A.C. Newman on Hurricane Sandy, the New Pornographers, and Spotify
Photo by Caleb Beyers
By Peter Gerstenzang
A.C. Newman is cool and calm, but more importantly, he is Canadian. When I get a hold of this gifted singer/songwriter, he is in St Louis, as Hurricane Sandy is conducting a Search and Destroy mission upon our already rain-ravaged East Coast. But when I ask him how his tour is going, as he rides through the beaten-up United States, Newman offers up a simple, "I'm fine."
He's a bit concerned about his home in Woodstock, New York, his wife and new child, but he's called and "The house is still standing." Two things then come to my mind. One is, weather be damned, the guy definitely wants to promote his shimmering new pop album, Shut Down the Streets. Also, I think, if the shit ever comes down, if people in our frighteningly divided nation start shooting and looting, I want the Zen-like Newman on my side.
Of course, Streets is an album worth braving the apocalypse for. At once low-key and radiant, Newman -- also a member of indie darlings the New Pornographers) has cut a diamond here. Redolent of '70s radio music ("One of the songs that really influenced me was 'Baker Street' by Gerry Rafferty,") A.C. aced it this time.
There is one catchy, folk-rock gem after another on the disc. Still, under the burbling synths and plummy acoustic guitars is a troubling sense of dread. Songs like "There's Money In New Wave" are lovely, but they also keep you awake nights. I ask Newman if I'm hearing him right. If our polarized country, the upcoming contentious election has gotten into his musical soul.
"It's not so much micro-political as it is personal," says the unflappable Newman, his Canadian roots still softening certain vowels. "When you bring a child into the world, you do start thinking less about yourself and more about others. "There's Money In New Wave" is sort of fatherly advice to my son. My worries about the world, what I want him to watch out for. That sort of thing."
Now, It's not that the pacific Newman has no problems, of course. And they're not merely those of questionable taste. When we're discussing '70s rock, he has high praise for the playable swill pail that is Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell -- which is the only thing this tasteful guy says that flabbergasts me. But what does get the red-haired rocker upset is the state of the recording industry. Which, even though he entered into it as it was going digital, is now getting him down.
"I've seen a big change, even in the last few years," he says. "Sales for bands that might have sold 80,000 CDs a few years ago, are now down to 30,000. There's just so much piracy. And sites like Spotify aren't helping. Music is being stolen by people or given away for free. It's awful."
Still, as an enlightened, modern guy, Newman says that he's fine with his music being used in commercials. From T-Mobile to Target.
We also chat briefly about the guy's other great enterprise, the New Pornographers. I inquire as to whether we will see a new record from them anytime soon.
"We're trying to write things," Newman says. "We're trying to figure things out. It's all prep work. But we're certainly in the planning stages. I'm writing. You can write on the road. It's just that you can't finish anything on the road. I sing things into my iPad. Bits and pieces, I hope I can finish when I get home."
We engage in a bit more hurricane talk. Wonder how it will effect the electorate that is primed to vote for a President. And then I ask the man, when you're on the road with a band these days, can you make any money?
Ever the evenhanded performer, Newman says, "Yeah, a little. We don't really go out on the road to make money. It's really done to promote the new record. But sure, we can go out and play for people and even come back with a few bucks."
So there he is, missing his wife and son, stuck in the heartland, with a natural disaster all around him. Still, Newman sounds like he's ready for anything life might blow at him. And you believe him. After all, if you can survive St. Louis during a hurricane? There's not much left out there that can possibly frighten you.
A.C. Newman. With the Mynabirds. $15, 8 p.m. at Turf Club. Click here.
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