The pack arrives one by one. Dan Boeckner walks on stage in a black blazer and picks up the most expensive guitar he's ever bought: a Lee Ranaldo Jazzmaster. Dante DeCaro follows, then Arlen Thompson, assuming his place behind a wolf-adorned drum kit. Spencer Krug finally emerges from stage right, leaning behind his keyboard rack on a Gibraltar stool. "Hello," he says, raising a Labatt 50 to the Lee's Palace crowd. "It's been a while." And so begins Wolf Parade's first Toronto show in more than five years.
Krug starts plunking the notes to the song Soldier's Grin, kicking his stool back as the band joins him. DeCaro, feet planted, twists his torso and bass with Thompson's rhythm as Boeckner begins to sing. They grin and dance like old friends, drunk on a wedding dance-floor after years apart; at the bridge, Boeckner pumps his right arm in the air, then winds it around DeCaro. Boeckner eventually throws himself into his guitar, writhing around stage, before he, Krug and DeCaro sing the final line: "Rooted to the place that you sprang from."
The last time Wolf Parade played Toronto, they didn't look rooted at all. At the Sound Academy in November, 2010, the guys stood further apart, mostly facing the audience. There was an air of uncertainty; Krug's setlist was frantically scrawled on a paper plate. And as they prepared for their final encore, Boeckner made an announcement: "This is the last song we're ever gonna play."
The next morning, Wolf Parade confirmed they were going on an indefinite hiatus. With other projects to work on, they no longer needed the band whose three records since 2005 drew attention to their clashing, cacophonous, elating songs. Wolf Parade had taken its members to a place where their music spoke for itself.
Yet here in 2016, Wolf Parade is playing together and looking happier than ever. They've put out a new EP, plan to record a full album later this year, and booked shows through September – including a stop at WayHome Music & Arts festival north of Toronto this weekend. Bands part ways all the time. But what makes a band get back together?
When he's on tour, Krug has these little visions. Threads emerge from his body, pulling him in different directions. The threads are red; he is not sure why. They're tentacles of tension, each connected to another member of the band and tour crew, each reminding him why they are in that that far-flung city. The band is nothing when not a unit. Every day on the road, the future of Wolf Parade – or any band – requires the daily respooling of these threads against the pull of individual whims, energy levels and hangovers.
These are the type of thoughts that left Krug exhausted by the end of 2010, at the end of what he and the band call "Wolf Parade 1.0." Today, though, it was Krug's thread that the rest of the band had to pull. On the morning after their third of five Toronto concerts, he was late getting ready for lunch, groggy from late-night calimochos, forcing Boeckner and Thompson to wait by the door of their Airbnb. Soon after, on a patio around the corner from Lee's Palace, they recount the reasons for ending the first iteration of Wolf Parade.
"Things just stopped being fun," Thompson says the morning after the third of five Toronto concerts, as the band eats battered haddock and club sandwiches. "People were just losing heart. The decision was to put it on the shelf before it got so bad that the possibility of it happening again was going to close."
"Yeah," Krug says. "We were on the precipice of –"
"Ruining stuff," Boeckner says.
Krug continues: "Ruining friendships, ruining a good artistic ..."
"Collaboration," Boeckner says. (Even while discussing their own breakup, the band can't stop talking over each other like bestfriends clamouring to tell the same story.)
"If we had tried to fix our problems by making another record," Krug says, finally getting a sentence in, "it would have been a pretty shitty record." He lists off reasons for the hiatus: "Our side projects, people's health, all kinds of things. But all really human things. I don't hold it against myself or anyone else in the band for getting sick of each other. You see them all the time, and all their behaviour affects your day-to-day life."
Hence the red threads. They started pulling at Krug as early as 2003, when Wolf Parade formed in Montreal. After a string of increasingly popular EPs, Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock scouted the band for the venerable Seattle label Sub Pop, and they recorded most of an album with him. From that came 2005's Apologies to the Queen Mary, a 12-song missive of manic pop and post-punk that, in the wake of Arcade Fire's success – the bands shared concert bills, and sometimes members, in the early days – made Wolf Parade a staple of mid-2000s indie rock.
For a few guys just happy to play music, they were thrilled. But they were unorganized. On an early tour, when their van's bald summer tires couldn't handle the slippery roads of a Toronto blizzard, they decided not to play, staying in to watch Chronicles of Riddick instead – and forgetting to tell their booking agent to cancel the show. The need for management didn't occur to them; Thompson handled the accounting and most else was ad hoc. They rode the tide of early Internet fame, earning a 9.2 on Pitchfork, but shunned the Web in interviews and the modern world in song.
