What: The New Pornographers with Born Ruffians
When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
Where: Capital Ballroom (formerly Sugar nightclub)
Tickets: Sold out
The process of bringing Whiteout Conditions to life required the members of The New Pornographers to alter the way in which they operate.
The band’s seventh album, which arrived in August, is the first without contributions from either drummer Kurt Dahle or singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, who co-founded the group with singer-guitarist Carl Newman, singer Neko Case, bassist John Collins and keyboardist Blaine Thurier in 1997.
Bejar hasn’t split from the group — The New Pornographers are set up to absorb vacancies. Case comes in and out of the lineup when her thriving solo career requires her to be elsewhere.
Members are spread throughout several cities, including Vancouver, Vermont, Brooklyn and Victoria. Each band member can also play several instruments, another trait that opened the door to its musical evolution.
Kathryn Calder of Victoria tackles keyboards and piano on Whiteout Conditions, while co-producers Collins and Newman were the “mad professors” who handled the majority of synthesizers, Calder said. Thurier chimed in with keyboards and synthesizer as well, resulting in a dense wave of electronics.
“They’ve got their toys they use and come up with some crazy sounds,” Calder said of the increased focus on synthesizers by Collins and Newman. “There’s a lot of back and forth between them in the studio.”
Calder, who has been with the group since its Juno Award-nominated 2005 release Twin Cinema, has seen her role expand considerably over the years, to the point where her vocals now play a significant part in the group. The recording sessions for Whiteout Conditions gave Calder additional opportunities, too. Newman would send Calder unfinished tracks from his home in Brooklyn, to which she would add her vocals at her studio in North Saanich.
“It allowed me to get crazy with the vocals, especially when Carl sends me a song and says: ‘Do whatever you want,’ ” she said with a laugh. “That was a new thing for me. On the previous records, I’ve gone to wherever Carl and John are recording, and would do my piano and keyboard parts with them in the room. I kind of liked taking my time on this one.”
Whiteout Conditions comes on the heels of 2014’s Brill Bruisers, the group’s most successful effort to date from a chart perspective (it debuted at No. 13 in the U.S.). Whiteout Conditions, which shares its predecessor’s fondness for velvet vocals and synthesized buzz, has also been well received, netting the group an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in July, which was preceded by a sold-out tour of Europe.
The band’s 12-date tour of Canada begins tonight in Victoria, with a performance at the Capital Ballroom (formerly Sugar nightclub). Simi Stone, who has sung with the group on tour since 2015, will perform in place of Case, who is not on the band’s current tour. Bejar will not be in attendance, either, after appearing at the majority of concerts during the Brill Bruisers tour. The group is rounded out by longtime guitarist Todd Fancey and drummer Joe Seiders, who joined in 2014.
Newman has grown accustomed to working with ever-moving pieces. “Carl has been on a particular mission to try and be as faithful to the record, and we’ve done a lot of work to make sure we have the sounds as close to the record as we possibly can,” Calder said. “He had a very specific idea for this tour.”
The band’s debut recording, 2000’s Mass Romantic, was a propulsive experiment that fused garage rock with Ronnie Spector swagger, but the group’s vision gelled perfectly on the follow-up, 2003’s Electric Version.
Rolling Stone named it to its 100 Best Albums of the Decade list, giving the group an impressive one-two punch right out of the gate. Calder is proud that The New Pornographers were able to match that feat with back-to-back classics in Brill Bruisers and Whiteout Conditions. That they arrived nearly a decade and a half later is a sign the group is growing despite the lineup changes, she said.
“I think we’re putting the effort in to keep the records interesting and involving. When you are starting out, you have this momentum of being the new kid on the scene, and it’s fresh and exciting. Then you make a few records, where you’re trying not to rehash the same stuff over and over again. As a band, we’re trying even harder, because it’s important to us that the records are a little bit different and we’re evolving. It’s not just something you can phone in.”