the band's history—Handsome Furs, Moonface, Divine Fits, Sunset Rubdown, Operators, Swan Lake—that have performed well. But Boeckner says that Wolf Parade is the foundation, the family tree.

"It allowed me to quit my job and start other projects," says Boeckner, finding it hard to rate Wolf Parade's success; they are not a pop band, not even in the "indie" sense. "Measuring success is weird because we never reached the heights of other bands that flamed up and then burned out. We did whatever the right artistic thing was at the right moment. At first, in the early 2000s, it was hard for the people who worked for us [booking agents] because at the moment you could be a guitar band, you could make money in a short period, but we did not do that, didn't attempt the mainstream crack."

Elsewise, Wolf Parade probably would not have its longevity. Boeckner has a career-oriented mentality, needing and wanting the band to provide for him, and is proud of all five records. For Thin Mind, Wolf Parade kept following its rule of not compromising its art for a certain position, not creating for an imagined audience. However, the future-forward sound of the new album did present a new process.

"We had a huge bank of synths that we assembled, sculpted for new additions, and a very large effects loop of guitar pedals," says Boeckner. "The way we captured Spencer's keyboard output, it's '80s future forward, cyber DIY punk, neuromancer tech stuff. There was a lot of live processing, running a guitar sound through a bank of effects, performing in real time. Every happy accident, every burst, that's all a single take. You're not drawing curves, you're performing the effects live."

Just doing without talking, Wolf Parade is a music collective. Boeckner says that "Forest Green" came almost immediately—formed solid in four hours. "Fall Into the Future" was originally seven minutes, he says, living in its seven minutes for about a month until the song was chopped down. "We have always been producers of our own music, operating with heavy arrangement lifting, writing songs that are playable. A chord, a progression, a riff, and then we jam on it. We don't think about it much, we jam. We'll get a jam going and play it over and over until it mutates into either a song or not a song."

Wolf Parade is not normal, similar to how the objectivity of society is not normal. Boeckner says that we can measure life with kindness, as he looks at a perfect rainbow in the sky. "What does that mean. Is the universe telling me to shut up?"  

www.wolfparade.com

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