The New Pornographers, the Walkmen visit Bogart’s in Cincinnati
By Matt Clevenger
Originally formed in 1997, Canadian indie-rock legends the New Pornographers helped set the tone for more than a decade’s worth of alternative music, thanks to a series of hits beginning with the classic single “Letter from an Occupant” and ending with a current total of five critically-acclaimed studio albums. An alternative super-group of sorts, the band is also well-known for spawning a long list of successful side projects, films and solo albums by members Neko Case, Carl Newman, Kathryn Calder, Dan Bejar, Todd Fancey, Blaine Thurier and Kurt Dahle.
On tour in support of their latest album, Together, the influential group will appear with veteran rockers the Walkmen at Bogart’s in Cincinnati on Tuesday, April 26. In the midst of a solo tour as well, New Pornographer Kathryn Calder took a break from her busy schedule last week for a brief phone interview covering her history with the legendary band.
Can you describe how you started working with the New Pornographers?
It’s a bit of a long and convoluted story, but I’ll try to keep it succinct. Basically, I was playing in another band at the time and John Collins, who plays bass in the New Pornographers, he saw me play and right around that time they were trying to figure out how they were going to play without Neko, because she was getting so busy. So he saw me play, and I guess I did a great job and he took it to Carl, and that’s how that started.
They asked me to come and sing on Twin Cinema, so I did that and I guess they liked it enough that they asked me to go on tour. [Kathryn Calder]
Is it true that you’re also related to Carl Newman?
Yeah, he did know me from before. I’m his long-lost niece. My mom was adopted as a baby, and when my mom was about 40, she found her birth family. She found out she had all these brothers and sisters and Carl was one of them. So my mom was the eldest and Carl was the youngest in the family. [KC]
How would you describe your musical background? Have you ever had formal musical training?
Yeah, I did. I’ve been playing piano since I was five and I’ve always loved piano. I was always in choirs; I was always getting myself involved in music things, as kids do. Kids really respond to music and I just stayed with it … I didn’t really sing in a rock band in front of a microphone until I was about 16 or 17. Before then it was all just choirs and the usual kind of thing – I had no idea I would like it so much. I thought it seemed scary to be up there singing in front of a microphone then, but it’s pretty fun. [KC]
Who are your musical influences?
Well I’m a really big fan of Paul Simon for his songwriting. I’m a really big fan of strong female vocalists, like of course there’s Nina Simone who is amazing, and I love PJ Harvey. I think her voice is incredible. I’m a big fan of the Pretenders – Chrissie Hynde’s voice is quite something. Of course, being Canadian and being a female songwriter, Joni Mitchell is a big influence. I don’t generally write songs like her, but I think she is totally amazing. I’ve always been a big fan of David Bowie and how he arranges songs musically. [KC]
How do you think the New Pornographers’ sound has changed over the years?
I think Carl has started adding more strings and more orchestration. All of the New Pornographers’ records are quite dense; he loves to add on layer after layer of instruments. But recently he’s started adding more and more orchestra instruments, like the string section and the brass. I think that’s really cool. [KC]
How do you compare your solo work with the New Pornographers?
I think my songs are a little bit mellower in general. Every time you get a new songwriter, it’ll be completely different. So I don’t really think that I sound very much like the New Pornographers, although my experience has been in the New Pornographers for six years now. So of course those six years of being in the band will influence how I approach records and how I approach writing.
But my first record is a little folkier, and I have a new record that will be coming out in the fall sometime and it’s just a mixed bag full of all kinds of stuff. None of it sounds very much like the New Pornographers, but also, at the same time it does have a lot of instrumentation and a lot of arranging and a lot of melodies. I’m a big fan of that as well, so I incorporate that into my music too. [KC]
Do you have any favorite New Pornographers’ songs to play live?
I have lots of favorites. There aren’t any songs that I don’t like playing. I really like “Go Places,” when we play that one and “Electric Version,” because it has a really fast piano part that I like playing. “Adventures in Solitude” is always a fun one, because I get to bring out the accordion. [KC]
Is the band currently working on any new projects?
We haven’t started working on anything yet; we’ve just been touring for the last record, Together. We have a split seven-inch that [came out] on Record Store Day, and that will have a B-side that didn’t make it on the record plus “Moves.”[KC]
The New Pornographers will appear with the Walkmen at Bogart’s in Cincinnati Tuesday, April 26. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $32.56 in advance. More information can be found online at www.thenewpornographers.com or
Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at MattCleavenger@daytoncitypaper.com.