Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Carl Newman, second from the left, with the rest of the band. (Marina Chavez)
Carl Newman, second from the left, with the rest of the band. (Marina Chavez)

Monday Q & A

Carl Newman talks life in Woodstock Add to ...

Carl (A.C.) Newman has done his share of moving - from Vancouver (where he still lives part-time) to Brooklyn, and now to a place in upstate New York with a rich musical history: Woodstock. His new home, which he shares with his wife of three years, sits on four-and-a-half forested acres, complete with a guest cottage where his band, the New Pornographers, recorded part of their new album. Together comes out tomorrow, and the band - the full contingent, including Neko Case - is about to hit the road, taking Newman far away from laid-back country living.

How are you enjoying Woodstock?

I really like it. It's very mellow and idyllic. And there's a lot of musicians here. My next-door neighbour is a musician named Happy Traum, who did some duets with Bob Dylan. His family invited my wife and me over for American Thanksgiving. It was just a small dinner, but one of the guests was Happy's friend John Sebastian from The Lovin' Spoonful. And I just thought: This is so clichéd that six months after we move to Woodstock, we're sitting here at Thanksgiving dinner with John Sebastian.

You're an urban guy living a country life with a CD that was recorded in Vancouver, New York and Woodstock. How much does geography factor into the creation of your music?

It's pretty subtle. There were points when I was writing, where I would wander through the woods with my guitar, just because I could. Just because I was shocked that I finally had a place where I could make as much noise as I wanted, and just strum my guitar and sing. I don't know if that had any influence. I don't think anything on our new record sounds anything like a troubadour wandering through the woods with his acoustic.

Has marriage affected your songwriting?

I think it's caused me to write some songs that are more like love songs than anything I've ever written, especially on [our last album] Challengers. I think it's had a good influence on me. It's made me happier, for what that's worth.

Sometimes happier doesn't necessarily translate into better art.

If that's the sacrifice I have to make, I'll happily just slide into mediocrity.

My Shepherd - is that one of the love songs?

Absolutely not. That's more of a fictional song. I wanted to write a torch song for Neko and I thought I would make it a very dysfunctional torch song. I'd just seen the documentary Crazy Love, about this man who threw acid in the eyes of his ex-girlfriend and then she marries him later. That's where it came from. Challengers has all these love songs on it and then the next album has this really dark song about love, but I don't want people to think there's trouble in paradise.

I wondered if Together referred to your newish marital status or your large band or your state of mind.

Those are all reasons I thought it worked as a title. But it began when we were recording at Seaside Lounge, the studio in Brooklyn. On the bathroom door, somebody had written in graffiti "We end up together" and they misspelled "together" as "togther." I thought, "Hmmm, Together, that could be a good title." Although some people are saying we should have called it Togther. But I thought, that's way too conceptual.

Are you often inspired by something you come across like that?

When I was making demos for this album, before we got this place in Woodstock, I had to rent this dingy little practice space in some industrial section of Brooklyn and I had to walk 15 minutes from my apartment every day, just to go to this mildewy-smelling room. Halfway there, there was a building, and five floors up, there was graffiti that said "Sweet Talk." And I thought, what a bizarre thing to write on a building. And it just stuck in my head. So when I got to that dingy practice space and started working on songs, I found myself using "sweet talk, sweet talk" as a principal hook.

Maybe you should have called the album Graffiti.

That's true. Canadian Graffiti?

Follow on Twitter: @marshalederman

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories