“Holter is fond of saying she doesn’t think of herself as a singer, but instead as a storyteller, and that’s something that is certainly on display throughout her latest album.”
As a fan, hearing the word “hiatus” come from key musicians in your life may feel like a pretty major blow–especially when it’s accompanied by the word “indefinite.” Questions abound, rumors may fly, but at the heart of it all is hope for a return. In late 2010, that kind of uncertainty was sparked after Wolf Parade announced that after just seven years, three solid studio albums, and enough impact to get dubbed indie rock “heroes” and a “supergroup,” they might not be returning when their tour was through.
What began in Montreal in 2003 among Dan Boeckner, Spencer Krug, Arlen Thompson, Dante DeCaro and Hadji Bakara (who was later drawn away by a doctoral degree), would be broken up into separate projects across the globe. This was the same indie rock group that’s debut full-length was Apologies to the Queen Mary, a marvel that quickly earned a spot in more than a few 2005 essential listening playlists. It was put out by Sub Pop and recorded by Isaac Brock, Modest Mouse frontman, who at the time was doubling as an A&R guy. Their follow-up album, At Mount Zoomer, came in 2008 and reinforced the distinct writing abilities of both frontmen, Boeckner and Krug. Then, in 2010, they once again pulled it off by releasing their third full-length in five years, Expo 86, and its quickened tempos matched their release rate. Less than a year later, Wolf Parade announced their hiatus as a result of different creative directions and a collection of separate projects. They left it open-ended, yet made no promise that they would return as a group.
But a hiatus from Wolf Parade didn’t mean a hiatus from productivity. Boeckner kicked it off with an immediate tour and new LP with his band, The Handsome Furs (which also brought in Thompson on the production side) and a stint as part of Divine Fits. Krug began recording and working as Moonface, while DeCaro relished in his own solo work. The question today though, is how their energies will remain divided between Boeckner’s current work with his band Operators, and Krug’s entities, Moonface and Siinai.
But like their six-year break, the reunion began and ended with creativity at the helm. In January of this year, Wolf Parade announced their return with new social media accounts and a tease of new material. Sub Pop re-released Apologies to the Queen Mary as a deluxe version that included Wolf Parade’s first ever EPs from the pre-Sub Pop days of just being a live band. Wolf Parade wasted no time after the initial reunion as they quickly sold out residency shows and tour dates sprung up around festivals worldwide. Then came EP4, released just this May, that brought with it nostalgia but also that twinge of excitement, because it’s clear they really are serious. EP4 is just a tease of what’s to come — four tracks to let us know that they’re on their way. But in the end, for Wolf Parade, it’s about the collaborative process between each other and the creative spark they all bring — this time with a collective experience expanding over eight separate musical entities. ELEVEN recently caught up with Dan Boeckner about touring, songwriting, staying creative and his favorite festival, Portland’s Pickathon.
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ELEVEN: You guys are on a bit of a break from your tour before you come back to the States and Canada, right?
Dan Boeckner: Yeah, actually Spencer’s doing a tour with Moonface and Siinai. They’re playing Berlin tonight, so I’m here. I love that band. I’m here just writing and recording some demos and I’m gonna go to Romania for a week and then come back, do some more writing and then hit the road with Wolf Parade again.
11: Are you writing for Wolf Parade or are you writing for Operators?
DB: I’m writing for Wolf Parade while I’m in Berlin and then when I’m in Romania I just have this little tabletop synth set up, like an OP-1, pocket operators, and a couple mini synths and my laptop. It’s all pretty much battery powered. So I think that’s probably gonna end up being Operators. I rented a place by the sea and I’ll just sit and write all day.
11: So that means that Wolf Parade is working on new material. Do you know what that’ll look like?
DB: Yeah we’re gonna make a record this year. We’re gonna make a full-length album. I’m pretty excited about it. Yeah, it’s all happening.
11: What’s the vibe like between you four? I’m curious how you guys are gelling after being mid-way through the tour.
DB: The tour really just goes until November. There’s too many days off between these shows to really consider it a tour. But this last leg was Europe, and it was a show every day and now it’s kind of a break. It’s been good, those shows plus the McCarren Park show that we played in New York were some of the best outdoor shows we’ve ever played. Historically we’ve kind of choked if we’ve had to play outdoors. Something breaks down or I get in a fight with G. Love, I don’t know. I was kind of nervous, but it was nice to get up on stage and play these bigger festival stages and not have it be a total disaster.
11: Do you think that you guys will ever do a solo tour, when your new album comes out?
DB: Yeah, definitely. We’ll do what we usually do, which is a headlining tour, like two legs in North America and a bunch of European shows. But for now this year, festivals made more sense for us just getting back to it. We do have some headline shows mixed in and around the festivals. We’re doing two shows at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle, which is pretty exciting. We just did two shows at Scala in London. We have an after-party show for Osheaga in Montreal at the Corona Theatre.
11: Do you think that EP4 was just a warm-up or are you trying to get on the same page again?
DB: Yeah, maybe in a sense. We hadn’t recorded anything in a long time. But we had an idea of what we wanted to sound like and how we wanted to write when we got together. And everybody’s happy with it, you know, we pulled it off. But the idea was just minimal arrangements and compressed arrangements with a little more space than where we left off. I think Expo was sort of the peak for the amount of notes for Wolf Parade–so many fucking notes and the arrangements were really brisk. There wasn’t a lot of space in them. That was kind of by design. When we got back together again we wanted to write some stuff that was a little airier. But then the new stuff, the stuff we’ve been working on individually, and also my stuff is a different thing again. It’s nice to get back on stage. We hadn’t played any shows when we made the EP, and then to get back on stage and turn everything up and be less careful of the sounds and how hard we’re playing–that breathed life into songwriting, I think. It’s inspiring.
