The New Pornographers’ A.C. Newman on Woodstock, Isolation, Machu Picchu, and Other Inspirations Behind Their New Album ‘Continue as a Guest’

The New Pornographers’ A.C. Newman on Woodstock, Isolation, Machu Picchu, and Other Inspirations Behind Their New Album ‘Continue as a Guest’

The New Pornographers have been a band for over 20 years, and the title of their new album presents what looks as if the one potential pathway for holding with the instances: Proceed as a Visitor. However in anticipating “the lengthy fade out,” amidst the day-to-day chatter and chaos, in addition they discover methods to regular and propel themselves ahead. After touring in assist of 2019’s Within the Morse Code of Brake Lights, Carl Newman started writing the brand new document – their first since signing to Merge – at his Woodstock, New York residence, which each heightened this separation from the hectic tempo of the world and allowed him to discover completely different approaches to songwriting and recording. He repurposes older materials, adopts views apart from his personal, and leans right into a decrease register that feels pure but balances off the lyrics in usually ambiguous, barely discomfiting vogue. However alongside the lineup of Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, John Collins, Todd Fancey, and Joe Seiders, and with contributions from saxophonist Zach Djanikian and Sadie Dupuis, the solitary, reflective undercurrent of the music springs to life in a brand new, refreshing manner. “No matter you’re promoting, I’ll take all of it,” goes the refrain of ‘Firework within the Falling Snow’, embracing the waves of change as they arrive.

We caught up with A.C. Newman to speak about how Liam Kazar, Woodstock, isolation, a tour bus driver in Reykjavik, Iceland, and extra impressed Proceed as a Visitor, which is out right now.

He has such an expressive, vibrant, and candy voice.

Yeah, it jogs my memory of one thing very basic, however I can’t fairly place it. It jogs my memory of a document you may need heard on the radio in 1973. I believed he was such a crooner. Lots of people who sing, they’ve this affectation, and I really like that he had one thing very easy and trustworthy about his voice. He by no means seems like he’s reaching. And I believed, I need to try to sing like him – not that I used to be going to mimic him, but it surely was like chasing some high quality. After I was singing, I discovered myself simply making an attempt to sing in a manner the place, if I felt like that is past my voice and doesn’t really feel snug, I’d change the melodies, I’d transfer the notes round till it feels snug.

It feels like there was a steadiness between that effortlessness and making an attempt to be aware of the way you approached your vocals.

I believe the hassle was extra into my ideas about singing, like earlier than I sang. There are some songs the place I didn’t like the best way the vocals have been going, so I believed, “Simply play the tune, simply sing one thing freeform.” Or I’d do it very first thing within the morning when my head was form of clear. Even when it’s gibberish, simply play the tune and see the place your thoughts goes. And that was a really fascinating train, since you’d notice which melodies you’re keen on, as a result of your thoughts would naturally return to some, however typically you simply create new ones that felt extra snug.

Woodstock, New York

How did the house atmosphere there have an effect on your general strategy and the concepts you got here up with?

There’s one thing concerning the nature there – I hate to be a hippie about issues, however there’s something simply calming about nature. We’ve a stream operating by way of our property, and typically simply mendacity on a hammock and listening to a stream simply feels transcendental. You keep in mind: Possibly that is nearer to what life needs to be like. Despite the fact that you return inside and begin taking a look at your screens and no matter it’s you do. The historical past of music there’s form of inspirational, and it’s good to assume in your small manner that perhaps you’re persevering with one thing that was began a very long time in the past, that’s not even essentially music, as a result of it was once plenty of artists and painters earlier than the musicians confirmed up within the ‘60s. It’s a spot the place artwork and music are given slightly bit of a better place.

It seems like a cushty atmosphere. There’s a number of like-minded folks – I do know extra musicians there than I did dwelling in a giant metropolis. It’s a spot the place folks come and make music as a result of it’s very conducive to that.  It’s a really shapeless affect, however typically you simply want an excellent atmosphere. I’ve spent sufficient time rehearsing in windowless, mildewy observe areas, so it’s good to be working in a spot the place every little thing round you is form of inspirational. However I haven’t began writing songs about bushes. I don’t assume I’ll ever begin writing about bushes, however we’ll see. That’s extra Neko’s factor – I don’t need to begin working in her lane.

Mandolin as a Drone

I undoubtedly hear that in ‘Marie and the Undersea’.

