Throughout A.C. Newman's career with acts like the New Pornographers, Zumpano and Superconductor, the Canadian pop auteur has typically avoided overtly personal subjects in his lyrics. That changes with his third solo record, Shut Down the Streets, which is due out Tuesday (October 9) through Matador/Last Gang.
"It just seemed like the natural thing to do here," Newman tells Exclaim! of the album's autobiographical focus.
Speaking on the line from his home in Woodstock, NY, he continues, "I was just at a point in my life where I felt like if I didn't write something that was personal, I would feel like I was completely full of shit. To brush these things in my life that are very huge and on my mind and go, 'No, I won't write about that, I'll write about something else.'"
The major life events he's referring to include the death of his mother and the birth of his son, both of which influenced the 10 songs that appear on Shut Down the Streets.
"There were all these things that just seemed so mammoth, and I was trying to make sense of them," the singer reflects. "But at the same time, there's also this subtext of, 'Everybody goes through this. This is so earth-shaking, it seems so impossibly sad and, at the same time, happy. I didn't want to portray it like I felt like was the first person that's gone through this."
In keeping with the deeply personal tone of the words, the album scales back the ebullient pop energy that Newman is best known for as the leader of the New Pornographers. Instead, Shut Down the Streets boasts some of the songwriter's most lush downtempo arrangements. Acoustic guitars and pastoral vocal harmonies go toe-to-toe with flutes, horns and a subtle smattering of synthesizers, giving the collection a gorgeously reflective atmosphere.
"Initially, I think I really liked the idea of it being like a psychedelic late-'70s [album]," Newman explains. "I'm very fascinated with a lot of that music, where singer-songwriter music started having synthesizers in them. Stuff like Gerry Rafferty, or you know that song 'Daylight Katy' by Gordon Lightfoot? I love the sort of psychedelic wooziness of it."
Now that he's indulged his penchant for restrained singer-songwriter-oriented sounds, Newman has begun tossing ideas around for the next New Pornographers record. This future album, he speculates, will likely contain less of the ornate instrumentation that has appeared on his recent material.
"You talk about that more acoustic baroque stuff," he says. "I feel like I've gotten so much of it out of my system on this record, because I consciously said, 'I'm going to make that kind of a record.' Whereas I've never really said that before."
He adds, "I'm going to try and see if I can make a record with no ballads. That's my goal. No ballads. It worked for the Black Keys, so I think I'm going to try that."
Before the New Pornographers formally begin working on their next album, Newman will tour North America. The trip includes Canadian shows in Toronto and Vancouver, both of which are part of the Exclaim! 20th Anniversary Concert Series. Peruse the schedule here and stream Shut Down the Streets below.