The New Pornographers start with classic pop, crank the energy, add some wallop and a few wild flourishes.
That’s been the basic formula since the band’s 2000 debut “Mass Romantic,” but on the new, fantastic “Brill Bruisers,” The New Pornographers found themselves pushing the music to new heights.
“This is the first record where we really had an idea going in to it of what we wanted to do,” says frontman Carl Newman. “We new we wanted to belike the New Pornographers slightly super charged. Everything a bit more extreme.”
The band’s intentions shine through from the first peek at the cover art, with the band’s name in bold block type and the album title overlaid in scripted, multi-colored neon.
“The big black letters are like the rock foundation, the guitar bass and drums and then the neon is all the crazy synths that are flying around it,” says Newman. “When I think about it, “Brill Bruisers” is a pretty decent title for our career, the sort of songs we write. If you use Brill to mean the Brill Building and Bruisers to mean our songs, we’ve always taken this blueprint of classic pop and warped it and revved it up.”
The propulsive title track — and first single — anchors the album, as it did throughout the songwriting and recording process.
“From the moment we started working on ‘Brill Bruisers’ we had the sense it was going to be a big song on the record. Even when it wasn’t close to done, the only thing we knew is this song has to be song one,” Newman says.
The band followed that first single with a gloriously bizarre video for “Dancehall Domine,” styled to be a series of fragmented film outtakes. Newman and Kathryn Calder double on lead vocals, seamless harmonies that drive the insanely catchy song.
“Even when it wasn’t finished I thought ‘It’s going to be great. It has a way to go and we might have to sprinkle it with pixie dust, but it’s going to be great,’” Newman says.
For recording, the band split time between Newman’s Woodstock home studio and Vancouver, where The New Pornographers formed in 1999.
“At the heart of it, we play as a rock band. We record two guitars, bass and drums and then we build on it. It’s not exactly piecemeal, but songs take form in the studio,” Newman says. “Sometimes I hear a song played back and think it’s not there. It needs something else and you don’t find it until you mess around in the studio.”
Getting to the studio isn’t always easy for The New Pornographers. As the band has grown in prominence, so has its members individually. Since 2010’s “Together,” several acclaimed albums have come from the band’s solo ranks: Dan Bejar’s Destroyer released “Kaputt,” Neko Case released “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You,” Calder released two solo records and Newman himself made “Shut Down The Streets,” his third solo album (as A.C. Newman).
Scheduling time around everyone’s projects is just part of the process now, and just a small price to pay, Newman says.
“We never imagined it to be a career at the beginning,” he says. “I’m totally happy to still be doing it. It’s crazy that we’re still around. You’re lucky if you’re one of the bands that gets to stick around.”
The current tour features a split between new material and songs from the band’s previous five albums. (By Newman’s count, a recent setlist included 10 new songs and 13 older ones.)
“The new songs works in very seamlessly with the old songs, which doesn’t always happen when you play a set focused on a new album,” he says.
Overall, “Brill Bruisers” is the closest the music has ever been to how Newman imagined The New Pornographers’ sound, from the very beginning. Reflecting on the band’s first day back in a tour bus, he says the confident band’s on-stage energy is tempered by mellowness off stage.
“We’re trying to take care of ourselves on this tour. We brought an espresso machine. We’re trying to retain our humanity and be grown up and play in a rock band at the same time,” he says.
The New Pornographers play the Rialto tonight, October 14, with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart opening. We're pretty sure there are still tickets available, but you'll likely have to get them at the door. More info at rialtotheatre.com.