A.C. Newman lives in a “funky,” one-story house in Woodstock, N.Y., that has seen numerous renovations and additions in the eight years since he and his wife bought it. Even though the tiny cabin — which Newman describes as “not a mansion” — was a fixer-upper when they bought it, Newman was drawn to it from the moment he saw it.
“It’s a weird thing when you go to a house and it’s filled with portent somehow,” he says. “You’re like, ‘This is the one.’ ”
But on the Wednesday morning in March when I call him, Newman confesses that he and his wife are contemplating moving back to Vancouver, Canada, where Newman emigrated from 10 years earlier. The reason? Trump, of course.
“We’ve started asking ourselves, ‘Should we make a preemptive move?’ ” he says. “This country isn’t crushing us yet, but maybe we should get out before it does.”
Newman is particularly concerned about the Republicans’ recent plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, at the time of our interview, was still a strong possibility.
“This is the first time in my life where I find myself in a place where I would be legitimately sad to leave,” Newman says.
But retreating to Canada would involve a lot of sacrifices and challenges for Newman and his flock. For one, it would mean leaving behind a house filled with memories from the early years of his marriage and raising his son.
Also, even though Newman has lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, he still doesn’t have American citizenship. So moving back to Canada could create problems if he ever wanted to return to the U.S. or go on tour with his band.
“If I go to Canada for a year, my green card will expire,” he says. “And who knows how bad trying to get back into American will be?”
But Newman’s biggest worry is money. Even though he says he’s “doing decent” — “If I could go back 15 years and tell myself what my assets would be in the future, I’d probably say, ‘Wow! You’re doing awesome!’ ” — music is a tricky business that’s not likely to earn you millions, unless you’re Beyonce or Lady Gaga.
“I remember times in the past when I lived off $1,000 a month,” Newman says. “It was easy, especially if I had roommates, and I’d just eat burritos every day. But now that’s all changed completely. It’s absurd how life changes like that.”
Though Newman now has a clan to fend for, there are some things in his life that haven’t changed — namely his music. As would happen with any band that’s been around more than 20 years, there are some differences between each of the New Pornographers’ seven albums — Challenger is the slowest and least emphatic, Together is jangly and mid-tempo, and the first three records are hyper power-pop, while 2014’s Brill Bruisers is more bubblegum pop. And their newest release, Whiteout Conditions, is the first to lack singer Dan Bejar. But for the most part, everything else has stayed the same.
The New Pornographers still churn out peppy indie-pop songs that pull from ’60s psychedelia and ’80s New Wave and include multiple vocalists on each track. Newman’s penchant for rhythmic hooks and huge choruses is still apparent, and their records are still bursting with springy, cheerful energy. And don’t forget the lyrics: Newman and Co. are still just as committed to penning strange and opaque songs as they were when the band’s first album, Mass Romantic, came out in 2000.
“Our songs have always been very oblique,” Newman says. “But I’ve never really worried about anyone understanding what I’m trying to say because, ultimately, the things I’m really concerned about aren’t lyrical. When I’m listening to a record, I’m listening to the songs and the arrangements. Is that snare drum loud enough? Are the harmonies blended well?”
Since 2004, Newman has partaken in myriad side projects, releasing three solo albums and composing the score for the film, The F Word. But even so, the New Pornographers is one undertaking he says he’ll never quit.
“In the beginning, the New Pornographers felt like a slow-moving train that I just hopped up on because it was going 10 miles an hour. I was like, ‘I’ll just ride it for a while. This seems fun,’ ” he says. “Now, 15 years later, all of the sudden it’s like, ‘Wait. I can’t jump off this train. I have to keep going.’ ”
The New Pornographers
play at 8 p.m., Thursday, April 13, at the Fox Theater. $38; thefoxoakland.com