Catching Up With... A.C. Newman
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Get Guilty is the fifth album in six years penned, at least in part, by the prolific A.C. Newman, but only the second stamped with his name alone. He's not afraid to openly admit that being in a successful band is hard work, either. Get Guilty has been on shelves for a little over a week now, and Newman is already working on demos for the New Pornographers’ follow-up to 2007’s Challengers while prepping for his month-plus jaunt through the states in support of his latest pop-rock adventure (a good chunk of the dates will feature Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele).
In one of those fleeting moments where Newman catches his breathe, Paste caught up with the inexhaustible creative flame via phone in his Brooklyn home to find out what went into the slick, refined production of his latest, the subconscious creation of timeless hooks and the tightrope-balancing act of power as the designated leader of the Pornographers.
Paste: How is everything going in your world, Carl?
Newman: I’ve been home for a while, relaxing in a way. You know, my record just came out, so I’ve been doing stuff connected with that. I’ve also been writing and working on demos for the next New Pornographers record. Anytime I’m able to work at home, I don’t really consider it work. Being able to sleep in your own bed is key. When I’m on tour, that feels like work.
Paste: I’ve always had a hard time working from home. I usually end up at a local café or library because if I’m at home, I always find myself getting distracted or falling asleep.
Newman: I definitely have to do that. Like, well, especially since my wife left her job about a year ago, it always used to be in my life that my girlfriend or wife would go to work and I would just be by myself working all day long, but I don’t really have that anymore. I definitely need to go to a space to work, and that’s usually the practice space. It’s a windowless room, which is good to spend a few hours. I just started doing it a couple weeks ago, but I try whenever I have the chance to go in at least for a couple of hours and try to do a little bit of work. When you put yourself in a windowless room where there is nothing else to do, you have no choice but to work.
Paste: Get Guilty shares the hook-heavy, pop-rock mentality of The Slow Wonder, the main difference being the level of production, which has more layers, more texture, more depth. It's not nearly as simplistic.
Newman: On The Slow Wonder, I was consciously trying to be minimal. It was all relative to the New Pornographers. It was made shockingly quick. Even looking back, I was surprised. The New Pornographers did a five or six week tour [in support of] Electric Version, which ended in September of 2003, and I got home, got together with a few friends and we started practicing. At the beginning of October, we started recording it. It was finished by December. It was an interesting exercise because I got it in my head that I wanted to make a record, and I said to myself that I wanted to finish it by the end of the year. I didn’t tell anybody I was making it, and my goal was to get it to Matador before Christmas so they could listen to it over the holidays. I was really into the idea of being all action and no talk. I just wanted to throw it on their desk and say, “Look at what I did.” Which was easy to do then because no one was anticipating that I would ever make a solo record, but [Get Guilty] was different.
Paste: How did the recording process of Get Guilty compare?
Newman: This one definitely took longer. I was doing other things at the same time, and I just went into the studio with no clear idea of what I was going to do. I would leave the studio listening to what I did in between going on tour with the New Pornographers, so there was other stuff to do along the way, which kept me sane. If you descend too far into a record, it can drive you insane. It’s good to have little breaks here and there.
In the end, this record is way more dense and a little more rock. People thought my last solo album was so mellow, but of course you can’t really stop people from thinking what they want. I definitely took some time in crafting it this time around; I can’t help that to a certain degree. I’m always wanting to add some weird, little texture in there. Maybe it’s some kind of OCD.
Paste: With all the other things going on at the time, did you find yourself writing and recording songs for Get Guilty, returning to those tracks a few days later and wanting to wildly edit or redo what you had done?
Newman: There is some of that, but there is also a lot of going in and saying, “This song is too messy” and having to try and strip it down figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I find that’s the most painful part of making a record, you know? When I’m working on a song, I’m doing lots of overdub and just like, experimenting with other things. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to leave it or pull back. It’s an interesting game.
Paste: I come across the same sort of issue with writing. If I step away from a piece for a day and return, I have a wildly different perspective on what I’m trying to do.
Newman: That definitely happens, and I’m definitely a big fan of trying everything, you know? Sometimes, your first instinct works. Sometimes you’ll work on something and come back a month later and go, “I had it the first day.” There have been songs where I’ve just used the demo on the final record. But sometimes, the song needs those months and months of you toiling over it before it becomes the song you want it to be. And I haven’t really found a method for figuring out which is which, and for that reason, I find myself trying everything in the hopes that nothing will be missed.
Paste: It’s a healthy exercise.
Newman: As long as what comes out the other end is what you want it, you know? Sure, it’s a waste a time to spend days and days on a song and then just scrap it and use the earliest version of it, but it’s all part of the journey. You had to do that to find out, you know?