I believe ‘Marie and the Undersea’ and ‘Pontius Pilate’s Residence Films’ and ‘Final and Stunning’. When most individuals decide up a mandolin, they normally play a mandolin melody, one thing that’s form of nation or bluesy or bluegrass, and I’m not a mandolin participant, however I simply thought, “What if I decide up the mandolin and identical to, play it just like the Ramones? This tune is in the important thing of G, what if I simply strum actually exhausting on the G chord on the mandolin and let this texture that runs beneath it?” Not simply utilizing mandolins like I’ve been questioning to purchase him a banjo. I haven’t discovered one but. Simply utilizing that very particular, distinctive assault of an instrument differently than it’s usually used. After I consider issues like mandolin and banjo, I believe my benefit there’s that I don’t know how one can play them, so I’m going to select them up and never go to the place they might usually go. I’m going to make use of them in a extra amateurish, easier, and abrasive manner, simply because I don’t know any higher. Generally you simply must embrace your weak point.


The primary single from the document, ‘Actually Actually Gentle’, I took an unreleased tune that we recorded with Dan Bejar. It simply sat round for years and by no means fairly got here collectively, but it surely had this little refrain part which I actually favored, which was, “We sit round and discuss concerning the climate/ My coronary heart’s identical to a feather/ Actually actually mild.” As a result of the final 10 years of pop music, you at all times hear about that, like, Beyoncé interpolated ‘Maps’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs into her tune. And I believed, “I’m going to try this, however I’m going to interpolate a tune that nobody’s ever heard. I’m going to interpolate a tune that’s solely been heard by folks inside our band.” And that simply felt like a enjoyable train. And I’m nonetheless doing it, as a result of I’m presently engaged on our subsequent document and I’m doing issues like sampling unreleased songs by us. It’s a enjoyable solution to do it, simply make your individual samples.

A trick I used to do is, if I used to be caught for concepts and I used to be making an attempt to put in writing new songs, I’d play the earlier album backwards. I’d simply document it utterly backwards and hearken to it, and plenty of it simply feels like backwards music, however sometimes, these actually cool melodies would bounce out. There are very restricted outcomes you will get it, however even in the event you hearken to a complete album backwards and it provides you sufficient concepts to put in writing one tune, it’s price doing. I’ve at all times favored doing that form of factor. Despite the fact that the tip result’s a pop tune, I really like getting there utilizing fascinating strategies. It doesn’t must be observed, but it surely’s sufficient for me – I do know it got here from an fascinating place, and it simply makes my job slightly extra fascinating, as a result of it may possibly get boring simply choosing up a guitar or sitting down on the keyboard and taking part in.

A tour bus driver in Reykjavik, Iceland

It was a easy factor, only a very quick story about issues that affect you in your life. It was a tour bus that holds 20 or 30 folks, and it left at eight within the morning out of Reykjavik. It was in December, so the times have been very quick. The tour began at midnight, and by three within the afternoon, it was already getting darkish. As a result of it was beginning to get darkish, the driving force thought he was slightly not on time, so he mentioned, “It’s beginning to get slightly darkish, so we’ll be taking part in cat and mouse with the sunshine, I believe.” It was one of many issues the place I used to be like, “That’s good.” I used to be simply looking the window, wanting on the panorama of Iceland that mainly appears like Mars. And. I in all probability simply typed it in my voice notes in my telephone after which learn it later and thought, “There’s received to be one thing I can do with this.” And a pair years later, it grew to become the tune ‘Cat and Mouse With the Gentle’.

That’s the half I really like about creativity – speaking about how writing can take many types, typically it’s simply listening. I believe I learn someplace that Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields would simply go to a espresso store and hearken to folks. Lots of writing is simply form of absorbing, whether or not it’s listening to plenty of music or studying books or watching films. Simply the thought of taking in each element round you, realizing there’s perhaps no element too small that it may possibly’t be pulled out and became one thing distinctive.

It’s fascinating that that title took place so by the way, as a result of mild as a motif is one thing that runs by way of the album.

However completely different meanings. I believed that once I was wanting on the monitor itemizing. I keep in mind pondering, “Is that too many songs with mild?” However it doesn’t matter. Going again to Liam Kazar, I used to be speaking to him about his document and he mentioned, “Yeah, I’ve plenty of songs that point out sneakers for some motive.” There’s a sure form of iconic imagery or iconic phrases that simply present up in music on a regular basis, and I don’t assume it’s an issue. Like, I really like speaking concerning the coronary heart. There’s one thing about utilizing the phrase “coronary heart” in a tune, which I really feel like, why not use it such as you would use the phrase “the”? It’s such an elemental phrase – go loopy, why not have each tune be concerning the coronary heart, ? It’s that factor inside us that makes us go, why shouldn’t or not it’s central to a lot of our artwork?

