Wolf Parade 10 Year Anniversary – Part 3

Here is part 3 of the complete history of how Wolf Parade formed and their first year as a band.

As told to me by Dan Boeckner:

III.

We wrote Modern World and Dinner Bells and ended up recording the EP at Spencer’s house and we did some work on it at Arlen’s place. Modern World we used a drum machine on, a version of a Casio SK1 with 3 set drum accompaniment on it. When we would play that song live Arlen would play the SK1 from behind the kit and basically just press play and do the fills and play keyboards. Spencer would play keyboards and I’d play guitar. So we were basically drum machine, keyboards, synth and guitar. It was funny to me, when Handsome Furs started, how surprised people where that there was a drum machine and synthesizers on our first record. Wolf Parade, right up until the first record, was predominantly analog synth, guitar, drum machine and no bass. All the bass were these deep analog bass parts that Spencer was playing with his left hand on the Jupiter.

I clearly remember recording that first EP. I remember having a lot of fun and we just did it live off the floor, went in and overdubbed a little bit, we did it really fast. It was like a couple of days. You know I had just lost the band Atlas Strategic and they were supposed to sign to Sub Pop. We had done shows on the Ugly Cassanova tour to make up for the Modest Mouse shows we didn’t do in 2001. I met Robin Taylor, who would eventually become Wolf Parade’s booking agent, and I met Megan Jasper from Sub Pop and they really loved the band. Isaac (Brock) was signing tons of bands for Sub Pop at the time. You know like The Shins, Fruit Bats, and Iron and Wine. His batting average was pretty great. He was really heavily advocating for Atlas to get signed to Sub Pop. But our keyboard player, John Pollard, just decided that after the second tour he could never go on tour again. I was in my early 20’s then and I thought ‘well if Johnny quits the band is over’. Had that been me now I would have been like, ‘ok fuck you dude we’ll get someone else’. In the long run it’s good that I didn’t do that. As much as I liked Atlas, it was really just a stepping-stone out of the stuff I was into, like The Cramps. It was just a stepping-stone into writing songs where I actually found my own voice. That was the best thing about that year in Wolf Parade.

I clearly remember sitting down and writing This Heart’s On Fire. We played it at our first show, it was one of the first songs we ever wrote. But we never put it on the EP. I remember sitting down and writing it in this unheated part of my apartment, recording it on a crappy 4 track, and staying up all night writing that song. Then I brought it to Spencer and he wrote that amazing keyboard line on top of it pretty much immediately, and that was the genesis of my part of Wolf Parade. And for Spencer, he had a song called ‘The Weather Song’ that I don’t think a lot of people have ever heard. Before we recorded the EP we recorded with Howard Billermen at Hotel 2 Tango. It was the most pro recording I had ever done. I think he was testing some new gear out. He said he liked our band and that he wanted to record some stuff. So we recorded The Weather Song and This Hearts On Fire. Neither of those two versions were ever released because I think we thought they sounded too ‘slick’ and we didn’t really get the tempos right on either of them. That time period, I didn’t know it at the time, I was developing my own voice. I had been really heavily influenced by people around me in Victoria and I was so fucked up when I first moved to Montreal and I was surprised I made it through that first year. I used to go to this bar Miami, this dive bar in Montreal, and make suicide jokes. I had years of built up shit that I had to deal with. Like my mom had died, and I had been through some crazy shit in Vancouver. One of my very close friends who introduced me to new and different music like Jesus and Mary Chain, she had died. It was pretty brutal. Broke as shit and working at a telemarketing office. But I wasn’t living in British Columbia anymore and I had this great friend in Spencer who I found it really easy to write with and work on stuff with and I had an exit strategy with this band. When we made that EP that’s when I felt, ok this is real, this is actually happening.

EP1 -1

EP1-2

The original EP was a 3 ½” CD in this cloth woven bag that Spencer and his girlfriend hand screened. It had a ‘septacorn’ (7 horned unicorn) on the front of the bag. It’s funny thinking back on that, cause at that time that was when everything was bubbling up for what would become “Indie Rock”. Pitchfork was beginning and McSweeny’s and these very wordy and lofty reviews. I never thought we fit into that. I know a lot of people in bands who are assigned to a movement or a time, a lot of them say ‘oh we were never part of that’. But I really think Wolf Parade was loud and abrasive and a shambling mess and everybody came from working class backgrounds. It wasn’t like a Pavement type deal where we were trying to outsmart the audience. We all had experience living in Victoria, which was this weird little medically sealed bubble where your ideas had a chance to ferment and there was a Victoria style that carried on with Wolf Parade. The intellectual clown. I think Carey Mercer, in particular, is kinda to blame for that whole thing. I was influenced by Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes) and Dave Wenger (Daddy’s Hands). Daddy’s Hands was just a grotesque spectacle, super smart and super funny, very in it’s own world. If you weren’t in on the joke then it was trying it’s best to alienate you. I think those two styles, the Carey Mercer/Frog Eyes Style and the Dave Wenger/Daddy’s Hands style. I think that very much carried over into the way we presented ourselves with Wolf Parade. The idea of the drunken clown, who will come to the party dressed as a clown, who falls down the stairs cause he’s loaded and then gets up and fucking quotes Dostoevsky and walks over to the piano and plays a pretty good song that’s beautiful and then throws up on himself. That got pretty annoying, but when you’re in your early 20’s it’s pretty attractive. People would come from out of town and play shows and say ‘these Victoria people are insane’. It was this unimpeachable lifestyle where you were not only a total party animal but you were also smart. Professor harsh party.

Hadji Bakara joined the band right after the EP came out. Hadji and I were friends and he was really into virtual modular synths, just total nerd synth shit. Like Contact and granular synthesis by midi and we thought we need another person in the band so lets try him out. Hadji and I had been recording stuff at his house, jamming together, which was fun. Hadji was completely untrained as a musician. He played in Hardcore bands but he was a singer. His contribution to the Victoria music scene was basically boosting gear from Long & McQuade (the Guitar Center of Canada) and giving it to people. He joined and started playing keyboards and this modular synth set up. His set up was constantly changing, one day he’s be using a midi keyboard and a computer, one day he’s used a rack mounted synth. Later on he bought a Moog Voyager. He was fairly untrained musically. He would come up with the most random parts, either all black note or all white note melodies that would fit over the stuff that Spencer and I were writing. Almost folkish melodies, like he was eliminating any of the flats and sharps from the scale. He didn’t know that he was doing this, this is just how he plays. He would never play anything exactly the same twice. Hadji added an element of danger and sort of weirdness to the proceedings. We could have put him on bass and tightened everything up right off the bat, but that’s just not how we operated. At that point we had moved in to what was then the Arcade Fire house. I think for a while we were at Spencer’s place, but then we moved into what was the Arcade Fire’s place. Win and Regine were living there and the band was practicing there and Wolf Parade were practicing there too. Then eventually it became the Wolf Parade practice space when they moved out. We wrote both At Mount Zoomer and Expo 86 there. Back then, Win and Regine were living there and everyone’s gear was there stacked in the living room. I remember when Hadji joined we wrote three things in rapid succession. We wrote It’s a Curse and God’s Hands (aka Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts) pretty much right away. I’ll Believe in Anything started off as a Spencer song and kinda morphed into a Wolf Parade song. Shine a Light too. We wrote them all together. This was like September of 2003.