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INDIE IS THE NEW MAINSTREAM

by Britt Chester

On Monday, Feb. 2, Carl Newman was waiting in Woodstock, New York, for the snow to subside “” eight inches of accumulation with more forecasted expected to keep the already closed roads closed for even longer. “It’s just part of the ride,” he said. “”¦there is worse stress in the world. When all you’re trying to do is travel and you can’t get there “” it’s not stress “” it’s a swarm of insects just buzzing around your face.”

In 48 hours, Newman and fellow New Pornographers band mates Neko Case, John Collins, Todd Fancey, Blaine Thurier, Kathryn Calder and Dan Bejar (unique for this tour) will embark on a 13-stop bus tour taking them down the east coast and then on to Oakland, California, and Quincy, Washington, to close it all out.

“Obviously I don’t want to miss shows “¦ because even when you don’t play shows you have the cost of being on the road,” Newman added.

The New Pornographers, being the veteran new-school indie rockers that they are, are not missing much by way of shows, press and television appearances these days. But it wasn’t always like that for indie bands, especially when New Pornographers got started.

“Just having the career, I never anticipated, but like everybody who makes music, my goals were not very high,” Newman said. “It wasn’t that difficult to achieve them. There was a point when I thought it would be amazing to sell ten thousand copies of our album. I thought that was success. What else could we ask for? If we sold ten thousand and toured around and maybe 100 people came to see us “” that’s success. We passed that.”

“Passed” is quite the understatement.

The New Pornographers (several members in the band maintain successful careers as solo artists) hit the scene in 2000 with the debut release of Mass Romantic, which barely made a ripple in the international charts. But the sounds carried, and The New Pornographers’ fans kept pushing for another release. Electric Version followed, and with it came exceptional acclaim from some of the largest music publications in America.

But after reaching certain milestones early on “” selling tickets, touring, releasing albums, making a living off playing live music “” the dreams just keep getting checked off the bucket list.

“It was always a dream to play on (television), something like Letterman,” Newman revealed, before adding that he’s now played the Late Show with David Letterman six times. “I could not believe we did that.”

“Owning a small house seemed like a pipe dream at one point, but I own one now and I can’t believe that.”

The success of The New Pornographers, and many of its indie-rock band contemporaries, has a strange past. Newman recalls a time before the 2000s when indie rock “” operative word “indie” “” couldn’t cut it in the mainstream. But that whole model has changed thanks to backward reasoning in the music industry.

The group’s latest album, Brill Bruisers, held the highest chart position, the 13 spot in the United States, for the band since the act’s first release. But the strange thing about that number is that the album sold less than the previous album in first week sales.

“A lot of great things have happened outside of record sales,” Newman said. “Record sales have been good, but now there are other streams: your song can get licensed in a commercial, or television show, or video game, or trailer, or your song gets played on the radio. Or people come to see you live.”

Newman recalled a time prior to 2000 when indie music wasn’t getting licensed the same way it is now. He credits bands including Arcade Fire, The National and Vampire Weekend for helping propel the independent bands into the mainstream spotlight.

“It’s interesting that a band like us “” there’s really not much holding us back from being a mainstream band,” Newman said with noticeable excitement. “There is room for us to be in the mainstream.”

For the forthcoming show at Haw River Ballroom, Newman included the little tidbit that Dan Bejar would be joining them for the tour, which allows the band to play some choice songs that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to perform.

“We’ve never practiced as much as we have for this tour,” Newman concluded. “Expect us.” !

WANNA go?

The New Pornographers play the Haw River Ballroom on Sunday, Feb. 15. The show is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. with openers Jaill getting things started. The show is sold out.

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