Since the release of Wolf Parade's much-heralded 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, there seems to have been a never-ending supply of new bands featuring the members of the much adored Montreal quintet. Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake, and Johnny and the Moon are just a few of the bands fronted by Wolf Parade members, and they've all released debut full-lengths in the past eighteen months. So you'd be excused if upon hearing about Handsome Furs, Dan Boeckner's new duo with his fiancéee, Alexei Perry, you couldn't help but roll your eyes and complain of another instance of an ego-flexing side project.
But Handsome Furs, whose debut, Plague Park, was released on Sub Pop in May, is a new full-time project for Boeckner -- he views it as an opportunity to experiment with new methods of songwriting and record making. And unlike that of most side projects, Handsome Furs' music does not sound like a mere extension of Boeckner's chief outlet. On Wolf Parade's debut, he tended to offer the more traditional, grounded, and direct compositions -- the yin to Spencer Krug's more idiosyncratic yang. Plague Park, however, sees Boeckner exploring a wholly experimental, more atmospheric side to his songwriting.
Boeckner met Perry while working at a telemarketing firm in Montreal about four years ago, before Wolf Parade's success. The two eventually left the job and went their separate ways, but they met again by chance at a Wolf Parade show in Vancouver and "that was that," he says. He moved to Vancouver and they decided to start a band, with one main idea: use "the least amount of equipment possible and just basically try to make it sound good."
Boeckner began experimenting with his songwriting technique, finding inspiration in the stark rock 'n' roll of late-'70s punk icon Eric Goulden. "There's this Wreckless Eric song called 'Whole Wide World' that's like two chords," he says. "We came up with a couple of songs like that, and I was like, 'Okay, these are definitely not Wolf Parade songs.'"
Many of his Handsome Furs songs started out as mood pieces rather than structured pop songs, he says, and whereas for Wolf Parade he wrote almost entirely on guitar, here he's relying mostly on keyboards. "With this it was just me trying to teach myself keyboards better, and I'd transpose it over to guitar," he says. "Then Alexei would come up with some kind of backbeat for it, and it'd go from there."
And there are also the expected differences given the change of collaborators. "A lot of times in Wolf Parade, I'll come in with something that's almost completely done and people will add stuff to it," he says. "With this, I'll come in with a mess of lyrics and riffs and we'll organize those together and we'll go over the lyrics and the beats. . . . I generally come up with the basis for the song, and then we chop it up together and flesh it out."
Although the pair cite garage-y post-punk DIY bands as influences, they also point to more ambient, experimental artists. "We were listening to a lot of Sunn O))), Stephen O'Malley's band," says Boeckner. "It's really heavy music. And then we were listening to this Finnish band . . . who are absolutely amazing called Paavoharju. They're this large ensemble that makes this otherworldly electronic folk music with this old crappy gear, and their record was definitely a huge influence on us."
The minimalist approach to the writing of Plague Park carried over into the recording of it, as well. "On the record it was just guitar, drum machine, and a MicroKorg, which is almost like the standard-issue indie-rock keyboard," Boeckner says. "Arlen from Wolf Parade did all the tech work on the recording, and we managed to get everything kind of live off the floor in a one-take sort of thing. It took us six or seven days to get it down. It was actually the most pleasurable recording experience I've ever had."
Aside from giving Boeckner an outlet for his more experimental side, Handsome Furs also marks a new career for Perry. "[Alexei's] never been in a band before," Boeckner says, laughing. "Her main thing is [writing], and that's what she spends most of her time doing. The first she played was in Ottawa, actually, which was the first Handsome Furs show."
The band had scheduled a mini-tour, but visa difficulties caused it to be canceled. Boeckner and Perry are working to reschedule their East Coast dates as well as tour the Midwest beginning in July. Boeckner's other band is planning a mini-tour as well, to start in August. Wolf Parade should finish recording its eagerly anticipated sophomore album in July, set for release in either December or January.
"These shows coming up, I almost want to put up a disclaimer on the Internet or something," Boeckner says. "We're going to be playing completely new material, so I'm kind of nervous about it. I hope people are into it. I just hope I'm not on stage and people start charging me, shouting, 'Fucking "This Heart's on Fire!" "I'll Believe in Anything!"'"
But that anxiety's not enough to keep him from Handsome Furs; he says he sees quite a prolific future for the group. "We already have an EP's worth of new material, and then we have an EP's worth of collaborative stuff," he says. "We're planning on doing another record next year, so whenever Wolf Parade's not working, I'm going to be working on this stuff."
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