Meet July’s X3 Artist of the Month: Handsome Furs
by Nicole Villeneuve
July 4, 2011
Handsome Furs are, once again, inspired.
The Montreal husband-and-wife wife duo of Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry are known to tour relentlessly and substantially, spending months on other continents, in the process finding fuel for their art in travel (and, uh, making a travel series for CNN). They’ve used names of places (Plague Park, a mass grave in Helsinki) or cultural markers (Face Control, a policy used in Russian nightclubs to allow or deny patrons entrance based on appearance) from their experiences for their album titles, and their euphoric just-released third full-length is no exception.
Sound Kapital, aside from being the title of the new album, is the name of a book by author Matthew Niederhauser documenting the underground Beijing music community. Boeckner and Perry, on their first travels to Asia, were moved deeply by the scene, something that’s evident in songs like album standout “Repatriated” and opener “When I Get Back.”
“We met a lot of bands who are playing music and doing well at it in kind of, from our North American standpoint, what would be considered adverse conditions,” Boeckner says over the phone from Montreal.
“To meet these kids and play music with them and become friends with them over the last couple of years, it was really exciting. The attitude that they have toward making art in these situations is fucking incredible. That they’ll just do whatever they need to do to get it done, and it’s not even a question.”
To hear Boeckner speak of the impact their travels have had is one thing, but it’s evident in the music, too. Though rarely a cut-and-dry dark band, the Handsome Furs soar through a set of bright, uplifting anthems on Sound Kapital. Boeckner, home for just a short period of time before the group heads back out on the road for at least another six months, is recovering from a cold, his voice raspy and a bit tired as he says the alternative has proven to be somewhat of a creative gag.
“It kind of drives me crazy when people complain about being on tour. Like, what would you rather be doing? Sweeping up sesame seeds in a bagel factory, or being on tour?” he says. “A lot of the first Handsome Furs stuff and the Wolf Parade (of course Boeckner’s other band until they recently went on probably permanent hiatus) record were written out of that, [and] I kind of abandoned a lot of those songs. They weren’t as interesting as the songs that I wrote after both the bands started touring.”
Musically, the band has made a shift from guitar-squalled power blasts to heavier beats, thicker synthesized sounds, and more of them. Sound Kapital is being touted as the first Handsome Furs record written entirely on keyboards, something that Boeckner says was mainly the result of a period of musical malaise. When the duo first traveled to Asia, Boeckner says he made a conscious decision to snap himself out of it; as they spent their post-show nights out dancing at clubs, he made mental notes on the music, and ended up listening to a lot of early house music, the “raw, jarring quality” of it making its way into his songwriting. That, Boeckner says, plus a desire for an even sweatier Handsome Furs show was the reason for writing everything on synths and drum machines.
“We just wanted people to jump around at the shows. We wanted it to be more of a physical experience than an audience standing contemplating your songwriting.”
“We’ve worked really hard on our live show. We want to connect with the audience. We want to let them know that they’re not there just to observe us playing music and analyze it. It’s something to be experienced.”
I tell Dan that I’d seen their show at the Halifax Pop Explosion in October of last year. It took place in a church-cum-venue and the festival volunteers politely tried hard to keep the crowd from getting up into the aisles to dance, asking them frequently to return to their pews. But you could see from the beginning, from the wiggling sitting torsos, that there was too much energy in the room. He laughs, with his own fond recollection of what I’ve dubbed their Footloose moment, about when the Handsome Furs inspired everyone to get up and dance.
“I heard later that someone had vomited into the back of the pews, and I was basically like, mission accomplished.”
Read more about Handsome Furs on the X3 Artist of the Month microsite.