As Wolf Parade return from hiatus with a new EP and their first live shows in five years, Dan Boeckner gives us the lowdown on reunions, ghost-hunting and immortality
It’s an overstated point in music that certain bands or records are ‘timeless’. It’s usually little more than a deferential acknowledgement of their classic status in received pop wisdom, or at worst an aggressive attempt to talk up their importance. But surely it’s a more accurate description of the acts who never quite fit into any era. The ones whose music feels bound to whenever you first heard it, rather than being weighed down by the trendy tropes or production techniques of their time.
Wolf Parade are one such band. When they first emerged in the midst of the post-OC indie explosion, they had little in common with the noises made by contemporaries and labelmates like The Shins or, at the noisier end of the alt rock spectrum, the similarly-named Wolf Eyes. Their music is cold yet warm-blooded; constantly tripping up the listener with deceptively complex puzzles that only reveal themselves over the course of time. And now, following a period of hiatus that began in early 2011, they’re back, refreshed and renewed.
We speak to guitarist and vocalist Dan Boeckner down a crackling phone line, fresh from loading into Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom for a five-night residency. The night before, the band filmed a performance for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and this month they’ll head to Europe for more shows ahead of a more expansive tour of the US and Canada. It’s an indication of the hectic schedule Wolf Parade have always thrown themselves into, not least because of Boeckner and fellow frontman Spencer Krug’s litany of side projects. For now, however, we want to know about how it feels to be reunited, particularly in the wake of their recent secret shows at unlikely venues in Vancouver Island, under the name of Del Scorcho.
"I think they’re gonna name a chicken wing after us" – Dan Boeckner
“It was pretty funny to play such notable locales as Cobble Hill, Nanaimo and Powell River,” he says. “We played a community centre; we played a very small bar that was having a chicken wing night… It was kinda nice to get thrown into that. We figured if we can pull it off in that environment then we can do it anywhere. The owner was sceptical at first because he did not know Wolf Parade, but at the end of the night, he said, ‘That’s the best Thursday night we’ve had in 33 years!’ I think they’re gonna name a chicken wing after us." He laughs. “I feel like this is success, y’know? A chicken wing in a small pub. I can retire now.”
Originally based in Montreal, Wolf Parade (completed by drummer Arlen Thompson and multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro) originally burst into the public eye in a blur of web-built hype in 2004, and swiftly signed to Seattle’s legendary Sub Pop label. Debut LP Apologies to the Queen Mary subsequently appeared to a strong critical reception the following year, as a dedicated fanbase grew steadily. Their next two albums (2008’s dense, proggy At Mount Zoomer and 2010’s strident Expo 86) gave new reasons to fall in love with a band seemingly hellbent on developing their craft rather than furthering their careers. Eventually, and inevitably, they ran out of steam.
“We decided we were going on hiatus in 2011,” Boeckner remembers, “in Maidstone, UK – we didn’t have the money to stay in London. We had a band meeting and it was like, ‘Probably time to take a break, everybody’s pretty tired.’
“I think the constant touring had started to strain relationships in the band. Not in the way that we were fighting with each other, we never got to that point. Wolf Parade is this sort of Marxist collective, where we all have to be emotionally connected to make it work. The potential for us to start fighting and eventually not be friends… it was gonna happen if we kept going. Also we didn’t want to start sucking!”
And was the time off beneficial? You could say that. The tirelessly prolific Krug had already released four albums with his Sunset Rubdown project during Wolf Parade’s lifetime, also working with the bands Frog Eyes and Swan Lake before exploring his own grand vision in the guise of Moonface from 2010 onwards. Boeckner, meanwhile, played with Handsome Furs before teaming up with Spoon’s Britt Daniel to form Divine Fits. To keep 2016 appropriately busy, April saw the release of the first album by his new band Operators. They’re no slouches, that’s for sure.
“I got to devote a lot of time to travelling to places people don’t usually go on tour,” Boeckner remembers, “like Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, and Spencer got to do the same with Sunset Rubdown. I learned a lot about songwriting in the intervening years. We both just kind of honed our craft, and probably learned to take it a little bit easier on the road.”
Were they previously hedonistic on tour?
“It was pretty hedonistic up until the Expo 86 tour. At the time we released that record, it reached some excessive heights. But it wasn’t really like excess of drugs or anything. Whenever the band was on tour, it seemed like something insane would happen – we would find ourselves in these surreal situations that were 50% our fault, 50% sort of blind luck.
“Actually, I’ll be honest, that is still happening. During that last run of shows, a series of events brought us to drinking with a bunch of friends in an abandoned diner at a haunted hotel, and then breaking into the top floor of said hotel, wandering around, looking for ghosts.”
In a sense, we suggest, that must have seemed like a pretty good metaphor for returning to an old band.
“That’s true,” he says, “except I’d like to think the attic of Wolf Parade is full of good things, and not rooms full of broken furniture.”
Their return has also meant another trip to the studio, and the resultant EP4 is a solid collection of twisted glam-pop curios that feel very much like Wolf Parade have picked up where they left off.
“I think that’s the thing with this band,” agrees Dan. “The sound of the band only happens when the four of us are in a room together. We didn’t really overthink it; we didn’t sit down and plan what the record was gonna sound like. We just thought, ‘Let’s write songs together in a room and see what happens.’”
Appropriately – and happily – it sounds like a group of old school friends meeting up for the first time in years, and falling back into their old character roles.
“Yeah! I totally agree with that. Even just our personal interactions – when we did this mini-tour… this is gonna sound totally stupid, but the band has always really enjoyed dumb, surreal jokes; stupid in-jokes…We rented this van and the display was like an LCD screen. Every time you opened the door, there’d just be this floating geometrical mess of cubes, so we started riffing on this joke that we were watching a television show called Cubes. The car alarm was the soundtrack, and then we started doing the voiceover… It was just really nice. I was like, ‘Oh, we’re still idiots!’” Again, he laughs. “Like you said, we get back together and maybe it doesn’t matter how much we’ve progressed intellectually or emotionally, it’s still Wolf Parade at the end of the day. And there’s something comforting about that.”
Were there any fears that it might not work out after five years apart?
“Oh yeah, totally! If it was bad, we were just gonna shitcan the whole thing. The whole thing was predicated on having new music. If we didn’t come up with at least six songs then these shows would not have happened.”
So if everything goes well, are there plans for the band to continue beyond these gigs?
“We’re doing a year’s worth of shows and then we’re making a record in the winter. We’re doing a full-length and then we’ll tour that in 2017 – yeah, we’re back together! And it feels pretty fucking good. But at the same time, Spencer’s got two Moonface records coming out in the next 18 months, and I’ll have another Operators album in 2017, so we’re just gonna be really busy.”
Has the reunion changed Boeckner's perceptions of what Wolf Parade is?
“You know, I’ll be honest. My perspective on Wolf Parade in 2011 was very narrow, and I think inaccurate. I didn’t have enough distance from it. Spending five years away and watching people come to the shows, or write us when we were coming back, it really solidified something for me about this band. We were always kind of a weird band and we were very difficult in a lot of ways for Sub Pop. But having people write to us through social media, that’s put the band in a really nice context for me. It makes me proud of what we did, and proud of us now.”
And if nothing else, there’s always the chicken wing thing.
“Fuckin’ A, man!” Boeckner laughs one last time. “Immortalised as a chicken wing!”
Well, quite. Truly timeless.
The Apologies to the Queen Mary reissue is out now via Sub Pop. Wolf Parade's EP4 is also available as a self-release. The band play two nights at London Scala on 14-15 Jun