Hungry Like the Wolf Parade
Two and a half years ago, Wolf Parade played their first gig on borrowed gear. They were recording an EP with a whopping budget of $20. They were too broke to leave Montreal on tour. Their closest musical ally was a tiny band struggling to put itself back together called the Arcade Fire. The Wolf Parade website had a 1995 look and very little information.
Cut to this past summer: Wolf Parade are awaiting the release of Apologies to the Queen Mary, their debut full-length for Sub Pop, a big budget affair co-produced by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. They now fly to far-flung locales like Helsinki for one-off gigs. Their friends in the Arcade Fire are finishing a yearlong global conquest by bringing Wolf Parade on tour. The Wolf Parade website, however, still has a retro look and very little information. So much of the band's history up until now has been about being — in their own words — "paralysed by our own incompetence."
"None of us come from wealthy backgrounds or have lucrative jobs," says guitarist Dan Boeckner, "so our gear was consistently on the verge of falling apart. We usually had just enough money to get done what we had to get done." Drummer Arlen Thompson adds, "Our website is a prime example of that. At some of the early shows we'd show up with ten CDs that we'd just burned and we'd stick 'em in Ziploc bags with a photocopied insert, because we were too lazy to get it together."
When did they realise that had to change? "Oh, last week," laughs Arlen.
When it comes time for their close up, Wolf Parade opt for a sunny Sunday afternoon on St. Laurent, steps away from the site of the first Wolf Parade show ever. Guitars and amplifiers had to be borrowed for the occasion. Arlen was recruited to play drums a mere 48 hours earlier. That took place what seems like a lifetime ago in April 2003. "I feel like I've been in this band for ten years," sighs keyboardist Spencer Krug.
But if the current story is firmly set in Montreal, it actually begins in the unheralded streets of Victoria BC, where all five members of Wolf Parade cut their teeth.
Arlen Thompson played in numerous bands there, most of which featured at least one member of Hot Hot Heat, none of which lasted longer than six months. Sound sculptor Hadji Bakara is best remembered in Victoria for being the singer in the black metal band Jonas. Back in 1998, Hadji was the first future member of Wolf Parade to move to Montreal, for a degree in English lit. As befitting a next big thing, Hadji is currently writing his master's thesis on cynicism.
Spencer Krug spent his teenage years in Penticton BC, in a band he'd rather not talk about. He then moved to Vancouver, where he was Dan "Destroyer" Bejar's downstairs neighbour, and then Victoria, where he lived with Carey Mercer while Frog Eyes was being formed. Spencer played on the first Frog Eyes album before moving to Montreal to study music and creative writing at Concordia in 2001.
Guitarist Dan Boeckner has the most memorable pedigree, at least in Victorian musical circles. His band Atlas Strategic were invited on tour with both Modest Mouse and Isaac Brock's solo project Ugly Casanova — a connection that led to a Sub Pop offer just before the band split acrimoniously. Dan's mother died around the same time, and he dashed to Montreal in early 2003 for a change of scenery. But both Brock and Sub Pop had long memories, and watched the development of Wolf Parade closely. The result was a contract signed last summer after several Sub Pop execs flew to Montreal to see a packed private show at Spencer's loft.
What attracted Sub Pop to these Montreal underdogs could have been any combination of things: two lead singers, one with a soulful, cracked howl, the other with a love-it-or-hate-it swaggering yodel; guitar drenched in haunting, electrifying reverb; a powerhouse drummer; a guy hunched over a laptop and waving his right hand at a theremin; and an arsenal of keyboards that sound like they fell out the back of the New Pornographers' van and were dragged across the prairies all the way to Montreal.
Earlier material displayed an obvious divide between the two songwriters, evident in both their physique and their songcraft. Dan was the rocker, the one with hip-shaking swagger and a restless right knee, with spiky hair and a penetrating gaze. Spencer was the moustachioed artiste clad in a sailor's cap, arched over his keyboards stringing unlikely chords together with non-linear melodies. Fans of Dan's would sigh in disappointment when Spencer would take the lead; Spencer's legions would balk at Dan's Springsteen-angst rockers.
Those days are long past. On Queen Mary, the singing duties are split down the middle, and it's a credit to Wolf Parade's evolution that it's no longer obvious which songs are Spencer's and which are Dan's. Their synergy is such that at times it's easy to forget who's singing.
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