[Part 1 of 2] Carl Newman, front man of the Canadian indie supergroup the New Pornographers and recently initiated solo artist, periodically breaks into song over the telephone. It may be a backward way of showing that, these days, he’s in love.
His debut solo album, The Slow Wonder, which Matador released in June, flaunts his confectionary smarts and oh, wistfulness ("You were too shy to lie to" and "Do Re Mi Innocent!"). On a break from his regular gig and his solo tour, Newman spoke to Prefix about why Quaaludes fell out of fashion, how to rhyme "non sequitur" with "amateurs" (gracefully), the perils of extorting thousands of dollars from the Canadian government, and his songwriting process.
Maybe it’s just perfect timing, with a tour, a new solo album and a California girlfriend, for indie music’s most darling lo-fi pop redhead. He may be the only musician on Earth with a mind full of surging pop hooks who likes to talk about how not famous he is. Now, there’s a true Canadian.
Prefix Magazine: Where are you, exactly?
A.C. Newman: Part One: I’m home, in my apartment.
PM: Your full name is Allan Carl?
A.C. Newman: Part One: Yeah, but I just go by Carl.
PM: Do you like to be called A.C.?
A.C. Newman: Part One: People have been occasionally been calling me that recently. I think I like Carl. I just liked the way A.C. sounded. It sounded like a pseudonym, but it’s not a pseudonym. It’s my name.
PM: When did you begin writing The Slow Wonder?
A.C. Newman: Part One: Sometimes I have pieces of a song finished, and other times I have them for a year or two or I just don’t get around to finishing them. Sometimes making an album feels like I’m just cleaning up what I have, finishing old songs. Sometimes I’ll just have a song idea and go into the studio and see what’s doing. There’s no method to the madness.
PM: What songs do you like best on your album?
A.C. Newman: Part One: I think I’m partial to the slower ones, "Come Crash" and "Drink to Me, Babe, Then."
PM: Are they about events in particular or a more general feeling?
A.C. Newman: Part One: They’re usually inventions based on something in my life. Even if it isn’t about a specific event exactly, there’s something of yourself that sneaks into it. It’s honest in a fictional way.
PM: So, there haven’t been any car crashes in your life?
A.C. Newman: Part One: I’ve only been in one car crash in my life. It wasn’t so dramatic. I basically had the line, "Christine come crash on my floor," and I built the plot from the floor. Then I had the line "You should be dead." Then I thought, What’s going to happen to the song?
PM: How has the solo songwriting process been different than working with the New Pornographers?
A.C. Newman: Part One: The songwriting process hasn’t been that different. I just have more control over everything: the rhythm section, bass and drum. It’s less of a band. I just control every aspect of the song. I can just bend them all to my will. It’s a nice feeling of power.
PM: What’s it like working with people who will do whatever you want?
A.C. Newman: Part One: It’s nice, but I definitely like everybody to have their own ideas. There’s not really a lot of ego involved.
PM: Have you hit the big time?
A.C. Newman: Part One: I don’t know. I don’t have a job yet. That’s the challenge; I’m trying to put it off as long as possible.
PM: If you had to get a job again, what would it be?
A.C. Newman: Part One: I’ve wanted to open my own breakfast place in Vancouver. Maybe I’d do that. My girlfriend just started a new job yesterday. She works at Visa USA, and she lives in San Francisco. We’ve been going out five months so far.
PM: How does the long distance work?
A.C. Newman: Part One: It can suck sometimes. I miss her a lot. I try to, you know — but it can suck. It’s also good. It’s kind of good when you’re really excited to see somebody. It helps you not take each other for granted.
PM: How often do you see her?
A.C. Newman: Part One: Lately, it’s been more often. She just started working again, so there was a period last month where she was here more than at home.
PM: Did you meet in San Francisco?
A.C. Newman: Part One: I kind of knew her for a couple of years, through her old boyfriend.
PM: The old boyfriend is okay with that?
A.C. Newman: Part One: So far, so good.
PM: He doesn’t want to kill you?
A.C. Newman: Part One: No. I had the awkward "it appears I’m dating your girlfriend now" meeting with him, and it all went well. He’s like, kind of an acquaintance. But basically, I knew her for a couple of years, but when she and her boyfriend broke up, we started being more than friends.
PM: Did you like while he was with her?
A.C. Newman: Part One: It was the same for both of us. We had nothing against each other. One day you wake up and you look up at somebody and you realize you feel differently about that person. It was the same for both of us. Since we’ve been talking about her so much, I might as well tell you her name. It’s Amy Tuyn.