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The New Pornographers

The Laws Keep Changing

Jul 13, 2017 The New Pornographers Photography by Jenny Jimenez Bookmark and Share

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“I just want this record to keep doing it,” says Carl “AC” Newman of The New Pornographers. The singer/songwriter/guitarist is referring to making solid records that allow him to tour in a manner that sustains himself, his band, and his family, as he discusses the band’s new album, Whiteout Conditions. “You want your career to propel forward so you can still do a record,” Newman says. “Music being free has changed a lot of things in that we’re as popular as we were eight years ago, but there’s less money. There’s a matter of trying to make money, but also making a record where you wanna make a record you’re good at [making]. I don’t know if [Whiteout Conditions] is a step forwards or a step sideways, but that’s all I can say. I hope it’s a step forwards.”

Sobering words from Newman, but pragmatic ones, in an era where most music essentially doesn’t sell, and he clearly fears for his future livelihood. “With Brill Bruisers I thought it was clearly a step-sideways for us, just defining what we could do stylistically,” says Newman, referring to the band’s last album, released in 2014. “But things have changed so much in four years. I hope we’ve pushed it artistically here.”

And the band have, interjecting Krautrock and drone elements into their signature brass flourishes and melodic sensibilities, as they continue to be perhaps the band that caps out at a draw of around 3,000 at nearly every major market. And that isn’t likely to change. “We had a manager approach us in 2005 around the time of Twin Cinema, probably our commercial peak,” he says. “And I had to just tell the guy, ‘we aren’t gonna get a lot more popular.’ I was just being pragmatic, with Dan [Bejar] and Neko [Case] in and out of the band so often. What, you’re gonna do SNL without Neko? It just wouldn’t happen.”

For a band rarely known for their lyrics, the insanity of the 2016 U.S. presidential election brought out some political commentary from Newman on Whiteout Conditions, and “this was before we knew how bad it was gonna get,” he stresses. “We’re dangerously close to a precipice,” says Newman. “And the album was already in the can before we realized, ‘holy shit, the worst has happened.’ And it’s actually worse than we expected it to be. The scary part is that Trump could crash the economy.”

Newman, however, is ambivalent as to just what sort of effect a four-minute pop song can have amongst the general populous. “I’d think it’d be a pretty obnoxious thought to think you’re a part of the resistance, but making art becomes more of a political act,” he opines. “Just telling the truth becomes more of a political act. We’re also moving towards a point in fascism where art is useless, so it’s a form of resistance.”

Newman also believes that “hip-hop is the best sort of protest music,” if only for the fact that most of it isn’t created by white men. “My songs have some protest lyrics, but that’s different. You can’t deny the role of white privilege in the world, and we don’t understand the role of these things in the world, because we don’t feel the fear. I got a speeding ticket last night, and I wasn’t frightened, but as an African-American you may feel that way. You might be afraid for your life. Most white people don’t [feel that way].”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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