Handsome Furs

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Handsome Furs, a duo in love, consists of Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and his fiancée Alexei Perry. I talked to them via telephone from their home in Montreal. The three of us discussed the conception of Handsome Furs, the “what is yours is now mine” side of marriage, rural versus city life, and Isaac Brock’s cutter tendencies. Most importantly, we discussed an indie-matrimony and how to tie the knot like a rock star.

How did you two meet?

Dan: We actually met at a telemarketing office four years ago. Basically you call up business and trick them into thinking they’ve been ordering this telephone book that costs $300. You pick someone in middle management that is insecure about their position and you say, “Yeah, we’re just sending you the next edition of the whatever northwest business directory, and I just need you to sign off on that.” But, yeah we met there and I was really shitty at it, but I stayed at the job to keep hanging out with her.

That sounds like a horrible place to meet someone. How long before you decided to form a band?

Dan: For about a year. I had some song I was writing and said we should start a band together.

Alexei: He really didn’t have enough hands to do everything he wanted.

How did the name Handsome Furs come about?

Alexei: I was working on a short story with that title. It came from a Victorian book of clip art I had. It was this funny advertisement featuring a little dapper man in a fur coat with a huge moustache.

Alexei writes short stories and poems. She’s given music a crack. Would you ever consider going into her field of expression?

Dan: ’m just not good enough at writing. I can do descriptive writing and we wrote the lyrics to Handsome Furs together, but I’m can’t do narrative or dialogue. There’s absolutely no way. I think having one writer in the house is enough. I’d actually feel really intimidated to try writing in this house.

The story behind the album title “Plague Park” stems from an actual park called Ruttopuisto in Helsinki. Have you guys ever been there?

Dan: I’ve been there five times and Alexei and I have been there together twice. Each time we’ve been over there together we’ve stayed for a couple weeks because we have a lot of friends over there. The last time we were there we did this secret punk show at a tiny bar that a lot of kids who play music in Helsinki go to. It’s this totally fucking rad punk bar. It’s like the size of a small apartment in there. The last time we played there were 250 people cramped in there. That was the best show I’ve ever played, I think.

Have you participated in the festival in the park? [The festival celebrates the coming of spring, in which the citizens drinks beer in the park. In the ground below the Swedish boozehounds lie the bodies of people who died in a plague outbreak in the 17th century.]

Dan: I think it’s a northern thing. In both Montreal and Helsinki the winter is totally fucking brutal, it gets to -40 F, especially in Helsinki because it is dark for a month out of the year. The sun doesn’t come up it just kind of circles the horizon. So when spring comes everybody has this pent up… it’s not like they haven’t been drinking during the winter because that’s the only thing you can do…but nobody has been outside. So the first couple days people go fucking crazy.

That reminds me of my Ohio college town. The moment spring arrives; the streets are littered with drunks going crazy.

Dan: What part of Ohio are you in?

Athens, Ohio. Every weekend is a big street block party.

Dan: Have you ever been to a place called Xenia, Ohio?

Yeah, I used to live near Xenia. I’ve driven through it. That’s where they filmed Gummo.

Dan: That’s uhhh… That’s like a really creepy place. Wolf Parade got stuck in Xenia once. It was utterly terrifying. We were trying to get through this back street to get out of town and some redneck family literally had like 25 stray cats just hanging out in the middle of the road that wouldn’t fucking move. We were trying to get the family to move the cats and they were staring at us and wouldn’t talk to us. It was total twilight zone shit.

I can’t speak for why Xenia is like that, there are plenty of civilized Ohio places around it. Xenia is just that way.

Dan: It reminds me of my home town; except it’s in the Canadian wilderness.

In your music you have a tendency to create this binary between the urban and the rural. Why is that such a major theme in your music?

Dan: I think it because I grew up in such a tiny town. Me and my friend had a punk band and we were the only real punk kids in town. We used to get hassled constantly; high school was a total fucking nightmare. I met some people from Victoria and after I met these kids I desperately wanted to leave. When I graduated high school I left the day I graduated pretty much and moved to Vancouver. I was in a band, I was broke and living off $10 a day in the city. It kinda sucked, but eventually a lot of the people I was in the band with started doing drugs, it collapsed and I ended up moving back home.

