Coming Back for More: A Chat with Montreal’s Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Operators)

He's an innovator, a groundbreaking songwriter, and he's here, Saturday night.

Operators is the latest in a streak of groundbreaking Canadian bands for Dan Boeckner, whose previous bands — Polaris nominees Wolf Parade and Juno nominees Handsome Furs — made a comet-like impact on Canadian indie rock.

Boasting equal parts intensity and originality, Boeckner’s music does what it’s supposed to – it possess its listener. It’s intoxicating; if you get it, you can’t get enough of it. He is a songwriter’s songwriter because he is an innovator, busting down boundaries to find new sounds before the rest of us get there first.

Operators hit The Ship Saturday night, and tickets are criminally cheap, just the way Mighty Pop like them. Anyone who caught The Handsome Furs here during the Junos a few years ago will be there because they know what they’re in for, and anyone who missed that performance should not deny themselves a second time.

If anything, Operators are an expansion pack on where Handsome Furs left off: a bigger, bolder, and maybe even better band.

How do you feel about media describing this band as “The guy from Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs?” Is it a fair way to put Operators in context, or is there something frustrating about it that overshadows the new project?

It doesn’t really bother me.  I AM that guy.  In a lot of ways, I’m lucky to have a body of work to build on, in that, I’m not coming at media from a vacuum.  Think it would be pretty delusional of me to expect this project to be treated like it has no context.  I never really worry about that overshadowing the band because it’s intrinsically linked.

Along the same lines, is it your evolution as a musician that’s making you outgrow the bands you’re in? By which I mean, are you having to form new bands to follow the course of your evolution as a songwriter? Operators does feel like a very natural extension of Wolf Parade into Handsome Furs into this new sound that combines elements of those two bands.

I don’t feel like I have to shut something down to start something new … I guess it’s more that I don’t ever really want to stop working and growing.  With Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade, one of those bands went on hiatus and one broke up.  Divine Fits is on break while Britt does this Spoon record and I had a vision of this melted, analog synth heavy, alternate 70s universe, Sci Fi punk, pop band.  So I assembled the group and it just clicked.  And I do think Operators is really an extension of all these different elements I’ve been working with over the years: the frantic nature of the early Wolf Parade stuff, the kick heaviness of The Furs and the minimalism in Divine Fits.  I think having Sam B and Dev in the band has added a swing to the music that maybe wasn’t present in the other projects … and that really makes me happy.

Are Operators here to stay, or is this a temporary project the way The Divine Fits with Britt Daniels of Spoon was? 

Here to stay.  Divine Fits is going to make another record after the Spoon stuff settles down and Operators has done an album cycle.  I like that Operators is effectively a template to do whatever I want, that’s how we work.  If we like it and it gets us moving, makes us feel something … it stays.  If not, it goes.

How did the three of you in Operators meet and decide to start making music together? 

I met Sam when Britt and I were putting together Divine Fits.  He’s an amazingly versatile drummer and just an all around fantastic musician.

I met Devojka in California and then again in Macedonia when she opened for The Furs.  Most of the crowd that night was there to see her!  She’s pretty exceptional at wrangling the big array of synths and step sequencers we have.  I set up this Frankenstein table of crazy and she took to it really quickly, mastered it.  The great thing about playing with Sam and Dev is that they’re both songwriters as well … we can really get into melody and structure together.

You’ve played The Ship once before – a Handsome Furs show people still talk about. And your bandmates have never been in Atlantic Canada. What do you remember of St. John’s, anything you liked, disliked, or will be doing when you get here?

I remember the weather was bad and the whole town looked like a romantic, HP Lovecraft style foggy dreamscape, minus the Squid God worshipping fish mutants.  I remember the houses reminding me of Iceland and the crowd being full-on insane.  That show was really the reason we booked The Ship for Operators.  Originally we were just going to do Halifax Pop Explosion but, I’ve been trying to get back ever since The Furs played.

Interestingly, Operators started playing shows long before there was an album available, which totally flips the standard process of using an album to “get known” in order to have fans in the places you play. I guess that’s a benefit of having established your name as a musician (people will trust the show will be great without an album to judge you on), but is there more to it? Is it also a statement on how there’s no money in albums now, and performance should trump the album anyway?

It’s true that having some notoriety and a bunch of records under your belt makes it easier to just get out and play without “product.”  I do think people are tired of the “event” album and coming to the performance after the media blitz has settled. I wanted to circumvent that.  To just get it back to small shows in sweaty clubs up close and personal.  That’s the core of playing music, being a musician.  For me at least.  You can’t compress and scan through a live show.  It’s an experience and really … it’s the closest, real connection you can have with your audience.  Face to face.  Sweaty.  Loud.  Albums are important.  They’re the document.  The show is the act and the communion and the communication.  Something for joy and temporary as the night you perform.

Speaking of albums, the songs on EP1 aren’t typical, guitar-driven songs, how does one begin building songs like these?

I’ve been writing on keyboards for the last four years or so.  I really love it.  Basically, I’ll get a solid kick going, write a chord progression or baseline, and then sing over it for an hour or so until something appears that I like.  Then I go in and add “sprinkles” … high hats, snare, effects, swing, noise.  Then Sam and Dev take it apart and we build it back up into a song.  It’s a really satisfying way to work.

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1 Comment

  • Clearly I wasn’t paying attention to the overcast this weekend – would of loved to have seen this show. Great interview here! Would love for Dan to convince Britt and Spoon to make St. John’s a stop on their tour. Wishful thinking….

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