The New Pornographers are a confounding proposition: A part-time group of songwriters regularly anointed as a supergroup, in spite of the fact that the band itself is largely responsible for lifting its members to fame. A.C. Newman, Neko Case, Kathryn Calder and Dan Bejar have each grown their acclaimed solo careers since the New Pornos began in Vancouver 15 years ago.
Since the New York rapper Action Bronson's free public headlining NXNE concert was cancelled after his misogynistic lyrics prompted a petition that generated tens of thousands of signatures, the power-pop band is now the Toronto festival's top-billed act.
The Globe spoke to bandleader Newman by phone from his home in upstate New York.
What's it like to suddenly be the headliner of a festival now that its top-billed act has been controversially canned?
I had no idea Action Bronson was more popular than us, so that's the part that really hurts, if I'm gonna speak freely. (chuckles) It's very cool. I don't know if we played NXNE before. It's not SXSW – it's nowhere near that obnoxious. It's more mellow, isn't it? I love playing free outdoor shows, it takes the pressure off. If it's a big, free outdoor show, if you don't like it, well boo-hoo. Go home.
What do you think of cancelling someone based on their lyrics?
In Grand Rapids, Mich., we got offered this very well-paying college show, but I guess it was some sort of Christian college. And people were offended by our name, so they cancelled. But then they felt bad about it so they paid us anyway, and we just did another show in Grand Rapids. It became news. I remember doing an interview with somebody in Australia and them asking about our show getting cancelled because of our offensive name, and I thought, 'This worked out way better.' It's very possible it might help out Action – much to the chagrin of the people that got him cancelled. If he wants to get a rep as a dangerous hip-hop guy, isn't it good to get cancelled?
You've been playing behind Brill Bruisers for about a year. What has the reaction been?
The touring's gone really well. It's just the nature of the record that we made – it's great to play new songs and have them fit so seamlessly in with all of our back catalogue. For the last dozen years, I've been looking over my shoulder, thinking everybody's going to suddenly hate us. Every time we go on tour, I think this is going to be the tour where nobody shows up. And it hasn't happened yet.
Dan Bejar's about to put out a new album and Kathryn Calder just released one. Is it difficult to keep working together with so many different schedules?
In a lot of ways, we're not a full-time band. But it is very difficult to hold things together. When you're in a band through the years, you try to figure out how to pick your battles. Like, maybe something pisses you off, but you think, okay, let's let this slide, because you're trying to keep the band together. I know the grass is always greener, and every other band seems so much more functional than us, but I think that's just the way all bands are – just like every family is crazy. I think every band just has a lot of shit that they keep hidden, just like seemingly happy couples. Even if you're happy, there's a lot of things you have to fight to keep together. That's just being human.
The New Pornographers play a free concert at Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square Saturday at 9 p.m. as part of the NXNE music festival.
This interview has been edited and condensed.