As far as hot-list hipster fashion accessories go, vintage Expo 86 T-shirts rank right up there with Pabst Blue Ribbon belt buckles and oversize tortoiseshell sunglasses. Logic would therefore dictate that Montreal’s Wolf Parade had ulterior motives for naming their latest album for the world’s fair that hit Vancouver back when Cyndi Lauper was queen of the pop charts.
Sorry, but nothing doing.
Expo 86 did leave an impression on the future members of Wolf Parade. Singer-guitarists Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug, guitarist-keyboardist Dante DeCaro, and drummer Arlen Thompson are all originally from the West Coast. As a result, way back in the day, they ended up making the pilgrimage to the world party on False Creek. In fact, as near as they can figure, DeCaro, Boeckner, and Krug visited Expo 86 within the same three-day period.
If they really wanted to score cool points, the Pitchfork-sanctioned bandmates would claim they were in the front row for one of Expo 86’s most fabled moments. As astute students of ancient Lotusland history are well aware, someone convinced the powers that be to celebrate Vancouver’s thriving underground music scene with a multinight festival. Notoriously, grungy garage kings Slow kicked things off, their profanity-laced set taking all of about five minutes to send families from across the world stampeding for the exits.
The incident made the 11 o’clock news, and led to the rest of the indie fest being cancelled. Were the various members of Wolf Parade front and centre for the gig, where Slow bassist Stephen Hamm dropped his drawers and flashed the audience seconds after Expo brass cut the power? To his credit, DeCaro isn’t about to lie.
“I was five at the time,” says the multi-instrumentalist, on the line from a Cleveland tour stop. “The other guys are a bit older, so they might remember more. I don’t remember much except getting lost. And going to Science World. I didn’t see Slow.
“Apparently, Einstürzende Neubauten played Expo as well, though,” DeCaro continues. “But I don’t remember seeing any music. I think that my parents decided to shelter me from watching German industrial bands.”
If DeCaro’s parents’ goal was to make sure that their son didn’t end up in a band where art is obviously far more important than commerce, then they failed spectacularly. EXPO 86, the third album from Wolf Parade, proudly plants its flag in left field, the albums’ 11 herky-jerky tracks studded with lurching guitar insanity, fried-circuit synth squalls, and vocals that sound like CBGB back when David Byrne was just another art-school weirdo. In other words, the album finds the four-piece rediscovering the off-kilter form displayed on the blogosphere-approved 2005 debut Apologies to the Queen Mary.
That will come as welcome news to those who had trouble getting their heads around the band’s decidedly challenging 2008 sophomore effort At Mount Zoomer. That release found Wolf Parade deciding to produce itself, the result being songs that jettisoned the spastic art pop of Apologies for dense soundscapes that suggested a lot of pot was being smoked during the recording sessions.
With EXPO 86—which was helmed by former Arcade Fire drummer Howard Bilerman—Wolf Parade decided to do things differently. Whereas the creation of At Mount Zoomer stretched out over months, the band worked fast this time, hammering out the songs in the practice space, then recording them quickly, with a minimum of overdubs.
“For us, I think that Mount Zoomer was very kind of disorganized and slow coming,” DeCaro says. “The songs ended up coming out a lot better live than they did on record. This time, the idea was get in there and basically do things live.”
EXPO 86 would be different for DeCaro in another way. A former guitarist with Hot Hot Heat, the guitarist was initially something of a hired gun with Wolf Parade, performing live with the group and helping out in the studio when needed. His status in the band changed after At Mount Zoomer. When Wolf Parade cofounder Hadji Bakara decided that he was more into pursuing his English doctorate at the University of Chicago than living out of a suitcase in a tour van, DeCaro became a full-fledged member of Wolf Parade. As a result, he was involved in EXPO 86 right from the point when main songwriters Boeckner and Krug brought what they had to band practice.
“I think what also helped was that we took a year off before we made this record,” DeCaro notes. “During that year off, we all did different things. By the time we got back together to do this, there was a real sense that we were ready to go. And once we realized that we were ready to go, the momentum just sort of kept going. And in the end, I think we were more happy with it [EXPO 86] than we were with Mount Zoomer.”
In some ways, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Wolf Parade didn’t leave At Mount Zoomer with a lot of fond memories. EXPO 86, on the other hand, had no shortage of golden moments for the band, at least where DeCaro was concerned.
“I remember being at Science World,” he says, “and making balls float in mid-air with some sort of wind machine. That was the kind of thing that really made me think that the future was now.”
Wolf Parade plays the Vogue on Sunday (July 25).