Home Again: Dan Boeckner on Making Wolf Parade’s New Album in the Woods of a Remote Island in the Pacific Northwest
Interview by Kurt B. Reighley
Canadian post-punk combo Wolf Parade returns to its classic three-man line-up on the new album Thin Mind. For guitarist Dan Boeckner, writing and recording on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, also required reflection on his early years living there and the nature of contemporary existence. But most importantly, he’s stoked to come back to Tucson.
In the timeless conflict between Man and Nature, Nature has just claimed its second victory in two days. And Man - embodied today by Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner - feels frustrated by his loss.
“We’ve been snowed out of rehearsals for two days in a row,” he laments down the line from Vancouver Island, BC. Wolf Parade is supposed to be practicing in the same old stone barn in the woods where they made their new album, The Thin Mind, but it’s too remote to reach safely under current conditions.
Boeckner sighs. “Everybody is stuck in their respective homes because … well, it’s climate change and nobody knows how to deal with [snow] on the island.”
Nor is this the first time inclement weather has halted progress on the Candian trio’s fifth album. “We lost a week’s worth of work when we were recording the record around this time last year,” he recalls.
That first time, the snow closure yielded results. Keyboard player Spencer Krug, trapped at home, overdosed on emails and Google searches. The technology binge left him feeling removed from his spiritual and emotional center, with zero attention span. He spun that sensation into a jittery new song, “Town Square,” and the album’s title.
“That title, Thin Mind, really appeals to me,” says Boeckner, who splits songwriting with Krug. “It’s a perfect summation of the feeling you get after just a binge of YouTube or flipping between group chats on different social media platforms.”
In several regards, Thin Mind marks a return for Wolf Parade. With the amicable departure of multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro after 2017’s Cry Cry Cry, the band resumes its original “power trio” lineup, rounded out by drummer Arlen Thompson.
“That core group did the bulk of our songwriting for our career. Apologies to the Queen Mary and At Mount Zoomer and the EPs, all those records were the product of three people in a room together, with no bass guitar, trying to fill up space and construct a song with those tools.”
“It was nice to go back to that,” he adds. “It’s comfortable. We don’t have to talk about logistics when we’re writing songs.”
For Boeckner, who grew up on Vancouver Island before moving to Montreal, the return to his former stomping grounds required some extra self-examination. “It forced me to confront a lot of personal history I have with this place, which was productive. It was unpleasant to go through psychologically at the time, but definitely good for the writing process,” yielding infectious originals like “Forest Green.”
“I’m constantly re-interrogating the place and the environment I grew up in, and the experiences I’ve had here. You have to be really rigorous with examining that stuff. Not just creatively, but personally. You can’t lose yourself in nostalgia.”
Writing and recording all in the same spot also helped the new material cohere in a fashion that encourages start-to-finish listening of its ten selections. “We wanted to create a group of songs that reflected each other and lived in the same universe,” says Boeckner. “I know that music is, more than ever, a singles-based economy, but I believe Wolf Parade fans get into the whole record, and the lore behind it.”
On the topic of fandom, Boeckner concludes by expressing an abiding affection for ... Tucson, Arizona. “That is the site of one of the most memorable shows Wolf Parade has ever played.” The year was 2004, and the band had landed a prime spot at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Long Beach, California. In order to ensure they’d would have at least enough gas money to get back to Montreal, Wolf Parade’s booking agent set up a series of gigs along the way home … including one at Solar Culture, where the hosts greeted Wolf Parade with a flat of Tecate and a generous vegetarian meal.
“The turnout that night was good, and the crowd was amazing,” he remembers. “We’re playing right in front of the train tracks, and you could hear the freight trains passing by in the background. We ended up sleeping in an art gallery downtown, filled with installations. I remember falling asleep in a shop window and waking up to people walking by on the street.”
“I’d never been to the desert before in my life, and it was fantastic. That’s totally stuck with me as one of the best times I’ve ever had on tour.”