The band put out two more albums on Sub Pop, At Mount Zoomer in 2008 and Expo 86 in 2010. But the follies of Wolf Parade 1.0 continued: Hadji Bakara suddenly left the band to study for a literature doctorate in Chicago. Forgetting to take press photos for Expo, they had a friend shoot them on tour, on road shoulders and at a Fredericton farmer's market. Critical response plateaued. There were side-projects, people at home and egos to manage. Living the dream wasn't as easy as it sounded.
In late 2010, Wolf Parade's European tour manager set them up in a conference hotel in Maidstone, an hour southeast of London. It was a capacious place, and far enough from the city to avoid congestion charges. There was space there, both between each member and from the stages where they did their work. It was a good place to have a death-knell band meeting.
The members portray their decision to part ways in civil terms, but it's hard to imagine the Maidstone meeting was drama-free. They were burnt out and needed to do something about it. "I have always wanted, and continue to want, to have a career in music," Boeckner says. "But not at the expense of my friendships, the people I work with, the music itself. Everybody in this band has a cutoff point. Nobody's a brutally harsh careerist."
After announcing a hiatus, they played a handful of final shows, including a Vancouver send-off capped with a cover of Knockin' on Heaven's Door, half the audience on stage, and a final proclamation from Boeckner: "The important thing is that we haven't learned anything at all in six years."
But they had. For the band's chief songwriters, anyway, Wolf Parade opened enough doors to get by making music. Boeckner was chanelling his jittery Springsteenian urges into Handsome Furs with his then-partner, Alexei Perry. Following their breakup, he formed Divine Fits with Spoon's Britt Daniel, then launched the punky new-wave group Operators. Krug, Wolf Parade's auteur-in-chief, needed to vary his creativity, making psych-prog music, marimba music, organ music, krautrock music and solo piano music under the guises of Sunset Rubdown and Moonface.
It takes time, temporal distance, to make a band come together again, free of the stressors that pried it apart. In the past few years, a number of Canadian bands returned from the dead: Land of Talk, Death from Above 1979, the Constantines, the Unicorns, even the cartoon band Prozzäk. Oshawa-Kingston-Halifax duo The Inbreds broke up back in in 1998, but will play a one-off Toronto concert in September to celebrate the vinyl re-release of three of their records.
The shapeshifting Toronto collective Broken Social Scene announced a hiatus in 2011, but just revealed they're making a new record. "I really wanted to shut it down," says Kevin Drew, one of the band's masterminds, but "we never left." Broken Social Scene kept calling them all back to the stage for occasional shows. And after the mass shooting last November at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, BSS's members immediately started calling one another.
"We wanted to be with the audience," Drew says. "For right now, we thought, 'Let's put the family back together and go out on the road.'" The band sometimes felt like a multiheaded hydra fighting with itself, with tensions and scheduling conflicts always arising. But they decided to make it work again.
"In a world that's dying for connection while thinking it has strong connections," Drew says, "there's nothing like being in front of an audience, and being there together."
Joining Wolf Parade at the WayHome Music & Arts Festival this weekend is New York electro-punk band LCD Soundsystem, which also broke up in 2011, and also announced its return to stages this past January. In a letter to fans, LCD frontman James Murphy wrote that he recognized people would be angry at his band's return. Many had poured their hearts and money into the band's final blowout at Madison Square Garden.
Five years later, after spending some time with his old bandmates and weighing the options in front of them, Murphy picked this one: "Make an LCD record with your friends, who want to make said record, and deal with whatever fall out together."
Murphy declined an interview, but a new book by Brooklyn author Ryan Leas on the album Sound of Silver offers some insight on Murphy's thought process: "He had a lot of music, and he wanted to work with his friends – the same friends from LCD – on it if they wanted to. And they did."
So after exploring what else the world had offer, a bunch of friends who could choose to do anything else chose to make music for fun again, free of the old pressures. What happened to LCD Soundsystem and Broken Social Scene sounds a lot like what happened to Wolf Parade.
