INTERVIEW: NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
Kathryn Calder is a Victoria-based musician and possesses a beautiful, clear voice and an amazing musical pedigree. First gaining fame in her band Immaculate Machine, they released 3 albums on fabled Vancouver label Mint Records before disbanding.
Since then she has joined and become a permanent member of Vancouver’s The New Pornographers. Lead by ex-Superconductor guitarist A.C. Newman, the group has blossomed into becoming a ‘true Canadian supergroup’, as the ‘loose collective’ includes alt-country diva Neko Case, Dan Bejar of Destroyer fame, John Collins of The Evaporators, Blaine Thurier, Todd Fancey of Limblifter, and bassist Joe Seiders. Since the year 2000, the group has injected searing guitar licks, angelic vocal harmonies, and serious pop hooks into the music charts, most recently releasing Whiteout Conditions in April via the Concord Music Group. We reached Kathryn at her home just outside of Victoria.
Hi Kathryn, how was the New Pornographer’s tour of Europe?
We just back, it was amazing! We started in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, we went up to Scandinavia, and then came back down and finished with Bruges and Paris. It wasn’t terribly long, but we’ll go back.
Did you get time to see any of the sights?
Not really. We had a lot of crazy drives this time out…such as Northern Europe to Scandinavia…so, we had two drivers, trading off, lots of eight to twelve-hour drives.
So to me….it sort of sounds like a tour of Canada…?!?
*laughs* Yeah, exactly, it felt like ‘just another tour of Canada’. We did manage to see some of the sights, but it’s a bit of a blur now.
As a seasoned musician, what ‘nuggets of wisdom’ would you tell young musicians about to go on an international tour?
Well..it’s fun, it’s a really fun thing to do, but be prepared for NO personal space. *laughs* You have to learn to get along with other people, you have to learn to ‘let a lot of things go.’ Be adaptable; everyone has their own routines, dietary needs, maybe they like to take naps, and sometimes that’s just not possible on tour.
Could you explain briefly your connection to bandleader A.C. Newman, for those that don’t know?
My mother was adopted as a baby, so when she was forty she accessed her birth records, and so did her mother; they exchanged letters, and eventually we all met, which was an amazing experience! We discovered my mother’s brother was A.C. (Carl) Newman, who was a Vancouver musician doing all kinds of cool stuff, like Superconductor. My mother’s adoptive parents were always blown away at her natural piano abilities, and she became a music teacher later on. You always think about these genes, and years later we discover this side of the family full of musicians. It’s very cool! My Dad’s side of the family has a lot of musicians in it as well, so growing up I had a lot of music around me, specifically piano.
‘Brill Bruisers” from 2014 had a more upbeat, synth-driven sound than previous albums, and “Whiteout Conditions” continues the same vein. In this band, full of individually great songwriters, how does a song idea progress from start to finish?
It’s very interesting working with Carl… he really taught me not to be ‘precious’ with your songs. He brings in songs, and then they’ll get totally reworked, sometimes right up to the last minute before being recorded. They get absolutely cut to pieces, and then reconstructed! This album was partially recorded in Woodstock, New York, and then some of it was done in Vancouver at (bassist) John Collin’s studio, and I did most of my parts from my own studio here, and then emailed the sound files. Carl gives me a lot of direction most of the time, tell me where he hears my vocal parts, and then sometimes he just asks me to “do something”, and I’ll send it back.
What’s next for you, in addition to touring this New Pornographer’s album?
I have this friend, Mark Hamilton, he has a project called Woodpidgeon, and we decided we should start a band! We got a residency and recording grant at the National Music Center in Calgary, so we recorded there using their vintage synth collection, and we’ll be finishing that off soon. I’ve also started a small record label and signed Vancouver’s Cascade Falls, out last May, and Victoria’s Peach Pyramid out this fall. And…that feels like enough!