Working as an editor of a small weekly in the aughts, I fought to perforate the innocuous milquetoast sheen of community articles by bringing in band interviews. The experiment didn’t last long, and pictures of pumpkin patches prevailed. I was in my early twenties, I was barking up the wrong tree. Though violently abridged, this was one of the articles that actually ran in the paper before my publisher gave the column the guillotine. Sometime in early 2008, before the release of Wolf Parade’s second full-length album, At Mount Zoomer, I interviewed Dan Boeckner. Groggy and candid, Boeckner’s electric stage persona was dormant. His gravelly intonations tamed, for the time being, he humored my diaphanous questions – sometimes even reinforcing the weak foundations of the interview by giving me better answers than I deserved. Here is the complete transcript.
Robert Patrick: Do you have a favorite cut off of the new album?
Dan Boeckner: I like ‘Animal in Your Care.’ That’s my favorite on the album right now.
Did you have some trouble naming your record? I heard that you may have.
Not really. I mean, it was a bit of a hassle initially, but basically what happened is that Pitchfork and a bunch of other music blogs started pressuring us about the album title. We weren’t one-hundred percent on what we wanted to name the album, but we came up with this ‘Kissing the Beehive’ thing, which we later found out was a book. And it turns out that the author was honored that Wolf Parade was going to name an album after his book, which we felt kind of bad about because we had never heard of him before [laughs]. They were pretty bizarre circumstances.
That’s actually really funny.
Yeah, it was. And after that happened, we thought, ‘we better not go with that album title, because we’re going to do interviews and we’ve never heard of this guy, and we would have to read the book.’
On ‘Apologies to the Queen Mary,’ you and Spencer Krug each had written six songs apiece. Was it an intentional choice to split the songs right down the middle, or did it just happen that way?
No, that was actually intentional. When we started the band we decided that he would sing half of the songs and I would sing half of the songs, and that would be that.
Did that same process transfer over to the new album?
I think we have been doing that for so long that I think it’s just how this band operates; there would be no other way to do it. I guess the difference on this album is that we sing one of the songs together. With ‘Apologies,’ we would write things at home and then bring them to the band, separately.
What new song are you guys most excited to play to a live audience?
Actually, for me, I really like playing the ‘Kissing the Beehive’ song. I get to wail on the guitar, so that’s fun for me.
How difficult is it as a musician is it to record music in a studio and then present it in a live environment for the first time?
I don’t find it that hard with the stuff that we do. We practice to the point where we know the songs front-to-back, so we are physically prepared. Live, we aren’t trying to recreate the album every night – that’s not only kind of boring for the audience, but it’s really boring for the band after awhile. I am excited about touring with this album, though, because there are a lot of songs that are open-ended, so we can play them differently every night.
If you had to choose one song for a person with no prior knowledge of your band to listen to, what would it be?
Wow. Jesus. I don’t know, man. Maybe ‘Language City.’
Being that the band’s music has been so well received, have you thought to yourself, ‘we’re at the pinnacle of our abilities and we’re happy with our achievements’?
That’s not something that’s in my mind. When we’re recording a record, we try not to think about playing to an imaginary audience. We try not to think of what an audience would want. I think a lot of bands do that with later albums, and I think a lot of people can tell if you hired a better producer. We don’t want to do songs off of our last record and make them bigger. I think people can smell that a mile away, you know? We didn’t want to do that.
Does the band’s publicity ever serve as a sundial for the band’s success?
I go by the crowds at the shows. But I think publicity is maybe half of the battle.
I was at Canes, the last time you guys played in San Diego, and a fight broke out in the audience at one point. Did you guys notice that?
I definitely noticed that. I actually solicited the crowd for drugs that night. I ended up high on Ecstasy and playing Frisbee in the parking lot.
Does that ever distract you guys, when something out of the norm happens in the crowd like that?
Sometimes. Obviously fights in the crowd are the last thing I’d ever want, but maybe the guy was having a bad night or something. This happened when I was playing in the Handsome Furs at The Casbah. There was a mini-mosh pit and I like mosh pits. I enjoy an all ages mosh pits, actually.
