Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

The New Pornographers interview!

| July 30, 2010

Inter-Niecian Support

In 2005, with Neko Case’s burgeoning solo career making her increasingly unavailable to regularly perform with the other seven members of The New Pornographers, the then primarily Vancouver-based band’s chief “orchestrator” and songwriter A.C. “Carl” Newman turned to his niece to be Case’s live replacement. Lest one think this was pure nepotism in action, Kathryn Calder established herself as a keyboardist/singer with another local indie band (Immaculate Machines) and the familial connection was pure serendipity. Calder was already a teenager dabbling with music, when her mother, who was adopted, discovered that Newman was part of her birth family.

Appearing: August 7th at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Our Lollapalooza preview will arrive later this week!

“I knew he was into music when I first met him. If he had started the Pornographers then, it was the very early days and I didn’t know any thing about it,” recounts Calder over the phone from her Vancouver home. “I remember when Mass Romantic came out in 2001 and listening to it and going, ‘Wow this is really amazing,’ because you don’t really expect that when you’re listening to a relative’s music. I don’t know what it is about it, but when it’s somebody you know, you’re not always sure it’s going to be awesome.

“But never in a million years would I have ever thought that I would be in the band at that point. It wasn’t even a consideration until he called in 2005. It never even crossed my mind that that would ever happen.”

But as Calder further recalls, the trial by roadwork paid off and her transition from “touring pitch singer” to “starting position player/singer” was relatively swift and seamless. “I think by 2006 I was pretty well full-time in the band, no questions. I really had a few months of initiation and then everybody just kind of said ‘O.K. Yep. Sounds good.’ So yeah — definitely full-time member.”

Indeed, the band’s 2007 third CD Challengers featured Calder’s first lead vocal and lead duet vocal. And any doubts others outside of the band may have had are being totally swept away by her lead on “Sweet Talk Sweet Talk,” from the band’s recently released Together (Matador). It’s a vocal turn on a cut that many reviewers are citing as among the disc’s best, which, given she’s in a band with three other powerhouse singers with established solo careers (and five other vocally adept bandmates) creates an altogether newer, kinkier brand of pornography. Which raises the question, how does Newman, as chief architect of the group’s songs and recordings, choose who sings what and where?

“You know I’m not really sure actually how he does that. I think I’ve heard him say he kind of just sees what works and as far as I’m concerned I don’t really have a say in it and I wouldn’t really want to have one. That kind of puts you in conflict with other singers. I’m just happy with whatever,” Calder breaks into laughter, before continuing, “I’m just happy to have whatever and get whatever.

“Yeah it’s interesting,” Calder pauses in thought. “It’s always . . . I never really know what I’m going to be singing until the end, the recording. And then there’re always so many singers as well. It’s almost like, ‘What is lead?’ Because although I am singing technically lead on that song he’s also singing with me through the entire song.”

Perhaps more suiting of the title of this latest recording to this long-term listener — O.K., full disclosure, fan — of the band is how Case’s trademarked alt-country vocals seem much more pulled back, less forward, much more mid-volume and much more midtempo leads in general, such that the vocal stratospherics she could previously clearly identified to are now driven by ensemble. In short, discerning Calder from Case’s vocals is sometimes hard on Together.

Calder concurs, in part. “The interesting thing is it’s hard for me to tell who’s who sometimes — not on the lead songs so much — you know like ‘Crash Years’ it’s obvious that she’s singing that. But sort of when you get to the background vocals, I have no idea any more. I just can’t tell because it’s a little bit quieter, she’s singing quieter like you say . . . It becomes a little bit obscure as to who’s who even to me [and] I know my voice and I know her voice really well.”

— David C. Eldredge

For the full story, grab the August issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

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