We talk to New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder

Interview with New Pornographers' Kathryn Calder

The New Pornographers is the band that will show you how indie music can flawlessly transcend. After a 14-year-long career, the band is still working together. Four years after their last album, their most recent release, Bill Bruisers proudly carries the indie rock sound of the 90’s into the 21st century.
The band is formed by AC Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar, Kathryn Calder, John Collins, Kurt Dahle, Todd Fancey, and Blaine Thurier. Listeners more savvy to the scene may recognize the band members individually, because when not working together they are each tending to their own solo projects.

We had the chance to chat with Kathryn Calder, keyboardist and singer of the group, about what they left behind, took, and how they raised to where they are now: A supergroup.

Northern Transmissions: Hi! Can you tell me where you are right now?

Kathryn Calder: I’m at my home on Vancouver island. Yep, that’s where I am.

NT: Nice. What do you usually do on days like this?

KC: On a sunny day like today, well, I have a bunch of errands to run. If I weren’t doing that, I could maybe go to the lake or to the ocean for a swim or, I mean, it depends if I have a break or I feel like I have to work or something, we have a recording studio in our house so I’d go and record some music, or mostly I’m running errands like today, which is not that exciting (laughs).

NT: Yeah, I get that. So this past year, you’ve had 41 concerts. Are you exhausted or ready to continue working?

KC: Well, I think i’m ready for a break. Also, its pretty spaced out, so I’m not totally exhausted as usual at the end of a tour. I mean, I am, but not as exhausted as if it were a long tour or something. We’ve been doing sort of like short little tours, and quite a few of them. And you know we played this past weekend in Ontario and then we’re gonna be, of course, at the PNE at the end of the month, so that’s definitely at a manageable pace, you know? So, like, I could do more. I’m also ready for a break, you know what I mean? Like, I’m mentally prepared for a break now. I mean, I’m doing a solo tour in September, so I’m not totally on a break. I go out and do something different for the beginning of September. I’m going out to Toronto so when the New Pornographers are on a break, I sorta take that time to focus on the other thing I’m doing because The New Pornoghrphers takes up a lot of time, so I don’t get to tour if we’re on tour. Does that make sense?

NT: Yes, completely. Compared to the first time you guys went on tour many years ago, what’s different now?

KC: Well, I think gradually, as we’ve been touring, we’ve been getting more help. As we’ve gone on, the shows get bigger and, you know, I think we’ve been getting more crew to help. That makes life easier on a band, you know? When you’re not in the band, loading your own gear every night or in an RV. I mean, when I joined the New Pornographers in 2005, that was their first tour so I kinda joined on their first bus tour. But yeah, really all that’s changed. The band has evolved over the years. We are a tight unit, but we have evolved.

NT: Was it difficult for you joining a band with mostly guys?

KC: (Laughs) No, I mean that was sorta the reality back then. If you were a female in the rock music world, you’re probably gonna be one of the few you know and whereas there’s mostly guys, there are only a few girls. I came from a band before the New Pornographers where that was the case. I was the only girl, with two guys, and they were friends of mine, and then I joined the NP, and Neko was in the band so it wasn’t all guys, and then I think there are more and more women. But, you know, I was always kind of a tomboy, you know, so it wasn’t that difficult.

NT: So, it’s been a year since Bill Bruisers came out and 15 years since Mass Romantic. What would you say has been the biggest change or contrast in all these years?

KC: In terms of the record?

NT: Yeah, of the music and record and everything revolving NP.

KC : I think that It’s been neat to watch the music kinda change over the course of, in my case, ten years, but I was aware that ‘Mass Romantic’ came out and I loved that record, and I think that it’s been neat. Mass Romantic was really driving and had so much density in terms of the music and then I think that Carl and Dan as the songwriters have sort of refined it. ‘Mass Romantic’ was one of my favorite records and ‘Challengers’ was a little bit quieter of a record, and now ‘Bill Bruisers’, as a come back, is this upbeat rock record. I think that every record I get kinda the inside scoop on what Carl is thinking when he’s making the record and ‘Bill Bruisers’ he wanted no ballads and he was referencing me specific bands that he wanted to draw the inspiration from. I dont know. I don’t know how the band’s changed but we certainly have. I guess I don’t really know how to answer the question. I think it’s here in the music.

NT: It evolves naturally.

KC: Yes, you can kinda see the course of how it’s progressed. I’m not even sure I can describe it very well. And clearly I’m not doing a very good job. (Laughs)

NT: So, what about your music. Do you have any bands that have been an inspiration for your project?