11: I’m curious about how much ground you’re trying to break from here on out, because it’s not like Expo and it’s not like what you first put out. What kind of ground are you trying to cover?
DB: We started as a live band before we recorded anything. We wrote all these songs and then recording was just a necessity. I think we’re just trying to make a record that’s as exciting and powerful as the band is live–that has that kind of impact. And one thing I really like about this band is that no one’s going to write anything that they don’t fully believe in. We’re gonna write songs for us first, and if we like them, we’ll record them. We never really thought about the audience. I mean we do when we play live, but when we’re recording it’s more of a pretty selfish, internal thing. Which I like because it feels honest. It doesn’t feel like we’re trying to trick anyone.
11: Right, you’re not putting on this face.
DB: Yeah, there’s no Wolf Parade persona that we’re trying to adopt.
11: EP4 is pretty split–two songs written by you and two by Spencer. But that’s like all of the songs you’ve put out. Was it kind of nice coming back to that?
DB: Yeah, definitely. I mean I had a taste of that with Divine Fits. But the songwriting process with Divine Fits is completely different, everything’s much more worked out in demos and in the box and then we learn how to play it. But with Wolf Parade, if you’re writing for that band, you have to bring an empty song, empty structure, without too much precision planned to it because everyone just kind of dumps their ideas on it and then it turns into something completely different. So I’ve missed that–it’s a really specific style of songwriting that I haven’t had with any other project.
11: How about the production side of things? EP4 wasn’t released on Sub Pop, but you did re-release some material and then you released some pre Sub Pop material. Are you pretty much working amongst yourselves from here on out?
DB: I think we’re just going to see who comes to the table afterwards. We did do some residency shows in New York, Toronto, and those two nights in London. I know that there were industry people out at all of those. And it’s just a matter of who is willing to A) of all, put up with Wolf Parade, and B) of all, who we’re interested in working with. Sub Pop owns the masters to Apologies, so they got to re-release it. I think they did a pretty great job. They really collaborated with us on the art direction. We wanted it to look a specific way. Re-releasing something that already exists is kind of an extensive package. It can’t look like crap. So it was good working with them on that, but for the EP, because we knew what the year looked like, it was pointless to sign to a label. We had the vinyl produced ourselves.
11: You have Operators, Spencer has Moonface. How are you guys going to divvy up your time and efforts between Wolf Parade and them from moving forward?
DB: I think we both just have to work our asses off, you know? We finished this pretty hectic mini-tour of Europe just last week, and Spencer basically flew from Dublin to Helsinki to start rehearsals the next day. I flew to Berlin to start working on writing for Wolf Parade. Maybe if we didn’t have these projects we’d just go home and I’d hang out with my dog and maybe go play tennis at the public tennis court. That’s what I like doing. So it’s a job you have to work, and everybody else who works a real job works five days a week. Personally, it’s rewarding, it’s a joy. It’s not like a hassle.
11: Is it hard to stay creative and driven when you’re so crammed with two separate entities?
DB: I don’t find it super hard to stay creative. All this time I’ve been in Berlin. When I haven’t been writing stuff, I’ve been walking around, seeing Berlin in the summertime. If you do that and you don’t come back to the studio with any ideas, then you’re doing something wrong, or your eyes and ears aren’t working. Like yesterday, I spent most of the day in East Berlin, and we were in this park next to a church, and I started reading up about the neighborhood. I walked by this old factory and I recorded some street sounds on my phone and later that night I put together a few songs. Not directly lyrically about that day, but definitely inspired by the vibes of that day. Not to sound like a hippie, but you know.
11: No I get it. It totally makes sense.
DB: Yeah, it’s inspiring to be on the road. I like writing. Writing makes me happy.
11: You guys are coming back to Portland for Pickathon, are you excited for that return?
DB: Yes, my favorite festival in North America. I love Pickathon. This is going to be my third Pickathon. Divine Fits, and then Operators, and now Wolf Parade. I love it. I like being able to see bands in different environments, the same band during two different sets. I like the atmosphere there, the staff is amazing. I got to recommend some bands for their program this year too.
I think that the model for Pickathon is kind of the future of festivals. I feel like unless they’re really high level, like Goldenvoice is immaculately run. But they’re a huge company and I think these medium level festivals that are maybe sub-Coachella sized … I mean I benefit from them but I worry that they’re entirely unsustainable and that it’s also affecting the way people tour. Because they’re routed around festivals, so you have to book club shows around your festival.
But with something like Pickathon, you’ve got a good amount of people in a beautiful space and it doesn’t have this massive footprint. It might be more rarified but they’re really booking stuff that they want to hear. So they’re not going to book huge amounts of EDM acts.
11: Because that’s what sells.
DB: Yeah basically. If you want to bring in 75,000 people, that’s what you have to book. You got to appeal to not just this rarified crowd. I feel like multiple festivals like Pickathon and around the States and Canada, are only good for music.
11: It’s also about the artists, and not 100 percent about the crowd.
DB: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And that’s going to get better performances out of people, and bands will want to play your festival. It won’t just be about a financial negotiation with your manager or your booking agent. There’s a lot of passion at that festival that I like. »
– Gina Pieracci