You know that sense of anticipation you have before pressing play on a favorite band’s new album? At least one member of the tuneful Canadian indie-rock veterans The New Pornographers feels the same way about her own band’s releases.
“I love hearing our finished records because they always take on these twists and turns from the last time I’d even heard it,” Kathryn Calder, who plays keyboards and sings for the six-piece group. Explaining that primary songwriter A.C. Newman continues to make a lot of changes after she completes her parts, “they’re not necessarily what I’m going to hear back when I hear the full record because there’s still so much editing that has to happen. ‘Oh, interesting, that’s where that song was going.’ And there’s that part there, ‘oh yeah, I remember doing that part,’ and other parts where a whole entire section was cut out and a new section was put in.
“So I feel like whenever I hear a New Pornographers record I’m always excited to hear what the songs became. I know that sounds weird because I’m in the band.”
The newest one is “Continue As A Guest,” the band’s ninth, released March 31 on Merge Records, following on from 2019’s “In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights.” The first single, “Really Really Light,” is a cowrite by Newman and Dan Bejar, a founding member who has left and sometimes returns; Calder confirms he is not part of the current touring lineup “but we’re still pals.”
Calder recently chatted with us about her unique family history with the band and prepping for the tour in support of the new album — which kicked off in April and will hit Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday, May 17 and Union Transfer in Philadelphia on Thursday, May 18. Wild Pink is the support act.
What are tour rehearsals like for the band?
Well, they’re pretty fast and furious. We’re getting together a couple of days before tour and we’re going to go over the new songs. We’re doing a lot of prep beforehand, everyone is working on figuring out what we’re going to play live and we’re doing a lot of chatting about that right now. We then have a couple days to work it out, and that’s how it goes. We’ll be using kind of soundcheck to work out any kinks that we feel that we need to work out.
Is there like homework you do on your own in addition to the group rehearsals?
Yes, totally, there’s a lot of that. I do a lot of that because I have a lot of sounds in my keyboard that I’m trying to dial in and get the volume right and get the tones right. Like with every project there’s only so far you can take it before you get together and hash it out in person. So there will be a lot of tweaking after rehearsal time on our own time, then coming back together and working on it a little bit more and kind of getting it tweaked in time for tour.
You initially came on board as a touring member when Neko Case couldn’t make some shows. How would you describe your job description in the band and how has that changed?
I had started in the band as a touring member but I had already sung on the album “Twin Cinema.” So I was already on the record as a keyboardist and vocalist, and then a few months later Carl [A.C. Newman] called and asked if I could do these shows because Neko couldn’t do them.
On the records it’s sort of morphed because I have a home studio and so do a lot of the other members, so we do a lot of recording separately, so I definitely started creating my own style of keyboard parts and sending them to Carl, where previously, I was 23 when I joined, so I was taking a lot of guidance from Carl and John [Collins] about what to play, so over the years I sort of developed, as you do as a musician and a songwriter, I developed my own style of writing and playing, so that gets thrown into the band. I think my voice, you can hear it on the recordings, I’m like a texture that’s added and that’s part of the sound, which is nice. I have my own little niche in the band, I feel, and that’s where I do my thing.
Did you think you would be just filling in until Neko returned?
I don’t think I had any expectations. That’s interesting, I haven’t actually been asked that question before, so I have to think. When I came in I definitely felt it was just for the tour, it was just for the five dates, and I remember everybody else in the band had assumed that was not the case, that I was now in the band, but I don’t think anybody had told me that (laughs). So I was like, Oh, there’s more shows and you want me to do them? Sure, that sounds great. It was funny because in my position I wasn’t assuming anything. I was just assuming that I just got this cool opportunity to play these shows and I wasn’t assuming anything else after that, but everybody else had assumed just in the band, when Neko’s there and when she’s not there, I’m just in the band now.
How familiar were you with the band and the catalog when you started playing with them?
Very, very familiar, because, do you know the backstory of how I joined the band? You might not.
No, I do not.
So Carl is my uncle, but through my mother, who was adopted as a baby, so he’s like half uncle. So my mom was adopted as a baby and when she found her birth mother, Carl was in her birth mother’s family as her youngest sibling and my mother was the oldest, so Carl is her half brother. So I already knew Carl and I was in my own bands and doing my own thing, and I had met John at a concert through my band and he was playing with a different band, and I remember going up to talk to John and being like, I’m Carl’s niece. And I think the story goes that he went back to Carl and said have you seen your niece play, she’s really good, we should have her come and join the band.
When the band put out “Mass Romantic” in 2000 I already new Carl and I was so excited to hear the record and I already knew the record really well, and then “Electric Version” came out in 2003, and again I knew the record and I loved it, so by the time I got to “Twin Cinema” and they invited me to play and sing on the record, I already knew all of those songs really well just by virtue of I was already a fan and also he was a relative (laughs), so I was excited that my relative was releasing these cool songs and we were newly part of this family, and there was somebody who was also a musician and doing all of this cool stuff.
You do some work outside of the band, including a few solo albums. What are you planning to do when you have some downtime from New Pornographers?
I’ve been working with another band that I’m in that’s called Frontperson, that’s a collaboration with a friend of mine, Mark Andrew Hamilton, who lives in Montreal, so we put out a couple records and we just put out a record in 2022, and that’s fun so probably more than that. I’ve been toying with the idea of a new solo record but I haven’t started on it yet, so that’s a ways a way still, but I had a kid a couple years ago, so I feel like it might be fun to make a new solo record. I always feel that it’s nice to write songs about a time that you’re in, so it might be kind of fun to capture this particular time in music, so I would like to do that. Right now, it’s just New Pornographers and hanging out with my kid.
Photo by Ebru Yildi