Mix Talks: Kathryn Calder’s low pressure role with The New Pornographers

The summer of 2014 has seen two of Canada’s biggest indie-rock supergroup’s reunite. Broken Social Scene came together once again to play their label’s Field Trip festival in Toronto. The Constantines celebrated the 11th anniversary of their album Shine A Light with a vinyl re-issue and a festival-heavy tour. And then you have the New Pornographers, a band that released their first album in 2000, celebrating the release of their new album Brill Bruisers. Along with their roles in the New Pornographers, all the members also have established side projects, but they seem to come together every few years and drop a new record that shows they are supreme multi-taskers. Mixtape chatted with Kathryn Calder, a musician with her own solo career and member of the now defunct Immaculate Machine, about her role with the New Pornographers.

The band play Sandjam in Halifax tonight then continue touring across the United States with a few stops in Europe and Canada sprinkled in. 

Mixtape: What’s your role with the New Pornographers?

Kathryn Calder: I don’t write the songs. That’s Carl (Newman) and Dan (Bejar)’s domain. My role on the record was I went to Woodstock where Carl has a home studio. I went there for about a week and improvised a bunch of piano parts, keyboard parts and I did a bunch of singing on the record. Then I left, and John (Collins) and Carl did a whole bunch of extra manipulation once I was gone. And then I came back again and did a couple more days in the studio. My part is working with John and Carl and figuring out what keyboard parts to play and then they continue on. It’s neat, I hear the songs in one stage and then a few months I hear them finished and I go, ‘which parts did I play?’

Is that weird for you, as an accomplished songwriter, to have this other completely different role?

KC: It’s cool. It’s nice. I think it’s well balanced. I feel very lucky that I have my solo thing that I can do, my creative baby. With the New Pornographers, it’s a great collaboration and there isn’t a lot of pressure on me. There’s a lot of pressure on John and Carl and the other guys in the band. Neko (Case) said it’s like a rock vacation within rock, which is actually how I feel about it.  It kind of is like a rock vacation within rock, at least for me. I get to have my own thing and then I get to come into the New Pornographers as a collaborator and it’s a very different experience and it’s also valuable.

Do you think that “rock vacation” has helped with the longevity of the band?

KC: Yeah, I mean who knows what keeps the band going. We have really great fans that are really supportive and they’re usually music fans in general. Obviously if the fans weren’t around we wouldn’t be playing shows. We might still be making records, who knows.

That definitely has something to do with it, and the kind of comradery of coming together every so often and making a record, especially this record because we had four years between it and the last record. It really was a real break for everybody, so to come back to it we were refreshed. Moral’s good, everybody’s excited about the new record and proud about it. It feels really good right now.

What song from the new album are you most excited to perform?

KC: The one I’m having the most fun with, and I love them all obviously, my favourite one to play right now is “Dancehall Domine” because it has this really fun keyboard solo. Just selfishly. It has a lot of really fun vocals, first of all, and it has this really fun keyboard solo that I get way too much enjoyment out of considering it’s only about eight bars. It fills all the requirements for something fun for me to play: it’s upbeat, it’s a fun sound, it’s a little complicated and I’m playing with somebody else and trying to sync up with them.

Photo of Kathryn Calder: Supplied