"That's crazy," he says on the line from Woodstock, New York, where he bought a house last year. "We should mark that," he says, recalling the debut album came out in late October 2000. The collection of roughed-up new wave was released by the Mint Records label in Vancouver, the city where Newman grew up and the band formed.
But things change with age.
On their latest, fifth album, Together, the band still sounds big, gigantic, but gentler.
The New Pornographers haven't played Halifax before. The band's upcoming Pop Explosion show is their first-ever show in this city. "God, the last time I played there was probably 1996, with my old band, Zumpano," says Newman. He remembers that band played Halifax three times in quick succession.
The Halifax date marks the end of an eight-day road trip before The New Pornographers cross various oceans to New Zealand and Australia, London and New York. Recently, Newman and company travelled to Las Vegas to play Matador's 21st birthday party. (Ryan McNutt covered the celebration at thecoast.ca.) The label released The New Pornographers in the US to start, but now do so exclusively. Mint released the band's first three albums, ending with Twin Cinema in 2005.
Newman reconnected with old friends, including Belle & Sebastian. The New Pornographers have toured with the band and will play Bowlie 2, the festival outside London (located in a "cheesy British holiday camp"), curated by Belle & Sebastian. The first Bowlie show kicked off the All Tomorrow's Parties series of concerts--- also 10 years ago, Newman points out.
He surprised himself in Vegas with his spectator's stamina. Newman excitedly lists the acts he saw: Spoon; Superchunk; Cat Power and Guided By Voices. "It was everybody from that classic lineup," he says of the latter, naming the Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand albums. When Jon Spencer Blues Explosion played their set, Newman heard the band anew. "I heard songs I hadn't thought of in so long," he says. Normally, Newman admits, "I can't stay at a concert to save my life."
Asked why, he inhales deeply before answering: "You get older I suppose. When you're 20 or 21 you get excited and you wanna see every show, but now when a show happens you think, 'God, what is the cab fare gonna be home?'"
Now comes the shorter list of the Matador labelmates he missed. "I missed Yo La Tengo because I hadn't eaten yet, and I thought, 'I have to eat,'" says Newman, though he points out he's seen them several times.
Onstage, too, his and the band's age has made a difference. "I think we're better," he says. "I think we used to be drunk. We were just so happy to be there."
Newman jokes about taking a page from the Guided By Voices (notorious for drinking beers while bashing out tunes) book. Again, he invokes Belle & Sebastian who, as tourmates, demonstrated how to balance being "together" but still having fun during shows. "I guess we've become serious about our fun," he says.
"Our songs have become a little more complex and we've added different elements," continues Newman who plays guitar and sings (along with Neko Case, Kathryn Calder and Dan Bejar). "We're going to be bringing a cello player on this trip."
While arrangements have changed the most, Newman's musical approach emphasizes mood and melody over words and meaning. His lyrics tumble and toss images, a "word salad," to quote the artist. He's not one for the personal, certainly not the confessional: "The songs do often have a subtext that I'm not too concerned about anybody else knowing," he says.
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