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“My grand-dad, who is Irish, spent time in a POW camp, fighting Nazis in fucking Europe and it’s just amazing that within a couple generations that we’ve forgotten. I know it’s more complex than that…”
When the chaotic indie punksters Wolf Parade announced that they were going into hiatus way back in 2010, it seemed unlikely that they would ever return. Instead in 2016, almost out of nowhere, they resurfaced with an EP of new songs and this year they dropped a new album entitled ‘Cry Cry Cry’. While relatively more restrained than previous Wolf Parade LPs, ‘Cry Cry Cry’ is still a fizzling burst of energy filled to brim with sharp songwriting and a nervous sense of vitality.
Mark Conroy caught up with guitarist and sometimes frontman Dan Boeckner ahead of their gig in Dublin’s Button Factory on November 20.
After your first album, you said that the band went through something of an existential crisis. Was that crisis the reason for your hiatus?
I think the hiatus was an even deeper existential crisis. The crisis with Mount Zoomer and EXPO 86 was the natural progression of band who were trying to maintain artistic dignity after accidentally becoming famous in that first wave of internet press, in the early or the mid-2000s. The hiatus was more of an existential crisis based on the fact that if we didn’t stop touring and put Wolf Parade on the shelf for a couple years, it would have damaged our friendship. We didn’t want it to get to that point and Spencer and I each had different projects that we were deep, deep into. So, it wasn’t a huge loss to put Wolf Parade aside for a bit.
You mentioned those individual projects, do you think you guys are fully committed to Wolf Parade again?
Yeah, definitely. It’s back on schedule. Actually, right now, it reminds me of more 2006 when I was working on the first ‘Handsome Furs’ record and doing Wolf Parade at the same time. I’m actually working on a second Operators album which is what I was sort of going for with ‘Dancing Furs’ and if I’m not on the road with Wolf Parade, I’m writing at home or recording. I don’t really have any time off but it’s kind of great.
With your latest record ‘Cry Cry Cry’, the song writing credits between you and Spencer Krug are split right down the middle once again. Is that something you two set out to do or does it just work out that way?
I think it’s just a natural progression with the band. The first show we ever played, I think we played six songs, he sang three and I sang three. We never really thought about it. It was like ‘okay, you sing a song and I’ll sing a song’ and that’s that.
In the song ‘You’re Dreaming’ you mention the “century ghosts” of the fascist dictatorships that rose in the 20th century. Are you suggesting we are slipping into those dark days again?
Absolutely. One of the things that triggered the lyric writing process for that song. I had the chorus done and had a really good idea of what that song was about, but it just wasn’t there yet, I just couldn’t shape it into something concrete, at least on paper. I remember being in the studio last winter and reading about the Azov battalion in Ukraine right now. Since the Maidan protests—which were hailed as democratically positive by the West—years ago, the political landscape has shaken up such that you essentially see Nazis there.
People throw Nazi around a lot these days, online and elsewhere, but in the Ukraine you have literal Nazis using Nazi Regale like uniforms form SS Galician division (A German run fascist division of Ukraine nationalists). So, I was watching this stuff and that was where the century ghosts line came from. My grand-dad, who is Irish, spent time in a POW camp, fighting Nazis in fucking Europe and it’s just amazing that within a couple generations that we’ve forgotten. I know it’s more complex than that…
Is that a natural cycle of something awful happening, we say never again and then we forget?
Yeah I think it’s like that and I think there’s a new element to mass human psychology, that we are just dealing with for the first time which is that it’s not just that were forgetting, It’s the re-contextualising of human history by crackpots with a political agenda on social media or whatever. We live in a kind of post-truth era where we can no longer say ‘these people did the right thing and these people did the wrong thing’. Once that’s out the door then of course you going to have young stupid men dressing up as Nazis marching up and down the street.
Your new album doesn’t mention Trump and isn’t explicit in its politics, but there is a a political undertone. Do you think if musicians get direct about it, it can get too preachy?
Spencer and I both grew up playing punk rock and some of the stuff that I loved back when I was a teenager, it’s hard for me to listen to because it’s so on the nose. Even if you’re going to listen to an Exploited record, you’re yelling about Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It’s a little embarrassing now, you know. It’s just dated. If something is going to have staying power, you can’t be too on the nose. You can’t write a song that’s just name checking Trump. It has to be more than that.
‘Valley Boy’ makes direct reference to the death of Leonard Cohen days before the 2016 election, do you take some solace that he never had to see the result?
I do take solace in the fact that he didn’t have to see it, but I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have surprised him. He had a pretty pessimistic view of the world in general. As a Canadian I kind of feel that he deserves a little more credit and should be seen as a national, cultural treasure. I think he’s very well respected there but then you go to England and people are more excited about Leonard Cohen there than they are in Canada.
Relative to how Canada responded to the death of Tragically Hip frontman Gordon Downie, the reaction to Cohen’s death seemed muted over there, is that fair to say?
The people that decide what is and isn’t Canadian culture like CBC, our national broadcaster, and the rest of the small media industry tend to like stuff that is sort of bland and never really gets popular outside of Canada. Then there is this reflexive thing, where Canadians don’t like to recognise Canadian culture that becomes globally influential. We had this band Skinny Puppy. They’re an amazing industrial band and they are from Vancouver and they would have influenced Nine Inch Nails who I don’t think would have been around if it wasn’t for them. 12-inch EDM, industrial music was pushed by those guys and Canadians don’t know that the band is from Canada.
Was it a conscious decision to strip things down on this record?
Yeah. When we sat down to write ‘Cry Cry Cry’, one of the first things we talked about is what do we not want to do. That’s always been the process with this band, like what are the things we want to avoid, and we just won’t do them and kind of just worked form there. Part of it was we don’t wanna have a load of parts that are super long. Saying that, we still did write a couple more prog-y songs.
There seems to be some nostalgia at the moment for the 2000s indie scene—LCD Soundsystem returning, Yeah Yeah Yeahs reissuing their first album—is it that there’s something special about the period or do these things just go in cycles?
I think it’s that they go in cycles. It’s just, it’s about time. I remember being in Europe a couple years ago and watching the 90s revival start-up and that was bizarre because I was alive in the 90s. It was just odd and eventually everything is just going to get thrown into the great cultural recycler. I’ve never really seen us as a part of that scene though, even if people rope us into it
Does the band feel like they’re in a position yet to look back at the legacy of ‘Apologies to the Queen Mary’?
That’s a good question, I can’t really conceive about that album’s musical impact or cultural impact. I think I’m kind of too close to it but when I was living in the US—I’ve just moved back to Canada from California—I was living in San José and I met a group of… It was like the DIY scene there? They were a lot younger than me obviously but they all talked about how influential that record was for them. That’s kind of the best compliment I’ve ever gotten as a musician, just to know that there are a bunch of people in is this sort of disconnected community in a B/C-List city, and that that record reached them and had some sort of impact on them is fucking crazy. That’s how I started playing music, listening to cassettes of bands that I loved, kind of cult bands, and that’s what got me started playing music.
In terms of recognition, does that mean more to you that say a 10/10 from Pitchfork, seeing up and coming bands regard your record as influential?
Fuck yeah, absolutely. You kind of forget that this is the whole reason you start doing these things. If you’re like a young man or young woman and living somewhere shitty and you want to get out of there and the only way you can communicate that is through music, those bands are like your lifeline. Yeah, that felt good.
Wolf Parade play Button Factory on Monday November 20.