For his uncanny ability for churning out unforgettable pop hooks and knee-buckling melodies, Vancouver's Carl Newman is one of the few Canadians in recent years deemed worthy enough to drink from the chalice of pure pop royalty.
His mid-1990's output with orchestral rockers Zumpano still draws stares of slack-jawed amazement from pundits of the post-Bacharach underground (admittedly, a rather narrow segment of the underground, recognizable for their sensible haircuts and vexing record collections).
Fast forward to 2000 and Newman gained recognition at home and beyond with Mass Romantic, an album just brimming with saccharine merriment and recorded with help of a handful of Vancouver scenesters. The union dubbed themselves the New Pornographers, and in the years since have firmly established themselves as one of the most brilliantly bowed indie rock bands on the planet. The Pornographers released an equally fab follow-up in 2003 called Electric Version and reaped the praise of such notorious curmudgeons as Ray Davies from the Kinks. No small feat indeed.
If this isn't enough, Newman recently released his solo debut The Slow Wonder under the moniker AC Newman and predictably, has been harvesting rave reviews worldwide for the efforts. All in a days work for this prodigy of the harmonious plume.
"I was almost embarrassed by the idea of doing a solo album but I did one anyway," says Newman by phone from a Los Angeles automobile rental agency. His band's rental van broke down five shows into a five-date west coast tour, forcing Newman and his hired hands to spend a couple of extra days in the city. "It only really occurred to me when I was working with the Pornographers on Electric Version. I had a bunch of extra song that I really liked and figured I might as well make another record."
And make another record he did! Comprised of 11 tracks of handcrafted splendor, Newman gives credit to his handlers for helping him flesh out his vision. "I don't really know anything about the technical aspects of the studio. [Pornographers bassist and Slow Wonder producer] John Collins takes care of most of that stuff for me. I'm the guy who's kinda anal about little arrangement issues, things in the mixing and the sound. I'm definitely more impressed by the people who can run the machines than by what I do."
While most of the songs were written in and around the recording of the twin Pornographers records, Newman did plumb the depths to come up with one the album's biggest tearjerkers—track 9 for our readers following along at home. "The song 'The Cloud Prayer' was totally pulled from the archives. It was written around 1996 and was on the last [Newman's mid-1990's noise band] Superconductor record. It was just this weird, reverb-filled acoustic version and I always thought I wanted to do a proper recording with that tune. It was always a song I really liked so I gave it the epic production I though it needed."
Newman is playing close to two dozen dates in support of The Slow Wonder in July and August. Yet upon his return, Newman promises to begin work on the eagerly-anticipated third New Pornographers album. It will no doubt retain all the charm and magic of his previous works but don't be surprised if Newman throws his listeners a little chin music this time out, in an effort to keep them honest and keep himself at the top of his game. "I think the next Pornographers' record is going to be a little more dynamic. We're aiming for more epically prog at this point—basically try to make it as prog as possible but retain all that pop stuff that the kids really eat up. I've done a lot of the writing and practiced with [Pornographers drummer] Kurt [Dahle] a little bit but it's been on the backburner for a little while, at least while I'm on tour with the AC Newman show."
AC (Carl) Newman will be playing the following Canadian cities in support of The Slow Wonder
July 16: Victoria, BC, Lucky Bar – with The Neins
July 17: Vancouver, BC, Richard's on Richards – with The Neins
July 30: Edmonton, AB, Sidetrack Caf» – with The Neins, All Night Radio
July 31: Calgary, AB, Night Gallery – with The Neins
Aug 1: Saskatoon, SK, Amigo's – with The Neins, All Night Radio
Aug 3: Winnipeg, MB, West End Cultural Centre
Aug 8: Toronto, ON, Lee's Palace
Aug 9: Montreal, QC, El Salon – with Rogue Wave, The Neins
For more information on Newman, visit his official website at www.acnewman.net
Writer: Cameron Gordon