Dan Boeckner is one of indie rock’s hardest working songwriters and performers. He was a founding member of Montreal-based Wolf Parade and helped lead that band through a fruitful career that yielded three impressive albums before disbanding last year.
He also co-founded the synth, drum machine outfit Handsome Furs with his wife and put out three great records before that project also disbanded in 2012. Amidst all of the breakups he managed to start up a new band called Divine Fits with Spoon’s leader, singer and guitarist, Britt Daniel, and New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown.
Their debut record, A Thing Called Divine Fits, was awesome, mixing elements of Boeckner’s anthemic, restless songwriting with Daniel’s knack for whipsmart grooves and alluring pop hooks. In its short existence, the band has developed a signature sound and stunning live presence, and furthermore, all of its members have made clear that the band is a band and not some one-off project. Divine Fits will appear at Mission Creek Festival at the Blue Moose Taphouse on Friday, April 5.
I caught up with Boeckner over the phone for a quick interview in advance of their performance. But first, a full disclosure: I am not only a co-founder and programmer for Mission Creek Festival, I am also an unabashed fanboy of Boeckner and all of the amazing work he has done in music—Wolf Parade! Handsome Furs! Divine Fits!—over the last decade. Just thought you should know!
LV: Last year was the big debut for you guys. You came out with a record, you did some U.S. touring, you got out of the country. Now that you‘ve done that, what are you expecting, or afraid of, or excited about as you go into this next stage of touring and doing festivals for the summer?
DB: I am not really afraid of anything. We just did eight shows in five days at SXSW. Just being able to go to SXSW and work in the most extreme conditions possible for setup and tear-down—we came out of the other end of that. So I’m not really worried about anything. I am excited about playing shows. I like playing festival stages ‘cause you might be reaching people who don’t necessarily know who you are.
LV: Are you guys playing new material on this next run?
DB: Yes, I think we are going to be playing at least two new ones. We just got out of a recording session in L.A. doing two new songs. These are the first songs that we’ve written as a complete band since we’ve been playing shows. All of the stuff on the record (A Thing Called Divine Fits) were demos done by either Britt (Daniel) or me or the both of us and then taken to the band. This new stuff was written together in the rehearsal room.
LV: Do you have plans for writing more music or will you just let it happen when it happens?
DB: I think the plan is to do a couple of singles this year, like an A and B-side, and then we’ll start writing for record number two.
LV: Are you working on other projects right now?
DB: I am! I just started a new band. Britt’s got Spoon recording and touring coming in 2014, so I know he’s writing for a new Spoon record. With Divine Fits, we always thought we’d do our thing and then obviously Britt would make a Spoon record, I would do something, and then we’d come back and do another Divine Fits record. It’s kind of like the way I ran things with Wolf Parade and the [Handsome] Furs. But this new band is more electronic than Divine Fits. It’s punked-out dance music.
LV: Who did you start the new band with?
DB: So far I’ve got three people in the band. There’s a lot of analog synth and drum machine and loud guitars. It’s still under wraps. That’s what I can say right now.
LV: Listening to the last couple of Handsome Furs records, even the last Wolf Parade record, and some of the synths that were coming onto the Divine Fits record, it seems like there’s been a consistent interest from you on the synthesizer aspect of your arrangements. Are there certain instruments that you’re working with? Are you continually looking for new synthesizers or new-old synthesizers to work with?
DB: Well that’s something I’m really excited about with the new band. For the last couple of years now I’ve been writing on sequencers—hardware sequencers, not with a laptop. When I’m writing I don’t really go anywhere near Pro Tools or Abelton. I will have a sequencer that’s handling bass and drums and then I’ll play some live keys. That’s how I write music, even songs that are guitar-based now. With this new band I’ve been using this machine called the Electron Analog 4. It’s a four-channel analog synth sequencer. It’s kind of the brains of the band. There’s another drum machine and this thing called the Korg Poly 800, which is a totally cheap, crappy late-‘80s digital-analog hybrid keyboard that I love. That’s the new setup so far. It’s been really fun. And then we have live drums. That’s been the big difference between this new project and Handsome Furs. It’s a little more live-drum oriented.
LV: Will the other members be contributing a lot of material too? In all of the projects you’ve been in it seems there has been a foil working with you to create different voices within the bands.
DB: Yeah, the other members will be contributing a lot with their parts. But this new thing, I feel like it’s an amalgamation of everything I’ve done with music. It’s got elements of punk rock, there’s a couple of acoustic songs with synths and samples in the background and … yeah, this one’s a bit more of a dictatorship I think.
LV: It’s been close to 10 years since Wolf Parade started. Now you’re in Divine Fits and you’re about to start this new band. Do you ever sit back and just think about all of the projects you’ve worked on and wonder about which phase of your life you’re in, and where you want to go?
DB: I do. I have been doing that a lot with Divine Fits. With the new Divine Fits material and this new project I’ve been taking stock of what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years artistically and just with my life. Honestly man, I can’t believe it sometimes. When we were playing SXSW we opened for The Flaming Lips at Auditorium Shores. They broke the record for attendance at that show. It was a free show, not a wristband show, it was open to the public. I kept thinking back to about 11 or 12 years ago—moving to Montreal with no money and no prospects of ever doing anything I would want to do, working this series of dead-end and soul-crushing jobs. I feel like a pretty lucky guy. I know a lot of people play music their whole lives and they never get to go up in front of 45,000 people and play their songs like we did with the Lips. I feel pretty lucky. I also feel like I have to just keep working because it would be a disservice to that luck to not take advantage of it and continue to put out the best music I can and put on good shows. That would be squandering. I don’t want to take any breaks.
LV: Do you work on music everyday?
DB: Pretty much. I kind of set a goal for myself to work everyday. Even if I don’t use it I think it’s still a good tool. I’ll get up in the morning and say “today, I am going to write a bass pattern.” Or if I have an existing thing, I’ll write a bridge. Or I’ll write something from scratch. It’s almost obsessive compulsive because if I don’t do that I’ll go to bed at night and I can feel it scratching at the back of my mind and I’ll feel guilty. So, I’ll write something and even if I don’t use it—I know when something’s not good—it’s important, at least the act of doing it: to clear one thing out of your mind and make way for the thing that’s going to be good or usable.
LV: In relation to what you were just talking about—the artist’s ethic—do you feel like you’re able to sustain the artist’s lifestyle? Do you feel like you’re able to get food into your mouth, rent money to the landlord? Do you feel like your lifestyle is sustainable for you?
DB: I do, I do. I know in the last several years there have been a lot of articles that have come out from pretty big publications where people who actually have a pretty solid level of success are complaining about how difficult it is to have a life as an artist. I sympathize with some of that because it’s not a regular income like if you were a staff writer for a publication and you were on salary or if you work in manufacturing and you are getting a salary and union protection and health benefits and all that. That doesn’t exist when you’re an artist. But at the same time you’re fucking picking up a guitar and standing in front of people and playing music and the global economy is in the toilet so if you can make your rent, you know, you’re doing OK. I do pretty well for myself. I can pay my rent, I can buy food. It makes me happy that I can do that by playing music. And that’s really lucky. I’d rather be doing that than working in manufacturing or working in an office job or whatever. So, I think the whole thing about it being hard to be a musician is kind of ridiculous. You just have to work. You have to go on tour. On tour and write songs. And then you get paid for it. That’s an amazing gift.
Andre Perry lives and works in Iowa City.