What are your most memorable moments in San Diego?
One time we were supposed to play at The Casbah, and our flight from Las Vegas to San Diego was canceled, so we basically found this woman on the same flight that had to go to the same place. We strong armed her into driving us to San Diego, so we could make the show. It was after New Year’s Eve, so the traffic back from Vegas was insane. And she fucking did it. We finally got to The Casbah at midnight, and put our instruments up on stage and started playing. That was pretty memorable. I really love playing in San Diego. The last time I was there, a couple months ago, I spent half of the day on the beach. It seems like a good town that doesn’t have a hipster attitude – it’s not like LA.
Yeah, people are pretty mellow out here.
And the skate community seems pretty cool.
Watching the video for ‘I’ll Believe in Anything,’ you feel Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Why did you guys go in that direction?
Barry Lyndon was definitely the influence, yeah. I wasn’t there, when they shot that video, but my friend, who did the album cover, was living in Hungary and working for an independently wealthy transvestite who made self-promotional videos for an exercise machine. Because my friend had access to this Hungarian film crew, we decided to shoot the video over there. So, yeah, Barry Lyndon.
Have you ever made a song that was a definitive embodiment of your sound in a three-minute nutshell?
I don’t know, man. I don’t think so.
Will Handsome Furs ever open for Wolf Parade?
That will never happen.
I really do not want to sing two sets in a row.
Speaking of brutal shit, how was the heat at Coachella the other year when you guys played?
It was terrible. And our equipment wasn’t working, so everyone had to wait for us. But afterward, Alexei and I cruised around and saw Damian Marley’s set – it was fucking amazing. And then we watched Tool, which, surprisingly, was really great. They’re like the Pink Floyd of whatever that music scene is. They’re a really great band.
I didn’t make it to Coachella this year, but I heard Sean Penn went up on stage and made a speech about Washington politics.
You know what he should have done? He should have gone up there and fucking apologized to everyone for making Into the Wild. I grew up in that sort of neck of the woods – not that specific area, you know, but northern coastal America – and I felt like Sean Penn idolized this fucking hippie. I know it’s based on a true story, but it’s ridiculous. I could totally see someone sitting in their mansion on Mulholland Drive and popping this movie into their blu-ray machine and being like, ‘this kid – this kid! oh yeah!’ The guy was an idiot who starved to death in the woods.
Did you like Sunset Rubdown’s ‘Random Spirit Lover’ record?
I did. I’m not looking up anything on the internet to see what people are saying about Sunset Rubdown or Wolf Parade, but I had heard that some of the fans liked the last Sunset Rubdown record better. But I was in Montreal when Spencer was making that record, and he busted his ass.
Pitchfork gave the record a great score. What’s your take on that site?
I honestly think that it’s easy to hate on Pitchfork. But hating on Pitchfork is like hating a baby for throwing up on itself. They established right away that they were kitschy and fickle about what they like and what they don’t like. A lot of their reviews come from frustrated creative writing students, but with that being said they totally serve a purpose. Still, with a band like Deerhunter, they really publicize and build up the band, and then seconds later they start to tear Bradford Cox [lead singer of Deerhunter] down.
Do you think they are surviving because Pitchfork’s readers think the site is vogue?
I think so. I think that sometimes web design can make you feel cool. The way that they talk about the bands – giving alleged insider knowledge – is a way to make readers feel cool about themselves. It’s a fucking marketing tool. I guess you cant blame the site, but I can blame people for thinking that the site is the gospel. That’s when things get dangerous. A lot of people rely on Pitchfork for whether they’re going to buy a fucking album or not.
One of my favorite songs is ‘This Heart’s On Fire.’ What went into making that track?
[laughing] I was actually trying to make a Tom Petty song. We wrote that song and ‘Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts’ in the same day in Montreal, before we were even thinking about what we were going to do with the band. I like the chorus for this song, because it’s basically the same as the verse.