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Members include Dan Bejar, singer, songwriter, guitar; Neko Case, singer; John Collins, bass; Kurt Dahle (joined group, 1999), drums; Todd Fancey, guitar; Carl Newman, singer, songwriter, guitar; Fisher Rose (left group, 1999), drums; Blaine Thurier, keyboards. Addresses: Record company---Matador Records, 676 Broadway, New York, NY 10012-2319. Sanctuary Records, 75 9th Ave., New York, NY 10011. Website--The New Pornographers Official Website: http://www.thenewpornographers.com.
Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers eschewed the idea of having one lead singer, employing the talents of multiple songwriters and vocalists to create a kaleidoscope of different sounds and textures that all combine to form high-energy, sugarcoated pop rock. Featuring former and current members of Zumpano and Destroyer, as well as Canadian alt.country chanteuse Neko Case, The New Pornographers have released three albums, one for Mint Records and two for Matador Records, that have moved them out of the Canadian indie-rock underground, and onto the radar of mainstream music fans in the United States and beyond.
Before he planted the seeds for the New Pornographers, singer/guitarist and songwriter Carl Newman did time in various Vancouver, British Columbia, acts that gained different degrees of notoriety. In 1991, Newman led Superconductor, a gargantuan band that boasted no less than six guitarists, two bassists and a drummer. Scratch Records released Murderlizer in 1991, a record that unveiled the group to be anything but predictable. In 1992, Boner Records released the Heavy With Puppy EP, and the band made good on their Rush-song inspired namesake, and delivered with blistering novelty songs and progressive instrumentals. 1993 saw the release of Hit Songs for Girls (Boner), and the rock opera Bastard Song (Boner) was issued in 1996, both featuring a more pop oriented style of songwriting.
In 1992, just as Superconductor was getting off the ground, guitarist/keyboardist Michael Ledwidge and drummer Jason Zumpano broke up their mildly successful band Glee, just as they were about to sign to a major label. Intent on forming a new group, they asked Newman to sing and play guitar, and along with bassist Stefan Niemann, the four started the Wayward Boys, later changing their name to Zumpano. Signing to Sub Pop in 1994, the band released two albums of baroque pop, informed by the likes of the Zombies and the Beach Boys. 1995 saw the release of Look What the Rookie Did, which sported a mild hit with "The Party Rages On." Zumpano returned in 1996 with Goin' Through Changes, but the band broke up in early 1997, almost as soon as the record was released.
Beginnings of the New Pornographers
In the summer of 1996, before the breakup of Superconductor and Zumpano, Newman began working on material that seemed different from anything he had done with either band. Newman began drafting people from different Vancouver area bands to form a multi-songwriter-and-singer beast that would deliver unadulterated pop rave-ups with a sense of freedom and abandon. Included in the original lineup for the band, Newman was joined by Thee Evaporators John Collins on bass, cartoonist and filmmaker Blaine Thurier on keyboards, drummer Fisher Rose, and singer/songwriter/guitarist for cult band Destroyer Dan Bejar (who has released a number of albums, including 1996's We'll Build them a Golden Bridge, 2000's Thief, 2001's Streethawk: A Seduction, 2002's This Night 2004's Your Blues, and 2006's Destroyer's Rubies). He also asked former Cub member Neko Case, by now an accomplished alt.country singer, to sing in the group as well. Dubbing the group The New Pornographers, Newman has said, "I always wanted to be the 'new' somethings." Then, in a strange twist of fate, Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart released a book called Music: the New Pornography. As detailed in the band's bio on the Mint Records website, Newman said, "Ever since, I tell people 'Jimmy Swaggart said music was the new pornography. The New Pornographers are merely musicians.' It's completely innocent, and pooh-poohs people who say 'what an offensive name you have.'" The band's first rehearsal came in 1997, but a year later, and with only four songs under their belts, the group's various members returned to their initial projects. Case moved from Vancouver to Chicago and toured with her back up band The Boyfriends, Bejar released two Destroyer albums, Collins ran a recording studio and toured with the likes of the Smugglers, and Thurier's film Low Self Esteem Girl (one that features Newman and Bejar) was accepted to the Toronto Film Festival.
After his duties with Zumpano finally subsided, Newman was determined to get his new group off the ground, and a year later, they played their first show, though the performance didn't make as large as an impact as he had hoped. He told Rockpile magazine, "We had this great first show, but then, all of a sudden, nobody seemed to care. We were kind of perplexed." The band played on though, and in 1998 did shows with the likes of Thee Goblins, Thingy and Optigonally Yours. In 1999, Rose left the band, so Newman recruited former Limblifter/Age of Electric drummer Kurt Dahle to join, as well as drafted guitarist Todd Fancey when Bejar decided not to tour with the band. With a lineup finally solidified, the New Pornographers finished and released their debut Mass Romantic for Mint Records in 2000. According to Newman, it was "A long road, but there were many, many naps along the way."