I like living in the city and I like living in a small town, so it’s hard to find a balance between them. Like you can’t go to the lake with your friends and drink beer in the city. In the summer in a small town the streets are empty at night and you can wander around with a beer. You can’t do that in the city. But also in a small town there’s not a lot to do.

Alexei, do you share the urban vs. rural binary as well?

Alexei: Like Dan, I’ve lived in both big and little places. We both wrote some of the lyrics and that was kind of a funny thing for me, because generally I write things for the written page. I was born in Montreal and moved to a tiny little town in Southern Ontario. I’ve also lived in some places in the Caribbean and then was back in Montreal before moving to Vancouver. Whenever you’re in one you miss parts of the other and we can’t help it.

How does your writing differ from Handsome Furs?

Alexei: It’s wildly different. Handsome Furs is a nice challenge because I’m so much more into process of things being written down to be read. I’ve never liked poetry slams and stuff like that. I think [Handsome Furs has] been more simple writing that has a lot of punch, I hope. My stuff tends to be long and winding and weird.

Dan said he likes being on the road. How do you feel about it?

Alexei: I feel really fortunate to go to either places you’ve either dream about going to or have never heard of at all. For someone who does a lot of writing it’s a fantastic source of material. It feels like you’re accomplishing something and you’re doing something good when you’re getting up and sweating your balls off. I also get to be four feet away from someone I’m proud of and I like to watch.

[At this point, Dan discussed his tour plans, which included a small east coast tour in the early summer, a brief break, and then a trip through the Midwest. In July he and Alexei are getting married.]

Will there be an indie-version of the Sly & the Family Stone wedding?

Dan: There’s a live band playing with folks from a bunch of different bands. We’re going to do a bunch of covers like Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds,” which I’m really excited about; maybe some James Brown. Me and Alexei are both going to play and sing, which is very weird that we are entertaining our own wedding. Some of our friends from Godspeed You Black Emperor! are playing and the kids from Wolf Parade. I think Isaac [Brock] from Modest Mouse is going to play. I’m really looking forward to it.

What are your thoughts on the new Modest Mouse album? (Initially this question was met with reserve commentary, until I stated that I love the new record, which opened Dan up to some friendly response.)

Dan: There’s a song called “Florida” on there and I really love the hook on that song. It’s so beautiful. I think [We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank] is way better than the last record. I think a lot of the longer songs on there seem like a continuation of Moon & Antarctica.

It must have been hard for them to write that album with so much pressure on that band now. Just because of that one song. It’s the classic indie-rock band makes good and has to live up to a fluke single. You just have to turn your brain off about that when you’re writing songs.

They are a totally fucking crack live band right now.

Since you know Isaac, could you comment on his recent “cutting” on stage?

Dan: I think he was just trying to entertain the audience. I don’t think it’s a comment on his mental state. He’s been doing shit like that for years. I remember when they were touring to promote Build Something Out of Nothing, that was the first time I met them. I saw them play in Vancouver. It was at the point where they’d either be the best live band you’ve ever seen or the worst fucking train wreck. In the middle of the set, he stopped playing guitar and fell face first, on purpose, off the stage right on to the floor. He’s an entertainer.

I’ve always been more drawn to the musicians who get on stage and invent the weirdest situations possible to entertain the audience.

Dan: Yeah, me too. I think it is weird for people to see that stuff now because there is so much higher profile. But, he’s always done that. That band does not belong in the canon of modern disposable pop music, even though they have to move those circles now.

Do you feel any pressure working on the new Wolf Parade record based on the success of the first record?

Dan: Some days I do. I try hard when we’re writing stuff for this record, not to think about what anyone listening to it will think, but make a good record for us. I definitely don’t want to repeat the last record. If you’re a good band you know what songs people like. If you’re smart enough, there’s a formula to it, usually repeated, you just change the cords. I really don’t want to do that. None of my favorite bands have done that.

Do you feel that you’re on the verge of a Modest Mouse dilemma of writing a song that is too catchy for its own good?

Dan: I really don’t think so because there are two song writers. It balances it out.