THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS with THE CURE, CITY AND COLOUR, METRIC, DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE and many more as part of RIOT FEST, at Downsview Park (35 Carl Hall), Sunday (September 7), gates 11 am. Single day pass, $95-$150; two-day pass $180-$290. TF, riotfest.org
What does British one-hit-wonder Sigue Sigue Sputnik have in common with indie rock supergroup the New Pornographers' latest record? More than you think.
Sputnik's 1986 amped-up new wave single Love Missile F1-11 was one of three songs frontman Carl Newman sent to his bandmates as inspiration for their recently released album, Brill Bruisers. (Olivia Newton-John's Xanadu and Johnny And Mary, by Robert Palmer, were the other two.)
"Sigue Sigue Sputnik is like a real rock footnote," Newman says as he plays Love Missile on his iPad during our interview at Last Gang HQ in Liberty Village. "Who cares if they were a lame band who only had one good song? It's a good song."
Co-vocalist Dan Bejar, for one, took Newman's sonic mood board very seriously.
"When Dan's three songs for the album showed up, I realized they were so much faster than mine," says Newman. "I had to speed up all my songs. We re-drummed about eight of them."
This kind of thing happens when a band's three main songwriters are scattered across North America. Bejar lives in Vancouver, Neko Case is in Vermont, and Newman has a home studio in Woodstock, New York.
But even when the band is able to record together, it's an off-the-cuff process that involves writing from scratch and cutting songs as they go.
Keyboardist Kathryn Calder describes recording Brill Bruisers as a week-long brainstorm session. "Go play something," Newman would say, giving her a few chords.
"It was such a whirlwind," Calder says. "I didn't really remember even one thing I played after the fact. When I listen to the record, it all sounds really cool, but I have no idea how what I played turned into that."
Brill Bruisers comes after a string of excellent solo records from Newman, Bejar and Case. But despite those successes and accolades, Newman still has moments of uncertainty.
"I'm plagued by so much self-doubt. At the beginning of a record I just think, ‘How are we going to do this?' But you just keep going and you realize that even when you think you're failing, you're often not," he says.
"I've gotten more than I ever thought I'd get from music. Sure, there's some luck involved, but there must be something else going on, too."
We couldn't agree more.