mxdwn’s Kennedy Oliver recently sat down with Kathryn Calder of The New Pornographers. This legendary band releases their new album, Continue as a Guest, on March 31, 2023. Calder discusses isolation, the process of recording during the pandemic and what fans can expect in the future as they approach their new tour this spring.
Kennedy Oliver: First and foremost I’d like to extend a congratulations to you for this new album and upcoming tour for you guys. It’s a very exciting time.
Kathryn Calder: Yeah, thank you, yeah it’s exciting putting a new record out in the world.
KO: You know, I was very drawn to the name of the project, Continue As A Guest, and wanted to hear your perspective on how you connect to the name of the project and its theme of isolation?
KC: Yeah, well, I think we were all going through sort of the same thing at the same time but, Carl came up with the name for the album, heard him talk about it. He felt like it sort of, you create your own little space in the world and do your own thing, I want to preface that this is how I interpret it and building off what he originally intend it is you have, like, your own little space in the world, do what it is that you do and enter in at the world as a guest and that’s how we’re living our life a little bit these days. That’s how I feel. Like Carl, I was a little into the woods and coming out into the world and stepping back out in the world is like coming back to a familiar and unfamiliar world in a way. Because so much has changed. We wrote this record over the course of the pandemic and lots of things, especially that feeling of reemerging, this is how I interpret it, that feeling of reemerging and continuing on as a guest in the world.
KO: We’re in this time and place where we are very connected, all about community, but we’re all individually separated. So I understand where you’re all coming from.
KO: Speaking of that, another big commentary on this album was social media and living in the digital world and its prevalence. Does yourself or the band see themselves, and you’ve already glossed over this, but do you think there’s going to be a time where we’ll find a sense of belonging?
KC: Yeah, you know it’s funny, social media is a funny one. It’s both…it has its community elements but also its isolating elements to it. So it’s sort of a tricky one, but I think this answers the question. Hopefully we find a path forward where we have, you know, humans can find some balance on things like on digital platforms where it’s more of a sense of community, and less of isolation. I don’t know what that looks like. That wasn’t the answer to your question.
KO: But it was. This is a very broad, philosophical question that is open ended. I mean, who is to say that in our lifetime or not we will get the answer or see the answer to this question. But a great answer nonetheless. I noticed that this group is known to experiment and explore sonically with its sound. You talked about how this record was created during the pandemic of the past few years and I wanted to know how that shaped the creative process for yourself as you completed this project?
KC: This record was different from previous records because we couldn’t really get together and that’s not how we usually make a record. There’s always been an element of remote writing and remote recording because we live in, especially over the last few years, well, even when the band first started, before I was even a part of it, everyone was living in Vancouver, Canada. And then slowly over the years people have moved and the new members, now we’re all over North America. In previous years, pre-pandemic, we were used to getting together a little bit at some point. That wasn’t happening at all on this record. And actually I was pregnant, so a lot was going on for me in this time frame.
KO: Lots of emotions, a lot of everything.
KC: Yeah, lots of things going on. So, this record was done remotely aside from Carl and the mixing engineer but it really was people sending in their parts of the track. And having Carl piecing it together and ready for the album. More remote than previous records. Lots of us have studios in our home. My partner is a recording engineer and we have a whole studio set up. John, our bass player, is a producer, he also has a studio, and there are so many of us. And we love recording and have our own at home. It becomes easy and we can send it remotely and it’s amazing we can do that. But that definitely is the majority of how this record was made and the majority of it is Carl bringing it all together .
KO: It’s amazing how far away you all can come together to make an amazing project.
KC: Yeah, thank you.
KO: You’ve touched on this already but in the process of recording and subsequently releasing these singles, how do you decide which ones make the cut?
KC: That really was Carl, there were lots of songs that we recorded and I wasn’t sure which were making it actually, often that kind of creative control is left to Carl. I record my part, sing it and when I hear the near end product, near the end of mixing, I go, oh so that’s what that goes too. Or that’s interesting. And actually what I learn more so as a songwriter, I learned from watching this particular way that Carl writes songs is, I’ll sing on something, the next time I hear there will be a completely different part thrown with it. He does a lot of mixing and cutting parts and adding, and it’s a very fluid way of working. Where the song doesn’t stay the same song form where it started in the beginning from the ends. It will be named something else but have other parts in it but it has the melody I sang and it’s a completely new song, it’s very cool to recognize. And I learned that from Carl and learned not to be precious with the parts. Like it’s not this is my song, it’s more this is my song until I don’t like this part anymore and I’ll change it for a new part and that’s attested to something I picked up from Carl. The process of picking the song and which ones make it on is all Carl and being witness to that process. It’s interesting to see what this song turned into. Very cool.
KO: That’s amazing to hear. You’ve mentioned how long the bands have been around, plethora of talented musicians, singers and songwriters throughout the years and hearing this process and sound like you all manage to share creative control and produce a cohesive sound. And that process and getting that focus, it appears that there are several chefs in the kitchen but more the merrier, and never too many. All enhancing a recipe.
KC: Right! That’s how I like to think of it too. Carl has the vision of what he’s looking for and he’s really great at letting people contribute to what they feel, and letting people do their thing and be open to ideas, and a nice creative balance. I always feel free, it’s almost the weirder the better. Any ideas that I have, they are well receptive. It’s a fun way to work. It’s harder when you don’t feel like you express yourself.
