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Handsome Furs

Handsome Furs

Tuesday 2nd August, 2011 11:31AM

Handsome Furs returned last month with their third studio album Sound Kapital. UTR caught up with Dan Boeckner - also a member of the now defunct Wolf Parade - to talk about the album, finding inspiration in China and why "indie blogs just aren't ready for vaginas."

Hey Dan, what are you guys up to at the moment?

We’re at home in Montreal making nachos.

Are you getting ready to go on tour?

Um, I guess the last three weeks have been a promotional roller coaster for the record and then our anniversary is on Sunday and then two days after that we leave Montreal and we won’t be back until January 2012.

Do you enjoy touring for that amount of time?

Yeah I do! I think this is the longest we will be gone without a break so you know it’s kind of scary leaving our house but mostly I’m really excited about it because as small-a-band as we are we can actually say we’re doing a world tour because we are.

You guys are notorious travellers anyway. I was just reading an interview in which you said a lot of the inspiration for Sound Kapital came from a trip to Asia?

Yeah in 2009 we booked a tour of New Zealand and Australia and off the back of that we went to China for two-and-a-half weeks and then South East Asia, Vietnam, Thailand. About 11 months after we got asked back, and I think that trip was like the biggest inspiration for the record.

What was amazing about your time there?

I think the thing that made the most lasting impression more than any crazy night out or cultural difference was that a lot of the people we met played music. I had to compare them in my mind automatically to people I know back home and people I’ve been on tour with in America and it was amazing to me that there were these kids in this relatively small scene - compared to the population of the countries - making incredible music under really pretty heavy circumstances right. They were so positive about it and had so much energy and conviction in what they were doing and that was what I took away most from those trips and tours. Those people have become really close friends with us which is something that is pretty amazing for someone who grew up in a town with 1000 people to who have friends who play rock music in Beijing. It’s pretty cool and I’m definitely inspired by it.

You were in some political and social hot spots too, were there any scary encounters?

Yeah I had a pretty rough time in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam and that was partially because the only promoter on that tour was a complete dud. He put it on in Ho Chi Minh City and he was an American and he didn’t know what he was doing. So there was that, and then I think the most stressful situation but also the most rewarding last year was we put a show on in Burma. A Burmese punk band invited us to come and play and it took a lot of time and effort to make that show happen without anyone being arrested or get in trouble. It’s a closed country and society – it’s not as bad as North Korea in terms of sheer utter states of totalitarianism but it’s pretty fucken close. We went there, we met the band, fell in love with them as people and musically and spent ten day sin Bangon learning about their lives and getting to know each other and then played this show which felt like a trance and they gave money at the show which is a big deal. That experience sounds cheesy but it changed my life and it changed my outlook on what I’m doing for a living. I feel very lucky to be playing music already but then to go there and see these kids who are our friends being so positive in such a potentially brutal situation for them and playing their hearts out under threat of government harassment. It just made me really happy to be doing this sort of thing with my life.

Sonically or musically were their massive differences between these bands and Western bands?

They were definitely different, and different from country to country. This is just my opinion and I’m sure other people are writing thesis on this once Chinese fans start infiltrating the West but that band from China have a musical lineage that stretches back before Tiananmen Square – to the early eighties – and then this hardcore scene that started in the 2000’s. China’s such a big country that these kids can absorb these Chinese influences with the stuff that they’re hearing from outside. Also they have really good internet access which is interesting in comparison to a place like Burma where the internet is heavily regulated and the infrastructure just isn’t there. So the band that we played with, one of their biggest influences was Nirvana because they’re getting garbage CD’s that come from North American go to China as trash and end up in a landfill and then are shipped into Myanmar.They have a little bit of access but their internet isn’t going to be super fast 24 hours a day. There were major sonic differences between the bands and it was really cool because it was like seeing an indie-rock alternate universe.

So you did this trip around Asia and you returned and wrote and recorded Sound Kapital. What did you imbue onto the album?

