By the time most bands get around to making their seventh album (if they even get that far) fans generally know what to expect. And while Vancouver's New Pornographers haven't exactly flipped the script with their latest LP, Whiteout Conditions (out April 7 on Collected Works/Dine Alone), as singer-guitarist Carl Newman tells Exclaim!, the record does mark a number of firsts for the 18-year-old supergroup.
1. It's the first record without a contribution from Destroyer's Dan Bejar.
Bejar's position in the band has always felt tenuous. Even on the rare occasion when he joins the band onstage, it's only to perform his own songs. But when Newman approached Bejar, who was in the midst of finishing a new Destroyer album, he found that the two were on very different pages musically.
"I told him the kind of record I wanted to do," he recalls, noting that the new album would feature synths, arpeggiators and fast tempos. "When I came back to him a month later, he said he was just writing 'sort of weird quiet songs' and I don't know what I could do that would work here. I thought, okay."
2. It's the first record on the band's own Collected Works label.
Mega-indie Matador has released the band's records Stateside since 2003's Electric Version. When their deal with the label was up, Newman says the band were in talks with "the other two long-time big indie labels in America." Then Concord Music Group approached the band with a deal they couldn't pass up. "They kind of just came after us. I think I said no immediately and our manager said just meet with them."
Newman said that, along with their own vanity label through which the group can release related projects, Concord offered things like long-term press and radio promo teams. "We had to look beyond, 'No, I want my record to have that cool label on it,'" he says. "I've seen what a label is worth. It doesn't automatically mean you'll sell 10,000 copies. There are not 10,000 people who will buy anything a specific label puts out. There aren't 1,000 of those people."
3. It's the first record where the band "went for a vibe."
Newman has described Whiteout Conditions overall sound as "bubble-gum Krautrock" and points to Brill Bruisers song "Champion of Red Wine" as a starting point for the album. "I loved how this song just starts and goes until the end. There are no left turns, there's no bridge where we switch tempos or something odd happens."
Using synthesizers and arppegiators, Newman set to work developing motorik rhythms for his songs, often pushing the BPMs into uncharted territory for the group. "[Synths are] something that even from the beginning we wanted to mess with, but we never went down that road. Every time we tried, someone thought, 'Let's backpedal a bit. We don't want to get too goofy here.'"
4. It's their first record since the death of Newman's sister.
Newman's sister passed away after a battle with cancer shortly after work had started on the album, halting production for several months. "At that point, you don't care," he says. "Like, I'll get back to it when I feel like it."
Yet he found himself unable to cope with the tragic loss without turning to writing. "Even from the beginning, making music has been an escape from something. It's like trying to get to a better place, the same way it is for people listening to music to get to a better place," he says. "When things are going really awful and my mind is moving, trying to write like a form of self-defence."
The results were the album's title track, which he describes as one of the most literal songs he's ever written. "You always have to remind yourself that everything you go through is part of the process. It was trying to take something shitty and turn it into something good. More and more I appreciated just putting something out there, in the hopes that somebody finds it. To a certain degree that's enough."