Critically Adored Debut
The album packed a powerful punch, as the band ran the gamut of power-pop influences, from the raw guitar sounds of early Kinks to the unbridled energy of the Buzzcocks, throwing in hooks that echoed the works of Squeeze and the Posies. It was all rounded out by the three distinct voices heard on the albums 12 songs. Newman told Playbackstl.com, "If I was singing and if Neko was singing and Dan was singing, and we all have such radically different voices, I thought it would give the record an interesting feel. You get a sense of joy from a lot of people singing together." And said joy was echoed by critics everywhere, who loved the albums non-self aware antics. Though the record was slow to catch on (Newman told Rockpile that he expected it sold only about 100 copies in it's first week of release), critics and music lovers started to take notice, due to the strength of the Mass Romantic's first single "Letter From an Occupant." Jeff Marsh of Delusions of Adequacy said, "At times sounding like vintage British rock, at times like modern indie rock of the purest pop sensibility, The New Pornographers never sound like they're not having fun. This is a group of like-minded musicians getting together and enjoying themselves, and there's nothing better for the soul than that. Of course, it helps when they're all as talented as these folks. This is an excellent album you'll doubtlessly listen to over and over again."
Following the success of the album, one that would see them selling almost 15,000 copies of Mass Romantic, an inclusion in the Kevin Smith film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, playing the Kinks' "Starstruck" with founding member Ray Davies at the South by Southwest festival in 2001, and numerous tours across the US and Canada, the band was signed to Matador Records for their next effort, 2003's Electric Version. Again featuring the three vocalists in Newman, Case, and Bejar, the band delivered another action packed album of sinewy pop hooks and bouncing rhythms, solidifying the band as an actual commodity. On the Mint Records website, Newman said, "Since we started forming, it seems the world has come to realize the great talents of Neko Case and Dan Bejar. I feel like I was a great talent scout. I wanted a band of people that I liked a lot, that I was friends with. That's a big driving thing. Maybe there's something to be said for playing with your friends." And of course, there was something to be said of Electric Version, an album that resonated positively with critics everywhere. Pitchforkmedia.com, who helped break the band in the United States, said, "Electric Version not only displays Carl Newman's brilliant and unique pop sensibility, but allows it enough space to reveal previously obstructed layers of emotional depth. Indeed, the overall success of this record suggests that The New Pornographers are anything but a one-off project; with any luck, it will mark the beginning of the band's metamorphosis from 'supergroup' to, simply, 'great band.'"
Solo Side Projects
Following the album's release and subsequent touring, the band took a bit of a break, so the members could again focus on their own projects. Destroyer released Your Blues for Merge in 2004, and Case put out a live album called The Tigers Have Spoken for Anti-. Under the moniker "A.C. Newman" (which stands for Alan Carl, Newman's real name) Newman released a solo effort for Matador, called The Slow Wonder; a record that dialed back the fevered energy of the New Pornographers for the more contemplative work of Paul McCartney, vintage Elton John and early Todd Rundgren.
After Newman returned home from touring in support of The Slow Wonder, he again hooked up with his Pornographer band mates to write, rehearse and record what would become 2005's Twin Cinema. Delusions of Adequacy said, "Twin Cinema finds the Pornographers becoming ever tighter and more cohesive as a musical collective; every instrument sounds focused towards that rather singular goal of creating some pretty great, sugar-sweet power-pop. The guitars are a bit louder (and noisier) than they were in Electric Version, the keyboards and synths are a little bit thicker, and the songwriting itself is miles removed from the joyously sloppy mess of Mass Romantic; indeed, it has perhaps never been tighter, with every bridge and chorus carefully placed with clockwork skill and precision."
by Ryan Allen
The New Pornographers's Career
Group formed, 1997; released Mass Romantic on Mint Records, 2000; released Electric Version on Matador Records, 2003; released Twin Cinema on Matador, 2005.
The New Pornographers's Awards
Juno Award, Best Alternative Album for Mass Romantic, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Mass Romantic Matador, 2000.
- Electric Version Mint/Matador, 2003.
- Twin Cinema Matador, 2005.
- Globe & Mail (Toronto, ON), July 8, 2003; August 2, 2004; August 19, 2005.
- Interview, September 1, 2005.
- People, September 5, 2005; September 12, 2005.
- "Twin Cinema Review," Delusions of Adquacy, http://adequacy.net/review.php?reviewid=5678 (January 12, 2006).
- "Electric Version," Pitchforkmedia, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/n/new-pornographers/electric-version.shtml (January 12, 2006).
- "Mass Romantic Review," Delusions of Adquacy, http://www.adequacy.net/review.php?reviewid=4324 (January 5, 2006).
- "A Brief History of the New Pornographers," Mint Records, http://www.mintrecs.com/bands/speak/pornographers/pornographers.html (January 30, 2006).
- "New Pornographers," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (January 12, 2006).
- "New Pornographers," PlaybackSTL, http://www.playbackstl.com/Current/Archive/newpornographers.htm (January 6, 2006).
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