Almost everything was inspired by that. We decided when we sat down to make the album we looked at the demos and the songs that we’d been putting on paper, and we realized there wasn’t a song on the record that was a personal song or a fictional song. There’s no fiction on this record, it’s all stuff we saw and how we reacted to it emotionally and people that we met. And we thought let’s just keep it at that, why not, there’s really interesting things about this. Sonically, it’s really noisy in Asia – and that’s a simplification – it’s incredibly noisy and chaotic in a lot of the cities we went to and that went onto the album as well.

And that signifies a lot of the differences between your previous album Face Control because that was about your experiences in Eastern Europe, which is starkly different to that environment, yeah?

Yeah, Eastern Europe was angular - and again this is just my interpretation I’m not trying to whittle an entire geographical area down to certain statements I make - and I felt there was this grey oppressiveness and we were there in the winter a lot so it was grey, grey grey with harsh textures but with this great life bubbling up from underneath that. Whereas in Asia it was constant day-glow craziness.

Tell me about the somewhat controversial cover art?

Oh yeah, I guess like indie rocker media blogs just aren’t ready to see vagina. It seemed totally fucking insane to me. The idea behind the cover art was from Alexei (Perry) – she’s the art director of the band – and she spent a lot of time on it and she’d show things to me and we’d go over it together. We realized a lot of the positive parts of the songs lyrically – the hopefulness – was about these people in really brutal either political or architectural situations (kids living in Beijing in a huge clusterfuck of a city) expressing themselves in this raw, human way. We had this picture of this girl that we know in Portland from a video shoot we did and she’s standing under this network of overpasses and we were like that picture just totally sums up being powerful and human in a totally inhuman space.

The artwork that accompanies the album is really cool too, tell me about the rest of it.

Oh that’s all Alexei, she had to convince the record label that putting that much effort into that transparency and then another transparency and then the set of postcards we did with the pre-orders was a good idea. The truth is people aren’t buying physical albums as much as they used to and I think to reward people for buying vinyl for instance you really have to put effort into the packaging you can’t just throw something together.

This is your third album under Handsome Furs and you’ve always been a duo. Do you ever feel confined by this set up?

I think it just works. It’s become as much a part of the band as my voice or the way Alexei plays keyboards. It was a rule we set up early on that was a limitation that would let us be something different artistically and it’s really simply but we were like it should just be the two of us writing songs and making music together. Occasionally we get up and have people play with us like recently we had No Age get up and play with us. I like those collaborations rather than adding a third or fourth band member.

And Wolf Parade has gone on indefinite hiatus?

Yes, yes, that’s exactly it..sorry my wife is distracting me right now because she’s walking around in her underwear...Wolf Parade has gone on indefinitely hiatus. In the last year when we were touring Expo 86 we discovered that everyone in the band wanted different things. Half the band wanted to tour more and the other half didn’t and touring for bands now, unless you’re selling millions of records which nobody is, is the way you make your living. I also like it, being on tour. I never thought I’d get to go anywhere I never thought I’d get to go anywhere, particularly New Zealand. When I was a kid in high school there’s this band called The Dead C, they’re like punishing noise. I loved this band in high school and this pop band called Submarine Bells. I had this record I used to listen to over and over and a seven inch that I would always listened to.

How did you find out about Flying Nun over there at that time, arguably before the technological age?

Yeah I mean it was pre-insane internet, I didn’t have a computer growing up, we were really isolated in the woods. I would go to the next biggest town and go to the record store and there were guys there who were just total fucking nerds. If a band had released a record they knew about it and this guy Jeremy said ;oh you gotta check out this older band The Chills; – this was the mid nineties by this point – and he gave me this seven inch of ‘Pink Frost’ and that was it, I was obsessed with this band and no-one else knew about them and I would listen to this song and imagine what New Zealand looked like.

- Courtney Sanders

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