Wolf Parade was without question one of 2005's best discoveries. As the latest phenomenon in the seemingly endless procession (pardon the pun) of top-shelf indie rock bands from Montreal, the group, whose debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, was released by Sub Pop in September, turned a number of heads this year, primarily those with shaggy haircuts or neatly trimmed bangs. Like its countrymen in Arcade Fire, the Most Serene Republic, and Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade makes guitar-driven pop music that's delightfully shambolic, stuff that's tattered and teetering, ready to explode or collapse at any moment. (Comparisons to the aforementioned bands have become so widespread that they're now decried as “lazy journalism,” which is what musicians say when they're sick of being told they sound like someone else.) Anyway, when I first heard that the group was coming to the Independent on Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 4 & 5, I hit up Sub Pop to arrange an interview, but the guys — Dan Boeckner, Spencer Krug, Hadji Bakara, and Arlen Thompson — are so freaking busy or cool or whatever that none of them could chat. What the label could offer, though, was an e-mail interview with its A&R guy, Stuart, to which I thought, “Gee, I've never read an interview with an A&R guy … why the fuck not?” Thus:
Garrett Kamps: So you're the guy who signed Wolf Parade?
Stuart: They came to our attention through Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. He'd been friends with Dan Boeckner, one of the singer/songwriters in the band, from previous bands that Dan had been in. For a time, Isaac was working for Sub Pop as an A&R person, and he brought Wolf Parade to Sub Pop in the spring of 2004. They needed a day-to-day contact at Sub Pop since Isaac didn't work within our actual offices, so I was asked to do it. I have no idea why, ha ha, but my boss had confidence I'd be the guy to pull it off. And I guess I have.
GK: Wait, so for the benefit of our readers who may not know such things, what does an A&R person do? Like, can anyone be one, even Isaac Brock (nothing against the guy or anything)?
S: An A&R person can either bring an artist/band to a record label's attention (while working for that label, naturally) or work with an existing band on the label roster, if, for instance, the original A&R person has left. They have various duties at various labels, but for Sub Pop, being the small label that we are (25-ish employees), the A&R person acts as a “project manager,” overseeing everything from recording to artwork deadlines to touring help, and even a creative decision here and there.
GK: Indeed. So you were like the project manager for the Wolf Parade album. Got it. So, why does it suck so bad? Ha ha. I'm kidding. A serious question: This is a great record, one of my favorites of the year. When something like this is shaping up, are you always thinking to yourself, “This is the best record ever,” like a soccer mom or something, or do you sometimes think to yourself, “Oh shit, this is the Titanic, and I've gotta get off before the whole thing sinks”? Do you know what you've got on your hands or do you just have to wait until it's in stores to be able to tell? On a related note, how did you feel as this record was taking shape?
S: We usually have some inkling … there [are] some records we're excited about, but know deep down that [they] probably won't sell. Then there are the records like this, where the excitement is matched by an expectation. For me, I honestly knew kids (and others) were gonna be excited about this record; someone here said it had that special “something” which you can't really put your finger on, but … those tend to be the special ones. The Shins' Oh Inverted World was another one like that.
GK: With Wolf Parade there was that all-too-common Catch-22: opening for the Arcade Fire. On the one hand you want to reach an audience inclined to like your stuff, but on the other you don't want to be branded a clone. How did you advise the band on this matter?
S: It was a foregone conclusion that they'd tour with them at the outset, mainly because of the friendship. It was a great way to reach the audience that might be inclined to like them. So, it was an instant “Yes”!
GK: What about this influx of Wolf names? Wolf Parade, Wolf Eyes, Patrick Wolf, Guitar Wolf, We Are Wolves, Los Lobos … What the hell is going on here?
S: Pure coincidence. Like all the “The” bands of yore. 🙂
GK: I wonder if that means there'll be a new wave of “Parade” bands?
S: There is Mice Parade … I believe.
GK: I love Mice Parade, really! I'm an o.g. fan. There is also Parade of Dreams, a hardcore band I played bass in for six months in Oakland, but let's not talk about that. As with every band, there are rumors about the guys in Wolf Parade. For instance, I heard that Hadji Bakura likes to hang out in forests in his spare time and that the whole band basically went M.I.A. for a long time before you were able to corral them back into the studio to record their debut. What's the deal with that?
S: Well, they're a tricky bunch, which probably makes them that [much] more special. Some of them see Wolf Parade as almost a side project to their side projects …. And Hadji, yup, he plants trees in his spare time, as well as goes to school. Spencer has literally about three different side projects that I can think of, or is it two …. They didn't really go M.I.A. before going into the studio in Portland with Isaac. What happened after the recording is Internet lore at this point.
GK: What are some of those side projects? This isn't going to be one of those shows, like a Gwar show, where the band opens up for itself in costume, is it?
S: Spencer's main one is Sunset Rubdown …. It's his “solo” project, even if it is a band now. And Dante [DeCaro], who was in Hot Hot Heat and is now a semi-member of Wolf Parade, has been opening the shows as a solo act, with 3/4 of Wolf Parade playing with him. Hey, you asked!
GK: Last and final question, not about Wolf Parade, but a personal A&R dude question for someone about to go on a long trip [Oh, get this: Sub Pop flew all of its employees to New Zealand as a Christmas gift, which label boss Jonathan Poneman paid for out of his own pocket. If anyone at the company I work for is reading this, please make a note of that fact.]: Assume there's no such thing as an iPod. Which five records would you bring with you on a trip to New Zealand? And they have to be newish, nothing that's ever been declared “seminal” or whatever.
S: I hate new music. Damn it. Well, don't judge me (I'm so not “cool”), but … the Delays, Faded Seaside Glamour; Kate Bush, Aerial; Wolf Parade, Apologies … (yeah, I would …); Sufjan Stevens, Illinois; Madonna, Confessions on a Dance Floor. If we're talking seminal: Blondie, Parallel Lines; Blondie, Eat to the Beat; Pretenders, first album; Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis; ABC, Lexicon of Love, yeah, probably.