Canadian Indie Rock Legends the New Pornographers Are Processing their Trump-Era Distress

20 years on, front man Carl Newman is still loving life on the road as the band tours for ’In the Morse Code of Brake Lights’
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Carl Newman, the ebullient front man of Canadian indie power-pop titans the New Pornographers, has lived in New York for nearly 15 years, but he has no interest in U.S. citizenship.

“It seems like it’d be a foolish move to become 100 percent American at this point in history,” Newman says by phone from his home in Woodstock. “It’d feel like a French person in 1939 saying, ‘I think I’m going to become German.’ ”

While Newman seems despondent about the political climate, he perks up at the mention of the New Pornographers’ U.S. tour, which hits L.A.’s Fonda Theatre on February 3. “I’m married with a kid, so when I do tour it feels like a fun vacation,” the 51-year-old vocalist says. “I’m very much a homebody, so it’s nice to live the rock and roll lifestyle for a little bit.”

For the band’s eighth and most recent album, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, Newman penned and produced all the songs. The LP features the New Pornographers’ brand of buoyant pop, with anxiety-chronicling lyrics sung by Newman and bandmate Neko Case, whose booming voice and country-tinged solo albums have earned her a loyal fan base and critical acclaim of her own. On the standout track “The Surprise Knock,” Newman builds existential tension by repeating the phrase “the surprise knock on your door.” And on “Higher Beams,” he’s more direct when singing “Deep in the culture of fear, we all hate living here.”

“It just seeps into the lyrics,” he says of Trump-era distress. “Now I’m trying to write less about that because I’m sick of it taking over my mind. Although it does feel like the only thing people should be writing about.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut album, Mass Romantic. In a time when the music business has all but capsized, the New Pornographers have managed to thrive—every album but their debut has landed on the Billboard charts, and they’re ubiquitous on year-end best-of lists.

“Even though I’m cynical about the industry,” Newman says, “there’s a part of me that thinks, I’ll just try to do my best. I’ll write new songs, and hopefully that’s enough to keep me going. That might be naively hopeful, but it’s all I’ve got.”

The New Pornographers, Mon., Feb. 3; Fonda Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.


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