Supergroup is a rather overused term. Publicists throw it around every time a number of musicians come together under a new identity or project. The New Pornographers might have it backwards, but they’ve nonetheless become such an entity all the same.
What started as a humble Canadian enterprise with under-the-radar albums like Mass Romantic (2000) and Electric Version (2003) has become a massive indie rock tree upholding several substantial branches. Thus, a supergroup emerged, with each member holding several other commitments in addition to the New Pornographers.
Frontman Carl Newman has his own A.C. Newman solo moniker. Neko Case is a legend unto herself. Dan Bejar and John Collins formed heavy indie hitters like Destroyer and Swan Lake.
Kathryn Calder just released her first solo album and also performs with The Immaculate Machine. Kurt Dahle and Todd Fancey appear with Limblifter and write solo material as well.
“I think the best thing about everybody having their own projects is that you lose some of the frustration,” Newman says. “If the New Pornographers was the only thing that people did, yet they still wanted to write their own thing, but they were relegated to [being] a person in the band who didn’t write or sing, they would be frustrated. As it is, they don’t have to feel that way. There’s not any competition in the band. Todd Fancey is not fighting to get one of his songs into the New Pornographers, because he’s putting out his own Fancey record.”
Newman admits getting everyone together for another album can become a difficult enterprise, but he says it was even that way in the beginning. With eight schedules (the other being synth player Blaine Thurler) moving toward several artistic endeavors, it’s easy to see the challenge Newman describes. Yet he surprises when he says it’s always been that — even in the beginning.
“It can be difficult to get everyone together, but then again it was just as hard in 2000 or 2001 as it is 10 years later,” Newman says. “We’ve just always been scattered. For example, even when we first started, Neko didn’t live in the same town as we did. So we’re always fighting that battle.”
The earlier days also brought a lack of commitment, since The New Pornographers was nothing more than a hobby while everyone worked their day jobs and had other distractions. Thus, Newman says today’s distractions are really no different than when a new band has issues getting everyone to be focused.
“Even when everyone lives in the same place, they find reasons to be distracted,” Newman says. “When your band isn’t your job or when it seems more like a hobby, you try to set up a practice and someone says, ‘Oh, I can’t do it. I have to go out to dinner with my cousin.’ Then practice is cancelled. It’s the problems of any band with five or six members, and now the problems are different. Instead of crossing town, we have to cross the continent, but we figure things out.”
The band’s latest single, “Moves,” from their 2010 release Together, features one of The New Pornographers’ finest moments yet. The official video for the single was directed by comedian Tom Scharpling, who served as writer and producer for the TV series Monk, among other projects. The video serves as a trailer for a fake biopic on “The Rise and Rise of the New Pornographers,” and Scharpling called in several comedian friends like Paul Rudd, John Hodgman, Bill Hader and Wyatt Cenac to take part.
The end result is a hilarious viral video that’s quickly breaking the band to an even larger mainstream level. The band knew Scharpling was onto something good, but they had no idea it would become the band’s most watched video within a single week.
“We were blown away when we saw the final cut,” Newman says. “Actually, Tom Scharpling was showing it to us. We kept bugging him. We knew everybody was in the video, so we knew we really wanted to see it. We’d say, ‘Is it ready? Can we see a cut yet?’ We were just looking over his shoulder at his computer and thought, ‘This is amazing!’ We’re very lucky to have the video.”
Yet even with a highlight like this, Newman said he watched the video alone with his wife, since getting the band together would have been nearly impossible.
“My wife was with me and we were playing this little variety show in New York.
Tom Scharpling, the director, was there. We found a computer and he showed it to us. I knew everyone in the band would love it. I mean, how could anyone not love this video? And it does exactly what a video should do, which is to draw attention to the band.”
Newman’s own solo material emerges every few years, with only two releases under the A.C. Newman moniker thus far. The last release, Get Guilty, dropped in 2009 and charted at No. 99 on the Billboard Top 100, providing not only a mild success for Newman but a creative respite away from the band.
“It is good to take some time away to do your own thing and then come back together with the band,” Newman says. “It is good that you don’t feel as burnt out as if you were constantly doing the same things with the same band. So when we do get together to make another record, we’re definitely feeling a little more inspired.”
As the band prepares to hit the road to once again support Together, Newman says fans will hear a lot of the new album in the set, but only because the songs belong in the canon. Instead of promoting the newest material, the goal is about a proper fit, and Together happened to gel with the band’s previous material more than usual.
“The great thing about Together is that the songs felt like they belonged in the set immediately. Sometimes you put out a new record and [when] you’re playing them with all of your old songs, it doesn’t work. But when we played new songs like ‘Moves,’ ‘Crash Years,’ ‘Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk’ or ‘We End Up Together,’ they felt like they’d always been there.”
As The New Pornographers continue to function as a supergroup, it’s that last song — “We End Up Together” — that describes the biggest challenge they’ll face. Yet given the beauty of the various creative outlets involved, don’t be surprised if no one complains.
On the Bill:
The New Pornographers play the Fox Theatre on Wednesday, April 13. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Menomena opens. Tickets are $25. 1128 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.