The concept of Machu Picchu

Why do you particularly point out “the thought” of Machu Picchu?

After I was writing the tune ‘Final and Stunning’, it’s simply the place I pictured. Generally if you’re writing about one thing, it’s not even that you simply’re describing it, however typically a tune makes a picture pop into your head. In that tune, it’s the thought of wanting to flee to some magical place, wanting to depart your life and discover one thing that’s increased, discover one thing that’s perhaps extra essential, however not eager to do it alone. Every time I used to be writing, footage I’d seen of that have been at all times popping into my head, and I believed, “Why is that?” Clearly, it is among the extra well-known magical secret locations, it’s important to make an amazing effort to get there. That’s simply an instance of: typically, you simply have a picture in your mind if you’re writing, and it’s not at all times someplace distant, typically it’s simply the picture of a spot in your yard or a reminiscence of one thing out of your previous. Your mind takes little snapshots, and I believe a part of artwork is to try to simply describe them, nevertheless effectively or inefficiently.

The best way of notion of time appears to stretch and contract at varied instances of day in varied states of thoughts

I’m curious if these variations in notion was one thing you have been simply typically extra conscious of or if it’s an concept you wished to replicate in a particular tune.

I spend a lot time on the studio that, like, I observed that in the event you’re ingesting alcohol, the tune sounds quicker. After which I’ve observed that if you hearken to a tune very first thing within the morning, it sounds sluggish. Generally you’re working at night time and also you’re like, “This can be a nice tempo,” and then you definitely get up and also you hearken to the identical tune once more, and also you assume it’s too sluggish. I don’t know what it’s, however I believe to myself, might or not it’s that if you take a break from it and also you return to the tune, your mind is processing the knowledge? The pc in your mind is processing the tune once more, so perhaps it feels slower, however then because the day goes on, your mind doesn’t must spend as a lot time processing the tune as a result of it’s already completed that. It made me take into consideration the best way that folks hearken to music, and I believe most individuals who hear my tune, they’re gonna hear it the best way I hear it very first thing within the morning, as a result of they’re going to be processing it as new info. So I believed, “No matter I believe is the nice tempo very first thing within the morning is the tempo I ought to use.” And even when later within the day, it begins feeling too quick, I believed, “No, I ought to persist with the early one.”

There’s a particular line within the tune ‘Bottle Episodes’ the place I used to be referring to that, the road, “There’s a lot to recollect we are going to at all times are available barely late.” It has a really literal that means, however I believe I used to be additionally utilizing it as a metaphor for processing the isolation of the pandemic. I used to be speaking to Mitch Easter about this, about how, in trendy recording, you’ll be able to, put every little thing on a grid. You can provide every little thing robotic precision, and you may have a look at it on the display screen and go, “All the things is completely timed.” However typically you hearken to that music that’s completely timed, and also you go, “It doesn’t sound correct.” And also you notice that there’s a sure ingredient of being early, of anticipating, or there’s a sure ingredient of being late, that’s a part of music. Once you’re looking for some form of good efficiency, it’s truly not perfection.

Phil Ochs’ All of the Information That’s Match to Sing

I like the thought of: sing the information. At first of the pandemic, once I was making an attempt to put in writing lyrics, I used to be so sick of myself. I didn’t need to write about myself, I didn’t need to write about something that was private, as a result of I simply thought, “Who fucking cares?” I believed, “I’m so privileged. All this shit goes down and it’s dangerous, I’ve my residence right here. I’ve my residence and my house and I can go exterior into nature. I’ve to determine how one can step exterior of myself.” And I considered Phil Ochs.

I began writing the lyrics for ‘Marie and the Undersea’, and I used to be studying about nurses. It was at a time when being a nurse was like being in a conflict zone. And I made a decision I wished the tune to be a tribute to another person. There’s a line within the tune that claims, “There isn’t a room for creativeness, somebody as soon as mentioned.” And I took that precisely from the information – I used to be studying an article about someone who was working within the emergency ward, they usually have been saying the way it’s so irritating that there isn’t a room for creativeness. I believed it was such a tragic and poetic solution to put it. It additionally made me consider my very own privilege. It’s like, I’ve room for creativeness, I’m not going by way of that. However these folks, all they’ll consider is simply making an attempt to get by way of the day, making an attempt to get by way of the chaos and fall asleep, after which get up and return into the chaos. I wished it to be about them, and that felt like a breakthrough. After I wrote that, I believed, “I’ve lastly written one thing right here on this pandemic that isn’t bullshit, as a result of it’s not about me.” And that propelled me ahead.

