To many people, the legacy of Wolf Parade started and ended with their landmark debut, Apologies to Queen Mary. They exploded with such blog-fueled fervor that in a lot of ways the remainder of their career was doomed to wallow in the shadow of the sheer hugeness that surrounded them. The Beatles-like dichromatic songwriting, the jumpy choruses, the acceptance of synth, the Internet hype: In a lot of ways, Wolf Parade has become the template of the 21st century indie-rock band. In 2010 Apologies still looms, but the band has put out two more great records and tout a great live show. Before a date in Austin’s La Zona Rosa, we caught up with drummer Arlen Thompson, who talked about the band’s third LP, Expo 86, [Photos by Max Lipchitz.]
Is there anything that has stuck out about this tour compared to previous ones?
We have a lot more songs to choose from now that we have three records in the books. It’s actually kind of hard picking what songs we want to play every night. It’s a blessing and a curse; playing the same 13 songs every night is a drag, but now with all the choices it can feel a little overwhelming. And of course there’s a few off Apologies and Mount Zoomer that we feel obligated to play, like “California Dreamer” and “Kissing the Beehive.”
Expo 86 was recorded really quickly, unlike the last two. Why was that?
I think the vision was to keep it as simple as possible and be a rock ‘n’ roll band. The process was more streamlined than with the other two; I think everyone knows what they’re doing now when it comes to making a record. I mean, everyone at this point has made three to four records in total across the side projects, so we’re more conscious of what we can accomplish in a time. We had a lot of time to write the first record, because we were just coming together as a band. For the second record, just because of the way things were, it was sprawled out over a year. But this time we knew how to get down and just make a record. The whole process was organic, and we didn’t get hung up on committees or production. We ended up making something we never second guessed.
You produced 2008’s At Mount Zoomer. You decided not to produce Expo 86. Why did you decide to step down from that role?
We were working with Howard Bilerman — an old friend of mine who we’ve worked with before — and essentially it just is too much when you have to perform and produce at the same time. It was better just to focus on drumming and not wear too many hats. It seemed like both sides kind of suffered when I was going back and forth between roles.
Expo 86 is also the longest album you’ve recorded in terms of overall run time, and it has a lot of long, sustained songs. Is that something you planned or something that developed in rehearsal?
It just kind of happened that way, because when we record we’re not really thinking about song length. I remember when we were listening to the demos, we’d collectively realize, “Oh, man, this song is like six minutes long.” We’d think, “oh, that’s a short, two-minute pop song” while we were playing them, but afterward we realized otherwise. It’s just the way we make music.
Wolf Parade has followed a pattern where you release an album and then everyone focuses on a side project for a year. Is it nice to take time off and not think about Wolf Parade?
I think it’s a good thing, because I think everybody has a lot of creative areas to explore, and if we all just stuck to one thing we’d get pretty burnt out. It allows us to feel refreshed when the time comes for us to get back together.
Wolf Parade had so much hype around the middle of the decade and immediately exploded after, and even before, your first record came out. You got really big really quickly. Do you ever wish things would’ve developed more slowly?
Yeah, in some ways I feel we got swept up in that whole “Montreal scene” thing. I mean, obviously it’s rather nice, considering there’s a lot of bands going as long as we have that certainly don’t get to go on international tours. So in some ways it’s a pretty great thing. I mean, we all played in bands for years and years before Wolf Parade, and none of them ever went anywhere, so it’s definitely nice to have people like us and all the exposure.
Wolf Parade has one of the most active fan sites I have ever seen. It’s updated every day and there are giveaways, and not many bands can claim that. What do you think about that?
It’s pretty amazing; the woman who runs it is really great, and she does a really good job with it. And we’re a band who’s not had much of a web presence. We barely have a website and we’re generally low-key people. So it’s nice to have a sort of clearinghouse of information. It’s funny because people often find out news there, before it comes from our label or our website. So it’s great to have it; it’s great to connect with the fans that way, and, again, it happened very organically. The band didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s really cool.