The title of Brill Bruisers, the first New Pornographers album in four years, was inspired by the Brill Building, an office complex located near Times Square in New York City that served as home base for the songwriters who helped shape much of pop music in the 1950s and '60s, including Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Paul Simon.
The title of Brill Bruisers, the first New Pornographers album in four years, was inspired by the Brill Building, an office complex located near Times Square in New York City that served as home base for the songwriters who helped shape much of pop music in the 1950s and ’60s, including Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Paul Simon.
“Those songs that were written in the Brill Building were everywhere. The Beatles were fans of Brill Building songwriters, so it filters down through the Beatles to all the people who were influenced by them,” said singer/songwriter Carl Newman, who’s joined in New Pornographers by Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, among others. “But more than just the people, I think [the era reflects] the importance of the song, and the need to have some respect for the song itself. It’s one of the few times in history where the songwriters were sort of the stars.”
Newman and his cohorts have placed a similar focus on songcraft since first gathering in Vancouver, Canada, in the late ’90s, and there’s a seamlessness to Brill Bruisers indicative of master craftsmen working in complete control of their chosen tools.
“There was a conscious attempt to make a smoother sounding record this time. When [bandmate] John [Collins] and I were in the studio working on the song ‘Champions of Red Wine’ there was a point we thought, ‘This is so easy on the ears,’” said Newman, 46, who joins the crew (minus Neko Case, sadly) for a concert at LC Pavilion on Saturday, Sept. 20. “In the past we were less concerned with that, and even though we’re a pop band I think sometimes our songs would become jarring or go on weird left turns or sonic tangents. With this album we really wanted to keep things focused.”
The band’s previous two albums — Together, from 2010, and the 2007 release Challengers — tended toward slower, moodier song structures Newman attributed, in part, to a “bittersweet sadness” that crept into his life in the wake of a family illness. It’s a reflective feel that carried over into the musician’s solo work, particularly his 2012 album Shut Down the Streets, much of which was written amid the fear and anticipation that led up to the birth of his first child.
“The first song on Shut Down the Streets, ‘I’m Not Talking,’ was basically a song written about being in that in-between place right before my son was born, where I was so excited and so nervous,” Newman said. “I wrote that line, ‘Until then I’m not talking,’ because I didn’t want to say anything to curse my life until my son was here. I don’t think I even finished the lyrics on that song until after he was born.”
When work started on Brill Bruisers, in contrast, Newman’s son was nearing 18 months old, and his presence brought a sense of lightness to writing sessions.
“It was nice to have my kid running around; it was like, ‘I think we’re going to be alright,’” the singer said. “And I think that feeling carries into the record. Having a kid gives you the strength to face … the unwinnable battle of life.”
It’s a hard-won optimism that bleeds into songs like the soaring, exuberant “Wide Eyes,” where Newman envisions a brighter future for his son, singing, “And if I see no hope for me/ I still see hope for you.”
The musician further attributed fatherhood with helping him open up more in song — “[Kids] make you feel things more intensely, and the lyrics can become more personal,” he said — in addition to causing him to consider broader concerns like the meaning of legacy and the lessons he hopes to imprint on his children.
“It makes me think about the things I’m leaving for my son,” Newman said. “That, to me, is the most important thing about an album like Shut Down the Streets. I hope years down the line he listens to it, and maybe he’ll be going through the same thing and he’ll get it. [The music] can be a message passed through the years where hopefully he knows me better than he thinks he did. I want to try as hard as I’ve ever tried now so that’s the type of memory he’ll have of me.”
Photo credit: Chris Buck