Pop & Hiss

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Tonight: The danceable despondency of Handsome Furs

June 11, 2009 |  1:06 pm


Let’s get it out of the way: Handsome Furs is not a side project. 

Combined with Sunset Rubdown -- the not a  side project of Wolf Parade’s other principle songwriter, Spencer Krug -- the two groups have released more than twice as many albums as the Canadian quintet that earned them accolades in the first place. Most Important, the Montreal electro-punk duo of Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner and his wife, Alexei Perry, have carved out a singular sound.

Bearing the imprint of Boeckner’s early obsession with Suicide, Skinny Puppy and hardcore thrash punk, and Perry’s literary bent and dancehall background, Handsome Furs’ latest, “Face Control,” successfully straddles the line between despondent and danceable. 

Filled with serrated guitars, amphetamine keyboards and alacritous analog drum machines, the band’s Sub Pop-released sophomore effort supererogates its minimalist intent, delivering a sparse but searing sound. Along the way, it further confirms Boeckner’s knack for crafting sticky pop melodies that never seem saccharine.

Currently on a six-month, transcontinental tour, Boeckner spoke to Pop and Hiss while steering through the bread basket between San Francisco and Visalia.

One of the tenets you founded the band on was the idea that you didn’t want any laptops involved. Was this an intended reaction against the proliferation of laptop DJs and bandwagon electronic outfits?

I personally felt that laptops were impersonal and aesthetically displeasing. I mean, no one wants to look at a laptop onstage. The other thing is, there’s a certain tactile sense when the band itself is playing. Handsome Furs is me and Alexei — we wanted to present it as an electro punk band, a really visceral thing. You can’t exactly forcefully click and drag something on a mouse pad. It feeds into the energy of the show, and allows you to be more connected to the sounds, and have more flexibility.

Both of us were into the hardcore stuff when we were in high school, and that’s the thing that originally connected me to music and made me want to do it for a living. I remember going to all-ages shows and seeing people getting sweaty and lose their [minds].

The album is filled with specific geographic references to Russia and Eastern Europe. What caused the former Soviet bloc fixation?

We wrote it on the road in Eastern Europe, basically dashing it down on paper when we could. I have this iPhone application that’s basically a four-track and can record things quickly. So we took the basic sketches back to our studio in Montreal and recorded them. We’d arrive at 10 a.m., Arlen [Thompson] would set up the studio, we’d work out skeletal demos until we could play them straight through. Then we’d take a lunch break and record. We wanted to record them as soon as we could play them, and keep that sloppy urgency. I didn’t want to fuss over the record too much. I think that there are a lot of overproduced and over-fussed-over indie rock records.

It was great because while we were recording, Sunset Rubdown was doing the same thing in Chicago, and whenever Spencer and I were talking about it, he’d tell me how they were also doing everything live off the floor. It was exciting to be doing the same sort of thing at the same time.

Do you feel like those sort of baroque tendencies are a natural by-product of indie music’s ever-increasing popularity?

I don’t know if it’s necessarily the size or the capacity of the venues that bands are playing at, but rather the upper echelon aesthetic of indie rock — the idea is more that the audience will watch someone perform and appreciate it on a strictly intellectual level. What Alexei and I are trying to do, I feel, is more akin to a band like No Age. We played with them at SXSW, and they’re pretty big, but you can watch them and appreciate it on an intellectual level, but also, there’s this visceral attack on the stage. They’re not going at it from some ivory tower, and I appreciate that about them. They’re geniuses.

Have the constant compare and contrasts to Wolf Parade been irritating to you?

It’s a weird phenomenon. On the one hand, I totally understand it. People were introduced to Spencer and I through one band, but I work just as hard on Handsome Furs as Wolf Parade, and I know Spencer feels the same way about Sunset Rubdown. Handsome Furs are essentially on a year-long world tour -- we’re going to China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Beirut. And when we play live, I put as much energy as I can into the shows. It certainly doesn’t feel like a side project.

Are there any plans for you guys to record another Wolf Parade record?

We’re going back to Montreal in November to write and record the new album. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to going to China and Beirut, and recording a 12-inch that will be a split between a cover of a Canadian industrial band named Skinny Puppy and an original song. I’m also anxious to get back to Romania. We recently played Bucharest, and they’ve got an incredibly exciting music scene that doesn’t sound like anything else. We’re going to return soon to play a free show.

-- Jeff Weiss

Handsome Furs, the Cinnamon Band and the Monolators at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd.,  8:30 p.m.  tonight, $13 in advance, $15 at the door.