KC: My solo project? With my record, that came out April, I was really influenced by a lot of Brian Eno and early synth music, when it was first starting to come together, like craftwork, I was into keyboard, so I think that had a lot of influence. I just wanted to make a beautiful record. That was my goal. I felt this need to create something that had a lot of beauty in it. I don’t know why that was what I was feeling at the time but that’s what I did. A lot of ambient influence and trying to perfect the songs to be exactly what I wanted to be. Trying to home in on the inner critic that is sometimes very quiet when you just get this weird little feeling that something was not right? I was trying to listen to that: “Am I okay with this or is it something that i want to change?” So I did a lot of that on the record and that’s partly why it took four years to make. I’m really happy with how the songs turn out, you know?

NT: Yeah, being an artist, you probably want your records to be perfect.
So, you guys shared stages with some really cools bands, and you attended really big festivals, Have you ever played with someone that has been or was a major inspiration for you?

KC: Yeah! When we went on tour in 2006, we toured with Belle & Sebastian and that was like a five week tour, really long weeks and I think I watched them every single night. They were one of my favorite bands at the time and I was really excited to go on tour with them. They were so sweet and we got along really well. It was inspiring to see a band every night and listen to the songs. It was really cool. There were lots of things that I was inspired by and it was my first tour. It was neat.

NT: So you’ve travelled a lot also, and visited different countries. Have you felt a difference between your fans? From playing in North America and then going to another country?

KC: Yeah it’s definitely different. It’s a particular feeling. It depends on the night of the week and the season. Maybe not actually but certain things, like what venue. There a lot of factors that influence the feeling, but I do remember actually playing in Mexico City one year and I couldn’t believe how excited they were. It was crazy. And I feel like that must be what Mexico City is like. Really excited about music and they’re very vocal about it, you know? Sometimes audience are very polite, seated and watching and listening and being very protective but for a rock concert, that can sometimes be hard on stage. The energy you want.
In Mexico, first of all, everybody was standing, so there’s a difference. It was a big show in a club somewhere. It was really cool. Spain is actually like that too. They’re into the party and they come and dance and sing a long, very excited, so we like going to Spain. The energy is different, less reserved but we played a lot of shows in US and Canada, and it depends, there a many factors.

NT: The video ‘Champions of red wine’ was recently released in May. This is your second video with Leblanc + Cudmore. What was it like to work with them, and do you enjoy their style?

KC: Well, I think they are awesome! I worked with them when they did the ‘Dancehall Domine’ video and when I got to meet them, I got to see a little bit of the process and that was so exciting! They were just full of ideas and if something wasn’t working they would come up with something else. Obviously very creative people. So, when I found out they were doing the ‘Champions of Red Wine’ video, I was like “Well, this is gonna be great!”
I actually wasn’t there, and they filmed it in Cuba and they just did their thing, and I saw it as a finished product, and I was not surprised that they came out with something so cool. I think they are totally awesome.

NT: What about the album’s artwork? There’s a big difference between each one. Does the whole band get to decide what goes on?

KC: Well for this record, ‘Bill Bruisers’; Carl decided that. He had an idea of what he wanted and he asked a friend of his if he wanted to do it, and they kinda worked on it together. As far as the other record covers, Neko had a lot to do with it. She did the ‘Challengers’ cover. She designed it and drew it. And then together we came up with- I can’t remember whose idea that was, but somehow we got a bunch of different photos sent to us and we picked the ones we liked. There were some artists that were doing snowglobes, like really tiny, and we took the images of some of the snowglobes. It was really cool. It just really depends on the record if somebody has a idea. Usually its Carl being like “Let’s try this thing or this person”. We kinda just… I got the ‘Bill Bruisers’ just sent to me and i was like “This is awesome.”

NT: What about your album’s artwork?

KC: Oh yeah, (laughs) that one was funny because it took a little bit of time to figure what we wanted to do, but we totally got it in the end. It was a friend of mine, Meghan Hildebrand. She’s a painter and she’s amazing. She did my last two records and then I decided I wanted my face to be there, and I got my friend to draw an illustration.
The artwork for New Pornoghraphers is very much Carl. It makes sense, you know. He is one of the main reason the albums sound like they do. And he and John work together and make these records sound this particular way so it makes sense that the artwork would match.

NT: Okay, so, it took four years for this last record to come out. Do you think it will take this much time for another record to come?

KC: (Sigh) Um, I don’t know. I don’t think so. From what I hear, Carl is working on new music, so I think that it probably won’t be as long, but I have no idea how long it will be. There’s no telling how long something’s gonna take, you know?

Interviewed by: Samantha Baqueiro