Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.
A.C. Newman‘s third solo album, Shut Down the Streets, comes out this week. It’s a more centered, meditative album than the New Pornographers‘ frontman has released before, and one of its highlights is “I’m Not Talking” — which might be some sort of a response to Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking.”
Newman‘s first significant band, in the early ’90s, was the high-volume Superconductor, who were based in Vancouver. They included six guitarists, two bassists and a drummer. Here’s a live recording of them playing “Satori” in San Francisco in 1992.
His next band was very different: the power-pop group Zumpano (named after their drummer, Jason Zumpano), who were around from 1992 to 1996. In 1994, they made a fake karaoke video for “The Party Rages On,” the opening track from their first album, Look What the Rookie Did.
The New Pornographers came together slowly, between 1998 and 2000; Newman assembled the group over the course of various studio sessions, and brought in filmmaker Blaine Thurier to play keyboards. A few years later, Thurier directed one of the band’s first videos, for “The Laws Have Changed.” (Hint: that’s not the New Pornographers in the video.)
Neko Case, who’s sung with the New Pornographers on and off since the beginning, has a solo career as an alt-country musician, but she also spent the earlier part of the ’90s playing in various Vancouver bands. One of her earliest video appearances was with her mid-’90s trio Maow, in which she played drums and sometimes sang, as in this 1996 song, “Ms. Lefevre.”
Since the New Pornographers took off, Case has alternated between touring and recording with them and her superb solo work. (She sings on Newman’s Shut Down the Streets, too.) In 2006, she recorded this knockout performance of her own song “Hold On, Hold On.
The semi-secret weapon of the New Pornographers is singer-guitarist Dan Bejar, who’s written a handful of songs for every one of their albums but only rarely tours with them. Bejar’s also got a handful of other recording projects, of which the most high-profile is Destroyer; he’s been releasing wry, arch, thoughtful records under that name since 1996 or so. The most recent Destroyer album was 2011′s Kaputt, which focused, rather surprisingly, on the sound palette of circa-1980 soft rock. Note: the kid lip-synching bits of the title track in its video is not Bejar himself.
Two members of the NPs used to play in the more mainstream Canadian rock band Limblifter, who had a string of hits north of the border, beginning with 1996′s “Tinfoil,” below — you can see drummer Kurt Dahle singing in the video (and he often sings backup with the New Pornographers live).
The other Limblifter who went on to the New Pornographers is guitarist Todd Fancey, who’s subsequently recorded a couple of albums in the old-school power-pop mode of bands like Badfinger and the Strawberries. Here’s “Karma’s Out to Get Me” from the second one, 2007′s Shmancey.
The most recent addition to the New Pornographers is singer/multi-instrumentalist Kathryn Calder, Newman’s niece, who joined the band in 2004 or 2005. She’s also made two solo albums, and played for many years in the Victoria, British Columbia band Immaculate Machine. That’s her singing in this video for Immaculate Machine’s 2005 song “Broken Ship.”
Finally, there’s bassist John Collins, who’s been associated with a handful of other Vancouver bands for a long time too. One of the most notable ones is the Evaporators, a very funny punk band fronted by the legendary interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the only person I’ve ever seen play a keyboard solo while crowd-surfing.. (Space does not allow for a discussion of Nardwuar’s career, but I urge the curious to Google him.) The Evaporators are pretty deeply invested in the history of underground rock, especially Canadian underground rock; their 2004 song “Half-Empty Halls” is a zinger about what happens to too many great bands.