Shifting lineups for the New Pornographers, but a singular sound

Carl Newman (left) and the New Pornographers bring a revamped lineup to Boston.
Jenny Jimenez
Carl Newman (left) and the New Pornographers bring a revamped lineup to Boston.

The lineup of the New Pornographers has been in seemingly constant flux since their 2000 debut “Mass Romantic,” but it’s always been a matter of gaining new members: first came guitarist Todd Fancey, then Kathryn Calder joined on vocals and keyboards. The band’s new “Whiteout Conditions” reverses the expansion, with longtime drummer Kurt Dahle (who left in 2014) replaced by Joe Seiders and mercurial co-frontman Dan Bejar sitting an album out for the first time. “I was talking to him about the vibe I wanted the album to have, and he just said he was just writing weird, quiet songs and he didn’t see what he had that would fit into it,” says singer/guitarist Carl Newman, who brings his band’s inside-out power pop to the House Of Blues on Tuesday.

If the changes don’t bother Newman, perhaps that’s because he never really expected that the New Pornographers — many of whom, like alt-country powerhouse Neko Case, continue to have other gigs — would still be a going concern. “When we put out our first record, I wasn’t even thinking about a second record,” Newman says. “I didn’t know if we would make another one. Nothing seemed very permanent. So it’s been weird that it’s carried on. It’s like this permanent sense of impermanence.”

Q. How difficult was it to flat-out replace somebody in the band, rather than just add someone to what you already had?


A. I don’t know. When you work with different people, it can change the vibe, and to me, that’s good. Because I never wanted this to be a band where we just did the same thing over and over again. I always wanted to try different things. Like at the beginning, I thought of the New Pornographers as almost like a computer program. I just wanted something we could just put songs through and see what they would turn into.

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Q. It sounds like the New Pornographers were intended to be a side project.

A. Yeah, I don’t know what it was intended to be. It was just a project. Back when we started, we didn’t talk about main project, side project, because to talk like that is to talk as if you have a career, and we didn’t have a career. We just thought we were a bunch of people who made a record.

Q. Did you feel any pressure to write different kinds of songs because the type of material that Dan Bejar would come up with wasn’t going to be on the album?

A. You mean did I want to write some Bejar-style songs? I don’t know. Not really. I think knowing that there was this change, that it was going to be there whether I liked it or not, it made me think we should just embrace the change and go with it, take it as an opportunity and just try and make it be a different-sounding record. Try and see if we can stretch the definition of what the New Pornographers is.


Q. How do you decide whether any given song is for the New Pornographers or for your solo work?

A. Well, I’m not really planning on doing any more solo work. so the question now is: Is it a Pornographers song or is it just something else? Or is it just a song that doesn’t get used? And I don’t know. It’s all song by song. On the last two records, I really wanted to make more focused albums, so that’s on my mind now, whereas it didn’t used to be. I think you can probably tell from listening to those records, that we just thought, anything goes. But now, I felt like being focused was a new thing. It was a new idea to us. But I still don’t know exactly what makes us sound like we do.

Q. You haven’t cracked the formula yet?

A. No, I don’t think so. You just go in the studio and you have enough faith that there is a formula, even if you don’t know what it is. You have to have faith that you’re going to do something that’s going to sound like us, because there’s just no way around it.

Q. Do you think pop perfection is something that you pull off in your writing?


A. No. I mean, I strive to. It’s not for me to say. Beauty’s in the eyes of the beholder. Some people think I’ve written some perfect pop songs, but I don’t think I have. I think I’ve written some good ones. I’d feel pretty obnoxious if I pointed at some of my music and said, “That’s perfect.” I could not seriously ever do that. Which is not to say I don’t like what I do or feel proud of it. But yeah, I couldn’t point at it and call it perfect.

Q. You don’t feel comfortable pointing at “The Laws Have Changed” and putting that in the same category?

A. I mean, now that we’re playing live, there’s so much distance between me and the songs now that I can play “The Laws Have Changed” and think, “Oh, this is good.” Or I’ll play “Use It” and go, “Oh, I like this one.” Sometimes I think if I wasn’t in the band, I think I’d like us. That makes sense. You make the music you want to hear.


At the House Of Blues, April 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets $30-$49, 888-693-2583,

Interview was edited and condensed. Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@
or on Twitter @spacecitymarc