The Wolf Parade Interview
Affecting but not in a bombastic Arcade Fire sort of way, hyper-literate but not dickswingingly Decemberistic about it, Montreal’s Wolf Parade have made one of 2005’s best straight-up indie rock records, Apologies to Queen Mary, and they’re coming through town next week to play it down for you. Riff Raff got drummer Arlen Thompson on the line in Montreal, the morning after Wolf Parade had played their first hometown gig since the record had been released late September. If you think Thompson doesn’t know the drummer from Hot Hot Heat, think again.
The night I saw you guys in Norway, at Oya Festival, I saw Steve Bays from Hot Hot Heat in a hotel–he had no idea [ex-HHH bassist] Dante DeCaro had joined Wolf Parade. Were there any fights?
No fights. I’m really old friends with Paul Hawley, the drummer. We haven’t talked in a long time, our schedules just totally–we were both playing the same festival, but different days and stuff like that. I just thought they would have caught wind through the general spin posted on Pitchfork, stuff like that. Everyone’s busy though.
Have you ever rolled dice with Paul?
I don’t know the rules exactly, but he kept telling me to throw dice against a wall at a show in Boston, and then he would take my money. This was during their dice phase, I guess, and my gambling with rock stars phase.
Oh we’ve actually been playing dice in the van. So maybe if we did meet up with Hot Hot Heat we’d have a pretty mean dice game going on. Or if we did a dice of cards–
A dice of cards?
Yeah, cards, yeah. I like playing poker a lot. Pretty mean hand.
Who’s the shittiest poker player in Wolf Parade?
Well, I don’t know, I’m the only one that, well–Spencer, I’d probably say. He’s pretty bad. I’ve played poker with him a few times, and he tends to be a bit reckless with his betting.
I was really thrilled when Joan at Sub Pop said I was going to talk to you because–and you can’t tell the other guys–but you’re my favorite guy in the band.
Aww, are you a drummer or something like that?
I’m a multi-instrumentalist. But you’re flying close to the sun here, which is that my father is a drummer. And you look a lot like what my father did when he used to play drums in indie rock bands in the 60s.
Oh wow, OK.
You don’t happen to have any tattoos on your right arm that say “Barry” do you?
No, I don’t have any tattoos, unfortunately.
How about an eagle on your butt?
OK. Have you thought of releasing a record of just your drum beats? As a companion record?
I don’t know, I don’t think I could ever do something like that. There’s some totally amazing records put out by drummers, like Tony Allen, or–actually I just picked up Bernard Purdie‘s solo record. But I’m not nearly good enough for whatever.
Really? I would say just take the tracks off Queen Mary and put them out as rap instrumentals.
Well I could put one together for you, if you want. I don’t think I could convince Sub Pop to do that.
Let me stop the tape and I’ll give you my address.
Anyway, it’s something to consider. Hey, so people are freaking out about your record.
It’s pretty crazy. It’s nothing I ever expected to happen. I played in bands forever, but it was always smaller affairs. It’s kinda strange when you’re playing, I don’t know, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and kids are going totally bananas.
Do you think people like the record a little too much?
Do people like the record too much?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Everything you do, when it leaves your hand, it leaves you, it takes a life on its own. And a lot of ways this record’s taking a life on its own as a Wolf Parade record. We kind of knew, putting the record out on Sub Pop, that things might get like that. Before, with our own EPs, it was all the way down the line, just us doing it, and we were able to contain it in a smaller framework–mainly through just laziness and incompetence. Bad business sense. I’ve never really experienced something like this before.
What was Isaac Brock like? High-pressure?
We never felt that much pressure. We never really felt like we were making anything that was going to be, like–I always approached it as, we make a record, and if we sell enough that we can pay off what we put into it and what the label put into it, I’ll be pretty happy.
Working with Isaac, it was kind of weird. We were going to work with him before Modest Mouse really blew up. They started really blowing up that summer, and we ended up going on tour with them when “Float On” was like the big single. Things changed a little bit because he all the sudden got projected in this higher realm, potential Grammy nominee, and so on. Just working with him, he had a lot of different ideas than we did, and he was taking a lot of stuff that he had learned from making Good News, stuff like that, while we were coming from the angle of the EPs–self-recorded, stripped down recordings. So we tried to come to something in the middle, which I think is how Queen Mary turned out.
Do you feel like the songs ever left your hand during the process?
The thing is, with a lot of our songs, we had toured them already, so a lot of them were pretty much sewn up. There wasn’t really much room to start changing things. We’re pretty meticulous as a band going through our songs on the road, reworking things–we’re always reworking things. So it was kinda something where they’re pretty much kinda done. You can listen to the ones we re-recorded, and they’re pretty similar to the ones that are on the EP. We did write some stuff in the studio–“I’m a Runner,” and pretty much “I Believe” too was really came together in the studio.
I’m sure you’re sick of the Montreal scene stuff, so I’ll ask a slightly different version. There seem to be a lot of wolf bands coming out of Montreal. Clearly you guys are the best. But what about the other ones? What’s the hierarchy?
I don’t think I’m going to say there’s any hierarchy. We share rehearsal space with AIDS Wolf, and I recorded some of their recordings, stuff like that. They’re all different.
Are there just a lot of them, physically?
I don’t know how it all sort of sprung up. It all came at the same time. We Are Wolves were around–I remember seeing them before there was Wolf Parade. AIDS Wolf I think started around the same time as us. I have no idea how this wolf stuff came up.
So Wolf Parade, as a band name, is a reflection of the parade of wolf…bands?
I think it’s just something that came up. Really, we more formed into Wolf Parade than casting ourselves as Wolf Parade.
But as far as We Are Wolves–are they?