As Dan Boeckner is discovering all over again, there’s something perversely unfair about making an uncompromisingly original record and then having to field questions about that record which couldn’t be less imaginative. So let’s forgive the Wolf Parade singer-guitarist for sounding friendly but a tad fried when he picks up the phone at his Montreal home.
Boeckner is feeling burned out because he’s just spent all morning doing press for his band’s sophomore release, At Mount Zoomer. The process has given him a sense of déjí vu in that, as was the case with Wolf Parade’s 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, he keeps having to talk about the same things in every interview.
“There’s the album-title question—that one’s a classic now,” Boeckner says. “Also, they ask about this thing that was injected into our bio which probably shouldn’t have been—the thing about the album having no singles. And then there’s side projects. Side projects is this press circuit’s Arcade Fire/Isaac Brock question. It’s just like the last time we did the press circuit, where it was like there was a template. ”˜What was it like working with Isaac Brock?’ And ”˜Do you know the Arcade Fire?’, to which I’d respond, ”˜Yes, I do.’ And then, ”˜What makes the Montreal music scene so great?’ ”
What must make Boeckner want to bludgeon himself to death with his phone is that the answers to all such questions are readily available to anyone with a computer and a basic understanding of how Google works.
For those too lazy to fire up their laptops, Mount Zoomer (which may or may not be a coded reference to magic mushrooms) is the name of Wolf Parade drummer Arlen Thompson’s studio, where portions of the new album were recorded. Although Sub Pop’s press release for At Mount Zoomer reads, “The band, in fact, issued a two-word warning to the label at one point during the album’s creation: ”˜No Singles’ ”, that was meant as a smart-assed joke.
And finally, the various members of Wolf Parade do indeed play in side projects such as the Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown—and, for the record, those projects are an artistically rewarding way to keep busy when Wolf Parade isn’t on tour, recording, or fielding questions from cretins with tape recorders. Not that Boeckner doesn’t in some ways pity those he finds himself conversing with.
“I think what happens is that people get the press release of a band, they give the record a cursory listen, write down some notes based on what’s written in the press release and whatever they can get by wailing on the Google button, and then they do an interview,” he says. “I respect that it’s boring to have to interview bands over and over again, but sometimes I think that people could do better.”
What Boeckner is getting at, in a roundabout way, is that there’s no point doing anything unless you’re willing to go above and beyond. Wolf Parade—which includes singer-keyboardist Spencer Krug, guitarist Dante DeCaro, and synth-player Hadji Bakara—did just that with At Mount Zoomer.
The determinedly off-kilter, jagged alt-rock of Queen Mary has been largely abandoned in favour of a sound that’s layered, impossibly lush, and seemingly designed to get fans reaching for their headphones. With its prog-rock synth swells and desert-noir guitars, “California Dreamer” revisits the glory years of Orange Sunshine and shag carpets, while the plinking pianos and car-crash percussion in “An Animal in Your Care” dress up Major Tom for the MySpace generation. Wolf Parade isn’t afraid to play things soft and pastoral, as on the languid opening to “Soldier’s Grin”, or flat-out fucked up, which is as good a description as any for the synth-squiggled “Language City”.
“I think the record kind of reflects where everyone is at musically,” Boeckner suggests. “We’ve actually gotten better at playing our instruments. Also, Spencer and I get to get a lot of ideas out by playing in our other projects, so I think that really helped focus Wolf Parade’s aesthetic this time out.”
The follow-up to the critically lauded, Brock-produced Apologies to the Queen Mary didn’t always come easy, but that didn’t necessarily make the writing and recording process any less enjoyable.
“There were times in the studio where we would be up all night, every night,” Boeckner reveals. “It was labour-intensive, but it was fun.”
In + out
Dan Boeckner sounds off on the things that enquiring minds want to know.
On Tusk: “It was recorded when punk music was happening, and I think Fleetwood Mac was aware of punk, or at least Lindsey Buckingham was. I can hear elements of even Joy Division, and certainly a DIY guitar sound.”
On the battle plan for At Mount Zoomer : “The big one was that we didn’t want to work with a producer. That wasn’t because of any experience that we had with Apologies, but more because we bought our own studio equipment and Arlen is really good at engineering. We really wanted to keep things hermetic within the band.”
On what most record labels are looking for: “What they want is a fucking Fall Out Boy. They want to move millions of units—those are the weights and measures that they are dealing with.”
Indeed, Wolf Parade learned to enjoy the struggle when songs didn’t come together overnight. Boeckner cops to a major obsession with Tusk, the budget-busting record where Fleetwood Mac decided to push the limits of what it could accomplish in the studio.
At Mount Zoomer was created in that same hyper-experimental spirit, with the band’s members going at the songs from all different directions to challenge both themselves and their fans. One listen to the military-march ghost-pop killer “Call It a Ritual” will confirm that the end result was worth all the challenges the band faced.
What Boeckner is perhaps proudest about today is that he and his bandmates opted to produce At Mount Zoomer themselves.
“I couldn’t be happier with the situation the band is in,” he says. “Ever since the success of the Shins, I think the forces of mass media have realized that indie rock is something sellable. As a result, there’s been this definite trend. Some bands do this kind of thing where they put out a record, it’s well-received, and then they go with a bigger producer—Dave Fridmann [Flaming Lips] is a good example. They get Fridmann to produce their next album, they capitalize on what people liked about the last record, and they try and do that thing bigger.”
At Mount Zoomer wasn’t made for K Records–obsessed hipsters who consider themselves too cool for even the Pitchfork crowd, but instead for the members of Wolf Parade themselves. If Boeckner and his bandmates are going to be part of the machine that is modern pop music, they are going to set their own terms. Now if only the reward for that maverick sense of originality was interview questions that challenged them as much as At Mount Zoomer challenges the band’s listeners.
“I just wish there didn’t have to be a hook,” Boeckner says with a sigh. “I mean, I understand that there are a fucking million bands out there, and that papers have to make their readership be interested in them. It’s like, ”˜The Kills are coming to Vancouver—how do we get people to read about them?’ You can’t just write ”˜Here’s a band, they play music, go check them out.’ Still, I wish the hook was different for each article.”
Or, at the very least, that he didn’t have to discuss album titles, side projects, and singles every time he picks up the phone.
Wolf Parade plays a sold-out Commodore on Saturday (July 12).