The Dally Show

A seat-of-the-pants approach has served Wolf Parade well

Nov 12, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I have an issue with procrastination. It governs my life. It perennially serves me with a perpetual cocktail of nervousness, anxiety and frustration for seemingly infinite periods of time. In most instances, I fret over the idea of performing a task far longer than the task would actually take to complete. For example, I have waited to change my car’s oil for so long — multiples of the recommended three thousand miles — that instead of flowing out like used 10W-30, the oil crept out in chunks like a greasy milkshake.

However, my aforementioned affinity for stalling and half-assed attempts at grand success don’t come close to rivaling the Canadian Indie Pop quintet Wolf Parade by any stretch of the imagination. The band was formed three weeks before their first performance when frontman Spencer Krug was offered a gig playing with fellow Canadian band The Arcade Fire.

Krug and guitarist Dan Boeckner soon began writing songs and working on arrangements. But they didn’t exactly have a working band at that point.

“I just a got a phone call,” says drummer Arlen Thompson of how he became a band member. “Spencer just asked me ‘Hey. You know, we need a drummer … we’ll meet a day before the show and rehearse.’ That’s pretty much how it worked.”

Wolf Parade’s modus operandi throughout the release of their EPs and LPs has served as an uncommonly acute model for their success. They basically conduct themselves as if they were lackluster graduate students cramming for a midterm.

“We’ve never really worked like many other bands I know. We get together kinda last minute, throw everything together and either go on tour or make a record,” Thompson says.

This haphazard method of band formation didn’t come without its share of idiosyncratic oddities, according to Thompson.

“The first little while we were all kinda feeling each other out in a lot of ways,” he says. “We didn’t have a jam space and we really didn’t have any real equipment for the first probably six months or so. If we wanted to jam we always had to borrow whatever we could or use like a pay-by-the-hour place … we never had a real jam spot.”

“Everything was always very quick,” Thompson adds. “There wasn’t a chance to second guess stuff. You really had to go with your instincts.”

And those instincts have proved to be successful, commercially, critically and sonically. Soon after the first show, they released their first EP, commonly referred to as “the 4 Song EP,” to great enthusiasm. It exudes more depth and musical acumen than many artists achieve during a several album span.

The EP starts out strongly with the track “Shine a Light” — a song that also appears on their debut album, Apologies to the Queen Mary — a lilted, straightforward and somewhat sugary track that exudes a certain degree of honesty while being slightly self-deferential, much like someone in their 20s.

The song begins with the lyrics “I keep my head up tight/ I know my plans at night/ I don’t sleep I don’t sleep I don’t sleep ‘til it’s light/ Some folks float some are buried alive.” Throughout the track, “buried alive” is often deftly supplanted by “barely alive,” juxtaposing the two extremes.

The “4 Song EP” closes as forcefully as it began with the track “Lousy Pictures,” an equally-as-sanguine-yet-disenfranchised depiction of youth culture (“I know there was a time/Before we were born/We stood in the trees/Heads filled with nothing”).

But unlike other bands that die out from pursuing similar paths of lethargy, Wolf Parade has succeeded where others have failed by, well, succeeding. Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop) was listed in the Canadian version of Time magazine’s list of Canada’s “Most Anticipated Albums of the Year” in 2006.

Their latest album, At Mount Zoomer — again on Sub Pop and named after Thompson’s recording studio and a not-so-subtle nod to B.C. slang for ’shrooms — is not only critically acclaimed (though derided for having one of the worst album titles ever), but also is testament to how they have evolved as a group.

“I think over the years we were really able to develop ourselves (musically). By the time we came into Mount Zoomer I think we’d all really stepped up our levels of musicianship and what we thought was interesting, music-wise, really progressed,” Thompson says.

In addition, At Mount Zoomer also exhibits how they thrive in collaborative jam sessions and how such sessions coalesce into often transcendent pieces of music.

According to Thompson, most songs are created on the fly during these sessions, and what works eventually morphs into a song.

“The frantic energy that you kind of need to have to put things together like that worked in everyone’s favor and just kind of became what the band was about,” he says.

WOLF PARADE plays the Southgate House Wednesday with Listening Party.