I’ve been a big fan of Wolf Parade for years – one of Canada’s most iconic indie rock groups, with chronic overachievers Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs, Operators, Divine Fits etc.) and Spencer Krug (Frog Eyes, Sunset Rubdown etc.) serving as the band’s chief songwriters. I’ve spoken to Dan quite a few times over the years – at least one for each of his aforementioned projects – but never have I had the chance to talk about the band that cemented his status as one of Canada’s best musicians. Part of this is likely due to the fact the band have been on a hiatus for the better part of six years… and have never toured Australia.
“We were supposed to play Laneway,” said Boeckner, on the phone with me from Vancouver Island, in a place called Lantzville, “a few years ago. I think when we were talking about Operators a couple of years ago we started talking about it. But it fell through. We are planning to come to Australia on this (album) cycle, we’ve been talkin’ about it quite a bit, for about six months now. It’s on the books for early next year, but not official yet.”
Needless to say, I’ll believe it when I see it.
He’s been no stranger to our shores though, touring here with Handsome Furs and Divine Fits over the years, and he showed off his knowledge of the local lingo, laughing when I asked if he was currently living in Lantzville, “It’s close to where I grew up, but I’m living in Montreal now. This place is full of… I believe you call them ‘bogans’ in Australia.”
On Friday, the group released their first full length record since 2010’s critically acclaimed Expo 86, Cry Cry Cry – a much tighter record than their last, fitting comfortably into their catalogue. In many ways it felt like the band had picked up from where they left off – musically at least. But was that the case on a more practical level? What brought the band back together after so long apart?
“The process started before we even played our first reunion show. The question was whether Spencer and I could write Wolf Parade songs that we thought sounded good… it predicated the whole thing of getting back together. That was the baseline – if we can’t write songs we have no business getting back on stage. But if we can, then we should play shows. So the album process started around then. We booked a rehearsal in 2015, I was still living in the US, and we got together. Then we put that EP out, saved a bunch of songs we were working on and honed them with producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Unwound) outside of Seattle. I felt good about it, making it. I usually have a meltdown, I do on every record I make, but I didn’t on this one.”
Of course the follow up question was, what had changed? Boaekner answered, “I was a little more emotionally stable than I was before. I feel like everyone was legitimately excited, too. I felt like we had control over the process. We never really had that much control, we would write these songs and get into the studio and fucking chaos would ensue. Something would happen, inevitably, the band was this dopey dog who had a curse. I was always happy with the results, but it was always a painful process making records. This time, while there were definitely points where Spencer and I were at each other’s throats, it wasn’t like before.”
“I think the friction and the chaos was coming from the outside world on this record, rather than internally. We did a lot of the principle tracking after the inauguration of Trump, in Seattle. There was a palpable sense of disbelief and dread. It was a real “What the fuck?” moment for North America. I remember flying down to go to the sessions, and I was asked at the border, “what are you doing in the United States?” “Making a record,” I told him. “Are you attending any demonstrations while you’re down there? And don’t lie to me,” he replied. What a question to be asked. I don’t think there’s anything other than that that could set the tone.”
I half jokingly asked if he did play any demonstrations, “I actually considered it. But even if I did have time to go to a demonstration… it’s kind of weird a Canadian demonstrating in the US… even if I was going, the answer was going to be no.”
So while the world had changed, and the band had their shit together more than ever, the album doesn’t sound like some massive departure. Was that deliberate? “Yeah kind of. We didn’t have like an aesthetic goal we were going for, we didn’t say we needed this vibe or this instrumentation. But Spencer, Arlen and I got together and said, “what didn’t we like about the last thing we did? Let’s not do that again!”. Every album has been a reaction to the album that came before it. Apologies…, we’d done these scrappy EPs, so we did crazy instrumentation. Here we looked at Expo – they were long and dense, so let’s trim the fat, and anything we don’t love, let’s give it the hatchet. We’ve always worked like that.”
“We also felt like, with Expo, we wanted to get across a monolithic sound. There’s not a lot of dynamic in that record. With this, we don’t want to worry about whether or not we could play it live, we just said we’d figure that out later. It’s nice to evolve, to be like “we can put these synthesisers on this, even if this isn’t going to play live on stage””
So how have the songs developed live? “We did an interesting experiment with these songs. We just did the Arcade Fire tour, we were the main support for that tour. We were playing these huge arenas with these guys. So we went into it knowing that maybe about 500-600 people at these shows would know who we are. “Let’s just play half of the new record live in this ridiculous environment.” It was good for the songs. It got them into shape. Nothing’s going to make you play the songs well like nine thousand people staring you in the face. We took the record we made and adapted it into an arena rock back. We’re basically ELO now.”
Our conversation developed into a discussion about The Beatles, and how some of their best music was made once they removed the stage equation. Wolf Parade have definitely crafted some of their finest music since Apologies on Cry Cry Cry. And come to think of it, the whole Dan and Spencer combative nature is very John and Paul. I wonder who is who. Dan is probably John. And while they haven’t achieved a Beatles level of notoriety, they have had plenty of success – interesting more outside of Canada than within.
“Honestly the band is biggest in the US,” Boeckner admitted. “I talked to (Australian group) POND about this… it seems to happen in Commonwealth countries. If you have an arts funding system in place, you have a lot more opportunities to tour. But it can work both ways. A lot of time you have these bands that are huge in Canada that will play for 100 people in NYC. Wolf Parade has never been accepted as a Canadian band in that way, so Chicago, LA, NY have always been our biggest markets. But not say Ontario, or even Vancouver. It’s odd.”
Here’s hoping they can add Australia to that list before too long.
Cry Cry Cry is available now. Have a listen on Bandcamp.