The New Pornographers are a super-group, as deserving of the tag as Vancouver — or any city across the land — is likely to produce. Take a great singer, peerless songwriter and stunning studio arranger in Carl Newman, and remove him from the complex, overwrought easy listening environment of his band, Zumpano. Add to it Dan Bejar, a/k/a Destroyer, a musician-about-town and brilliant songwriter in his own right, whose own work has established him as a reluctant hero, an underground underdog actually worthy of the spotlight he’s anxious to shun. Add a third singer in the distinct pipes of Mint’s sonic bombshell, Neko Case; a fourth voice takes the form of Limblifter drummer Kurt Dahle, who contributes from behind the kit to the backing chorus. Engineer, bassist, member of Nardwuar’s The Evaporators and Thee Goblins John Collins and keyboardist Blaine Thurier round out the line-up.

It all began in 1996, with a name. Zumpano had just released their excellent sophomore effort, Goin’ Through Changes. Yet Carl, ever restless, had other plans. “I always wanted to be the new sometings,” he says. “The New Pornographers had a good ring to it.”

In its initial stages, the New Pornographers were more of a good idea than a working band. With so many other projects on the go — including Carl’s participation in Vancouver’s Superconductor, whose magnum opus Bastardsong was released in the summer of ’96 — the band began slowly, in fits and starts. Even Carl’s explanation of where the name came from was after the fact. “I didn’t find out until recently that it actually had some kind of meaning,” he admits. “[Televangelist] Jimmy Swaggart wrote a book called Music: The New Pornography. Holy shit, it fits so perfectly. Ever since, I tell people ‘Jimmy Swaggart said music was the new pornography. The New Pornographers are merely musicians.’ It’s completely innocent, and pooh-poohs people who say ‘what an offensive name you have.’”

Their first rehearsal took place early in 1997; their first show took place more than a year later. Sporadic shows occurred, all in Vancouver, highlighted by a 1998 peformance at the Good Jacket vintage clothing store with Thee Goblins and Bossanova, and a mid-2000 gig with Optigonally Yours and Thingy at the Brickyard. Finally, in October 2000, the band released their debut, Mass Romantic. “A long road,” Carl laughs, “but there were many, many naps along the way.”

To those outside a group of tape-circulating friends in Vancouver, the New Pornographers were announced to the world earlier in 2000 on the Mint Records release called The Good Jacket Presents Vancouver Special, a compilation to benefit the charity A Loving Spoonful. The track, “Letter From An Occupant,” caused an immediate stir of excitement amongst anyone who heard it — from campus/community radio programmers to John Sakamoto of “Anti Hit List” to Edge 102. A driving rock song — “more straightforward than anything I’ve ever done,” Carl says — it featured epic, improbably soaring vocals from Neko Case, with chugging guitars and backing woo-woo vocals aplenty, a rock tour de force.


THe Laws have Changed
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