Denver's Larimer Lounge can only contain so much scorching sexiness, and when Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner rolled through town recently for a sticky summer show, with his new band Handsome Furs (formed with his wife and musical partner Alexei Perry), the walls almost came down. Over stripped and stark foundations, the duo brings the danceable rock and pushes the boundaries of a modern anthem, using only a drum machine and ragged electric guitar. Get to know the Handsome Furs.
F/F -I'm interested in the emotional barometer of (your latest album) Face Control. It seems like it's applying the metaphor of the Cold War to interpersonal relationships. I'm wondering if that is an accurate read on the record?
Dan - That's a totally accurate representation – I think like Cold War and post-Cold War, and the idea of places like Serbia or Latvia appropriating this mantle of freedom that maybe they weren't ready for. Or not ready for, but maybe just like jumping in with both feet into something and just accelerating the culture to the point where it's almost a parody of Western capitalism, or hyper-capitalism.
I guess you could apply that to an interpersonal metaphor as well, like maybe falling in love for the first time or trying a new personality. You know? Changing yourself. Most of the record was a document of what we were doing while we were touring in Eastern Europe.
Alexei - ...and what we were witnessing there.
- The Handsome Furs, Face Control
F/F -So the themes spring directly from your time there.
Dan - Yeah, absolutely -- and reading. We did a lot of research.
Alexei - We read a book called Black Earth. That was a big one! And Rising Up and Rising Down [Some Thoughts On Violence, Freedom, and Urgent Means] by William Vollmann, it's a big seven-volume thing about when violence is just.
Dan - The other one was The Balkans by Misha Glenny, I don't know if you've read his book McMafia that just came out, but he wrote this really great academic, almost clinical dissection of the Balkans and their politics from the Turkish occupation all the way up to the war and post-war. So I'm just absorbing all that stuff – both the emotional writing and also this clinical history. I mean we didn't have to do that. We could have just cruised in and been like, hey. And I'm sure that could have been totally rewarding too because the exchange between the artist and the audience in those places couldn't be more meaningful.
Alexei - I think because a lot of bands don't really tour there, so you're frequently having to win over a crowd that doesn't really know who you are. And that's kind of the best feeling in the world. So yea, it would have been meaningful either way.
Dan - The act of reading before you go somewhere really helps. I mean, if we hadn't of done all that reading, the lyrics for the record would have come out completely different.
Alexei - ...because we wouldn't have been seeing the same things.
F/F - Was most of the album written while you were in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, or after you were back?
Alexei - It was mostly written in that region, and then we fleshed everything out once we got back to the studio.
Dan - Yeah, we kind of put everything together once we got home. Lyrics were just taken from journal entries, and the musical ideas were worked out on tour but then kind of actualized that home.
F/F - Interesting. A lot of artists I talk to seem to say that it's impossible to creatively write and finish anything on tour because of the nature of being on the road.
Alexei - It's pretty grueling. I think Dan and I are pretty fortunate in comparison to most other bands where we tend to end up with a lot more time, since there's not a bunch of different heads trying to figure out where to go for food or whatever.
Dan - We both also have an obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to making things.
F/F - Yea, we work pretty late (laughs).
F/F - That works out well though, as long as you don't drive each other crazy.
Dan - No. Yea that's the thing. We give each other space.
Alexei -We work separately, then together.
Dan - Yea we'll sit in the car on the ride out of Belgrade that was 12 hours, and Lex will be writing and I'll be working on stuff and then we'll get to the show and be like, "Hey, what'd you work on?"
F/F - Is that Putin on the back cover of the album?
Dan - Yea that's a young Putin on the back.
Alexei - All the photos were actually taken by this Finnish photographer that did a series on Finnish prisons. And so that picture was actually something that was posted on someone's cell wall.
Dan - I just think that the whole presentation of the album was like a realization on our part and a reaction against – like ...people can make a lot of money playing indie rock right now. It's pretty much under the mainstream, right? Like it's one step under Taylor Swift or something. So that has drawn a lot of people who don't go with the ethics that I started playing music with in the first place. So I just kind of wanted to make it a big middle finger to my least favorite elements of that genre.
Alexei -And it's totally an aesthetic choice. I mean you have the opportunity like us even deciding what instrumentation to use – do you use a xylophone or a drum machine? And that's a big comment on what we're doing.
F/F -How do you decide what's elemental and what's superfluous in your music?
Dan - I think that if we can't make it on the drum machine and with the guitar then it's superfluous.
Alexei - Yeah, we're the Ezra Pound of indie rock (laughs)
Dan - Most of it was recorded live. There are some overdubs with guitar...
Alexei -...but very minimal. We tried to do it pretty live off the floor.
Dan - There's another thing we really wanted to approach on this record. You know, indie rock supposedly is an underground form of music. It's marketing itself as a reaction ahfnst the mainstream, right? But you listen to a lot of the top-shelf indie rock records, and they're so incredibly overproduced. And missing something. We've had a lot discussion about this, like...we listen to a lot of reggae dancehall. There's so many mistakes in the early dancehall, but that's just what makes it great. It's just this weird unquantifiable sound.
Alexei -What I think is really interesting about that music is that it's so much a comment on that world that they're living in. So, part of me wanted to keep the album minimal just so that what we were actually saying was just what we meant, you know? Nothing else.
» The conversation continues with the Handsome Furs at I am Fuel, You Are Friends. Read more of this interview by our pal Heather Browne and see more exclusive photos of the Handsome Furs on her tip top music blog!
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