Lots of songs on this document ended up turning into fairly private, however plenty of the songs that I used to be writing concurrently, that are on the document I’m engaged on proper now, I’m making an attempt to make all the document not about me. Or at the least, if it’s about me, I would like it to be from the standpoint of a personality within the story. It’s not simply me speaking about my mind. It’s such a typical solution to write, but it surely’s new to me. So once more, perhaps I’m simply arriving on the identical place that everyone has arrived that for the final 70 years of pop music, however for me, it’s a brand new strategy.

How folks hearken to music: do they need to hear the melody or do they need to hear an excellent voice transferring notes round?

That sounds prefer it’s related to the tune ‘Angelcover’.

Oh, very a lot so. There’s not a lot to the lyrics, it’s a reasonably quick tune, however in my mind, I considered it as a form of George Saunders quick story. He writes these very surreal, humorous quick tales. I used to be simply pondering of the thought of the muse, the thought of: I’m mendacity in mattress and there’s this angel of God making an attempt to provide me some recommendation, and telling me that no person cares concerning the melody, it’s all about the best way it’s delivered. And I believed that’s form of true – as an individual who’s at all times been a pupil of the tune, I’ve realized a ravishing melody sung badly isn’t almost pretty much as good as only a shitty melody sung fantastically. I believe most individuals simply need to hear a very nice voice. So I believe on this tune, this angel telling you the exhausting reality can also be a metaphor for when the cortisol wakes you up at 4am. These are the moments if you begin having bizarre conversations along with your mind, so the metaphor was that, as an alternative of me speaking to myself in the course of the night time, I used to be simply having this dialogue with this angel of God that was making an attempt to provide me some recommendation. And the primary recommendation was: it’s not about melody, it’s concerning the supply.


This document was written in literal isolation, however I really feel like a lot music is written in isolation. Consider someone like Brian Wilson – he made this music which is so joyous, however he was an remoted, unhappy individual, and he wrote a tune like ‘In My Room’, which reached out to all the opposite unhappy, remoted folks. After I consider simply me making an attempt to put in writing music on this world, it’s me simply making an attempt to succeed in out to the world. Having grown up being a shy, introverted individual – lots of people naturally go to that, however they nonetheless need to attain out, so it is sensible that artwork is a manner to try this. If I checked out every little thing I’ve ever written, I believe the overarching concept that runs by way of plenty of it’s simply making an attempt to get out of your self, making an attempt to succeed in for some form of connection. Or a frustration at not with the ability to attain exterior of your self, or a pleasure at lastly having discovered one thing that’s exterior myself. I believe it circles round that. I really feel like plenty of music and artwork is a satellite tv for pc transferring across the gravity of that form of isolation.

The transformative energy of affection vs. the best way we rework love

Does love pull you out of your isolation? Or does it pull you out for some time, and does your isolation begin to distort it? It’s one thing to consider if you’ve been in a relationship for a very long time, as a result of they alter. There’s the start of a relationship when it’s thrilling and also you’re in love, and years cross, and you continue to love the individual, but it surely adjustments. And it’s like that with all people. Lots of people perhaps have a infantile view of affection, they usually say, “Nicely, I don’t really feel the identical manner now as I did to start with, so perhaps we must always break up.” However you’re by no means gonna discover an individual the place you meet them and it’s without end such as you simply met them. That’s not how the world works. Once you’ve been collectively for 10, 25, 25, 30 years, what does love flip into? Clearly, it’s important to put work into it, and I believe that’s the thought: it’s important to ask yourselves, “How a lot of this love has been modified by me? Has been modified by us? How a lot of it has been modified by time?”

I believe that concept runs by way of a couple of songs. A few of it’s fictional, just like the tune ‘Cat and Mouse With the Gentle’, it’s not likely about my life. It’s a couple of idea of when folks can’t talk – they love one another however there’s one thing blocking them. That was the road, “I can’t stand that you simply love me.” Folks don’t imply to come back off that manner. It’s like they neglect to speak how a lot they love an individual. I believe what’s occurring within the tune is a bit more violent, extra dysfunctional, as a result of a number of folks have been in relationships the place that dynamic is there. There are people who naturally push folks away. Sooner or later, we’re all on our personal making an attempt to determine it out. We’re all completely different, we’re all distinctive. Once you take two distinctive folks with every little thing they’re product of and you place them collectively, it’s a singular components each time. You possibly can’t learn a guide that tells you how one can make it work, so all people’s making an attempt to put in writing their very own rulebook for love and success and longevity.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability and size.

The New Pornographers’ Proceed as a Visitor is out now through Merge.

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