After announcing their hiatus, the members of Wolf Parade scattered from Montreal. Though they weren't clamouring for a reason to get back together, geographic convenience proved to be a helpful accelerant. After a couple years in Helsinki, Krug eventually moved to Vancouver Island, settling in Cobble Hill near his partner's parents. Thompson, now an electrician with two kids, was in Nanaimo. And DeCaro was there, too, running a studio in Shawnigan Lake.
On a Moonface tour a few years back, Krug and DeCaro stayed with Boeckner in his home in San Jose. "I had such a lovely time with you guys in my place," Boeckner says at lunch, faking sarcasm but really meaning it. In truth, he realized he missed being around them. And in the fall of 2014, he discreetly visited Vancouver Island.
They made no band-related promises: This was four old pals getting together in a room that happened to have instruments in it. It was "a very organic, slow process," Boeckner says. After a bite of his haddock burger, he goes on: "We jammed on the first visit, and it was preeeetty stinky. But it was fun."
Thompson says he worried there wouldn't be a spark, and it didn't happen the first try. But when they got together again, Krug says, the old flames shot up: jamming turned into songwriting, which turned into "Okay, we're going to do this."
Sometimes a band needs to break up. That doesn't mean it has to be forever.
The ex-ex-members of Wolf Parade kept their visits under wraps, but there was a lot going on behind the scenes. Songs emerged from Wolf Parade's secret hangouts – punchier, less-complicated tracks, free from the meticulous, exhausting five-or-more-minute trappings of Expo 86 – and they recorded them at DeCaro's studio. The band quietly registered official social media accounts, something they mostly avoided during their first run. Bookers started calling, and it was suggested the band tour playing 2005's Apologies in full at festivals. But in truth, they were only looking ahead. The band still hadn't touched the old material.
Wolf Parade announced its return in January, a week after LCD Soundsystem. A day later, they announced multinight residencies in Toronto, New York and London.
"And then one day, were like, 'Ooookay, we gotta remember our old songs,' " Krug says. This was more of a hurdle than expected. "It was sort of this weird – vulnerability, almost? – for me to have to sing I'll Believe in Anything for the first time in six years in front of these guys." "Yup," Boeckner says, between bites of his burger. Krug continues: "It was something really intimate."
That intimacy is visible from the audience each night in Toronto. They're turned toward each other, playing for one another, rather than playing because they have to. They're smiling. They've grown closer, too, with Boeckner and DeCaro leaning together like Springsteen and Clarence Clemons.
Playing long residencies is something Wolf Parade always wanted to do, but bookers insisted they shuffle from city to city. The three shows they announced in Toronto sold out so quickly the band added another pair. New York sold out, too. Festival organizers took notice. Risen from the dead, Wolf Parade became a bigger ticket. "Festivals maybe had contextualized Wolf Parade in a dollar amount they didn't totally understand until New York and Toronto sold out," Boeckner says.
The residency demand "definitely helped" WayHome's organizers in deciding to book the band in a prime evening slot this weekend, festival producer Ryan Howes says. Halifax's early-July Gridlock Festival already had most of its acts booked when Wolf Parade announced its reunion, but its co-founder Jeremy MacNeil was left in awe when he saw the week-long sellouts. He quickly contacted their agent and bid for the band's time; they became the fest's final headliners. "We definitely saw the biggest crowd of the weekend," MacNeil says.
It's easy to dismiss band reunions as cash grabs. Many are. But Wolf Parade never made all that much money. Even after it ended, they all made enough to get by – some through music, some by joining the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Sure, they're going to make money being Wolf Parade again. But they're all in their late 30s now, old enough that they need to make money to justify it.
Boeckner's band Operators released their debut record Blue Wave this year, and Krug released a new Moonface record with his old Finnish friends in Siinai. Both had to take time off to make Wolf Parade happen. And Thompson? "I've got two kids – I can't just go on tour for months at a time and not earn a living," he says. "Am I expecting to buy a Ferrari next year? No. I play in a mid-level indie rock band. But if I can do this, and pay my bills, that's a bonus."
This is one hallmark of Wolf Parade 2.0: sound reason. There's compassion, too – for one another and their needs, and not letting such things frustrate them. As forks stop clinking to plates and the server offers a last splash of coffee, Krug hones in on the anchor of their functional reunion: gratitude.
"When the band first got popular, I was in my mid-twenties," Krug says. "Everyone is telling you how rad you are all the time, you feel like you deserve it or something. … Now, looking back, I realize it was just all time and place. It was just a fluke. And I'm much more grateful about being in a band. Having this as a job, I realize how lucky we all are."