Published Mar 21, 2007It's hard to make it big as a musician, especially when you're from a country whose biggest cultural export is self-parody. What are the prime indicators of success for a Canadian band? Not having to bet on how lousy your American tour is going to turn out, for one.
"We went to all these cities, and we used to have pools we'd all throw in one American dollar and guess how many people were going to be there. All the guesses would be like seven or 15, and somebody would win every day," says New Pornographers drummer Kurt Dahle. He's actually referring to Limblifter, a name fairly well known to the Can-Conscious but apparently not to our Southern neighbours. Dahle is a 20-year veteran of the Canadian music industry (he played in both Limblifter and Age of Electric with his brother, Ryan), but it's taken almost his whole career to catch on outside the woolly mitts of the Great White North. Ironically, when Dahle joined the New Pornographers part of the new wave of Canadian indie rock bands who are finally achieving international recognition his intention was to retire. "I thought, I can just play once every six months and drink beer in the practice space. I thought it was just going to be a hobby band, and of course, here I am again.
Bassist and producer John Collins has a similar story; his studio (co-owned by Dave Carswell) provided the nest in which Pornographers founder Carl Newman hatched his brainchild. Collins paid his dues with Vancouver punks Thee Evaporators (best known as one of spaz/national treasure Nardwuar's musical outlets) before jumping aboard Newmans erstwhile solo project. "At that point I had had so many expectations become disappointments I really didn't have strong hopes. I just thought, Might as well give it another shot." On Thee Evaporators' few American tours, he comments: "We had a pretty standard, low-budget punk rock experience. We'd play small clubs, a few living rooms and basements along the way, and sleep on the floor. That was the norm.
But a back needs a mattress, and Dahle and Collins agree that touring with the Pornographers nowadays is a relatively cushy experience. The bugs have mostly been ironed out; conflicts arising from vocalist Neko Case's solo obligations were solved with the addition of Kathryn Calder (Immaculate Machine member and Newman's long-lost niece) to the band's touring line-up. After years of stuffing into tour vans, the band now have a driver and a bus. Turns out, three feet of personal space does wonders for morale, and playing for 25,000 people at events like Lollapalooza 2006 doesn't hurt, either. As a consequence, Dahle has new laments. He's the Pornographers' self-made tour manager, and unfortunately a DIY approach is harder to maintain when you cant count heads in the audience or in the band, for that matter if you tried. "It's insane, people living in different cities, one's on the road with a different band I'm booking flights all over the place." Sounds like a living hell. "I won't be doing it much longer," Dahle confirms. Having spent their wilder years touring for scrap, some members worry that theyre too old to get the most out of success. But with experience comes professionalism, and now that the tendencies toward "adolescent fisticuffs (in Collins' words) have been exorcised, the ride is a lot smoother. Dahle sums it up: "In some ways, this is the age that musicians should be. We finally got good enough to impress people!"