KO: Much harder when you feel restricted, too structured. I agree.
KO: I heard your former bandmate co-wrote your lead single, Dan Bejar, how does it feel to have him return after his exit.
KC: I asked Carl, we were recently together, I asked what part Dan wrote because it’s not always obvious to me. He was saying they took from an older song and reworked it. He took the chorus bit and it was from a song never released. Carl mentioned how he remembered how it went and just took that idea and rewrote it. Dan flew in like a blast from the past, which is great and so fun. I think that is a nice part of songwriting and has all these ideas and maybe not the right time and place but if you keep them, and kinda in your mind, you can bring them back up and reimagine them and put them out in the world in a different way.
KO: Well put. Other than this track, are there others that Dan contributed to whether it is song credits or instrumentation?
KC: I don’t think so, I believe the lead single was the only one.
KO: Now for yourself, which album track do you feel close to or receive the most inspiration from?
KC: That’s a good question. I really like the first single. I just really really like that. Especially coming from the situation we were all coming from. Especially hearing where Carl talks about it, it came from a place, maybe one day when we are out of the darkest day in the pandemic, and what we are going through… it’s aspirational. Maybe one day we can talk about the weather and the heart is light as a feather. I think we are all still working towards that, we know things in the world are not light as a feather but I like the idea that we can work towards a lighter feeling in the world.
KO: For me, I gravitated toward that thought of we forget how thick it is until you step out and you’re not being surrounded by it anymore. I think you guys managed to capture that feeling perfectly. It’s poignant.
KC: Yeah, I recognize that feeling, it can be about anything. It doesn’t have to be big as the world issues or anything, maybe going through any tough time. Having finally come through it, you can come out of the other side of lots of things we go through in our lifetime. We can talk about it and it’s a simple moment to enjoy, We hang out and talk about and just enjoy it.
KO : Really remind us all to sit back and enjoy the small simple things in life.
KO: Outside of this track, is this the most exciting for fans to listen to or rather was this your favorite to record?
KC: I’m not sure!
KO: Safe answer, all of them?
KC: Mmm, I’m just trying to remember all the way back to those sessions, because you know I was quite pregnant at that time. Maybe “Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies,” that is a fun record. But I don’t remember. Maybe, I’d have to go and refresh my memory but that one was a real fun one.
KO: You guys have twenty years of a successful career and what is the secret to maintaining the longevity and relevancy of your music?
KC: Gosh, no idea. I think it’s really a testament to the song writing and yeah we care alot about the music and lots of people do. I don’t have a definitive answer but it’s something to give kudos to fans that people still like and I’m grateful for the chance to be able to make music. I don’t know if there are any “whys.”
KO: It just boils down to just being great music.
KC: Yeah I just hope so and I hope people like our singing and our music and our performing and that we get to keep doing it.
KO: As we are seeing all around in different fields. Nostalgia is all around and we are seeing a resurgence of the 2000s with the new generation. I wanted to know if you and the band feel compelled to dive back down into the distinct 2000 rock sound?
KC: Well I think, maybe I don’t know, that’s a good question. Carl had an idea at one point to try and create a record that sounded like our first record. But I don’t know if that project will happen or not. But it was a cool idea. Maybe it’s in the works. I don’t know if it was trying to recapture a sound or if it was a songwriting exercise to write a song from a perspective from a younger self. I found that an interesting experience. There’s been some things in that vein but I don’t know what will ever become of them. Maybe we’ll take the chorus and throw it into something, I don’t know.
KO: I mean, people will be excited for it, and it’s an exciting exploration for creative playfulness. Being a veteran in this industry and one of the most influential in this genre, is there any advice you can offer to indie rock artists starting out?
KC: Yeah I mean, I always say, I’ve done some songwriting workshops and I love that sort of thing and the advice I give people is, one is to practice a lot. Depending on where you’re at to take this advice, but if you’re young and start out, get good at what you do, and get as good as you can at songwriting and performing. Music is filled with a lot of things that will push your comfort zone and keep doing the things and writing the way you love writing and facing those fears. Spend a lot of time writing, and the things you worry about now, you’ll solve and move onto the next hurdle and challenge and before you’ll be doing things you never thought you could. I mean, depending on who you are, there’s some people who are insanely talented, so take those things bit by bit and move on because that is the only way forward.
KO: As the Continue As A Guest era is just beginning, any hints on what fans can expect in the future for the band?
KC: We are about to head on tour, they’ll be more shows, more recordings and I don’t know what projects they will be or what form they’ll take but they will be something new.
KO: Just knowing there is more.
KC: As long as people will have us.
KO: How does it feel to be back on tour after the few years we all had and what special things can fans expect to see you all?
KC: This will be different now, things are uncertain, health and safety wise you never know how these things are going to go. It is amazing to be back out with friends and the band, back performing for people because I really missed it. Audiences have been generous, excited and everyone is excited to be back together with audiences and bands alike. And personally, you know its like singing harmony with your friends. We were separated and singing on our own for awhile. I love performing and being with the band and I’m happy to be back out.
KO: And we’re happy to get back out there and to experience you guys live in person again. I want to thank you again for talking with us today, and being open and transparent. It’s been honor.
KC: Thank you so much.