After the protracted touring that followed 2008's At Mount Zoomer, the fivesome called a year-long hiatus to work on side projects, relax and prepare themselves. Wolf Parade's principal songwriters, Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug, wouldn't have had it any other way. Asked about the band's decision to temporarily split before writing and recording Expo 86, Boeckner reveals that the time apart only made the band hungrier to see each other, and to get back to playing music as a group once more.
"I think it affected everybody positively in this psychological way," he postulates excitedly. "It felt sweeter to get back together after not seeing each other for a year, 'cause we were not just excited to write songs together, or to 'make art' together, but genuinely just excited to see each other and hang out. When we got back into the rehearsal space, it was really fun. We were friends reunited."
Those friends include drummer Arlen Thompson and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro, but not, for the first time, Hadji Bakara, who since 2003 had manned the synths for the now-quartet. His amicable exit ― Bakara left the band to pursue a doctorate degree in English Literature ― did nothing to hurt the band's chemistry, but as Krug explains in his pensive lilt, it left some question marks about how the band would react musically. "We were all kind of curious to see how it would work. We hadn't spent a lot of face time together in the year previous year 'cause we'd been busy with other bands." (Krug is the frontman for Sunset Rubdown and has a solo project called Moonface, while Boeckner fronts the Handsome Furs alongside his wife, Alexei Perry.) "We were just happy to see each other," he said, echoing Boeckner's sentiments. "I think we're lucky that [the break] happened."
It's not that the band were necessarily sick of each other before the split, but as both Krug and Boeckner mention, the recording of their last album was no walk in the park. "At Mount Zoomer took a long time," Krug explains. "It took almost a year from start to finish, which is too way too long, I think, for any record."
"We had these little blocks of time to do it in," adds Boeckner, "so the principal tracking was done in the summertime ― writing and recording ― and then we did another round of tracking after we toured the songs, and then we took that stuff back to our studio and spent what felt like an eternity trying to mix it. We didn't want to do that again, so [this time], we used a producer."
That producer was Howard Bilerman, former drummer for the Arcade Fire and current producer-about-town whose resume (Silver Mt. Zion, Vic Chesnutt, the Dears, and of course, the Arcade Fire) speaks for itself. "He was really good, he really shaped the sessions," Boeckner admits. "He was honest; he'd tell us when things weren't working, or if things were working, he'd be like 'that's it, that's a good take, keep it.'"
The "takes" to which Boeckner refers are the end result of the band's decision to eschew the fussiness of At Mount Zoomer for a looser, live-off-the-floor recording process. "We wanted to write an entire album's worth of material that we could go out and potentially play live, and then go into the studio and record it very quickly. I think it paid off."
It did; it's just over half a year later, and Wolf Parade are already preparing to release Expo 86. It's a far looser, sometimes groovy version of the band that wrote the epic stomp of 2008's At Mount Zoomer. Dreamy, but not meandering, straightforward, but not facile, Expo 86 is a vivid colour snapshot of where the band's mindset is now at. It's the band's most cohesive statement to date, and serves to underline why Wolf Parade are still one of Canada's most acclaimed acts.
Asked about how the dynamics of Wolf Parade have changed over the past five years, Boeckner reveals the band's happenstances, a blend of fortuity and brotherly camaraderie: "It was kind of accidental, what happened with Wolf Parade. We never had a game plan to make this our main source of income or a career, but I think now, everybody's comfortable with it and I think we've been playing together long enough that writing and recording's just become a really democratic, really fun process. In the beginning, it was almost this painful birth making records, but this one wasn't painful at all. We worked really hard on it, and put a lot of energy and time into it, but it didn't seem like a struggle. It's become a lot easier."