Pornography, but without the degradation

A name like the New Porngraphers conjures images of horrible avant-garde erotica that would blind even the dirtiest of dirty old men. In actuality, the Pornographers are a veteran independent band who play catchy–not unlike chlamydia–rock music. But that’s where the comparisons to sex end.

The Pornos have been together since 1997, winning a Juno for “Best Alternative Album” with 2000’s Mass Romantic. Lately they’ve been finding new international success, playing fully-clothed on the Conan O’Brien and David Letterman late night shows. They are promoting their latest album, 2005’s Twin Cinema, which peaked at number five on the Billboard independent album charts. The single “Use It” was featured on NBC’s nudity-free comedy, The Office. Despite this non-adult-film-related popularity, the band has yet to receive wide radio play, something that doesn’t bother drummer Kurt Dahle.

“I would never expect [the singles] to be on the radio,” says Dahle from New York. “It’s just not the kind of music they play on the radio. I’m just surprised with even the amount of attention we get as it is. [The radio]’s reserved for a different kind of rock. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t listen to the radio, so I don’t really care if I’m on it or not. People come to see us, people buy our record–I guess they like it.”

Dahle and the band were in New York as part of New Yorker magazine’s festival, “A Conversation With Music.” They’re set to then fly on to Ottawa to start their tour. This latest cross-Canada trip is part of the celebration for the 15th anniversary of the Pornos’ label, Mint Records.

“It’s different [with Mint],” says Dahle. “You get to make what record you want, you get to make what music you want and you hand it to them and they go, ‘Let’s sell this to people who want it.’ They don’t try to get it on the radio because it doesn’t fit on the radio. It’s the wrong shape.”

The Pornos are at a forked path in their career. With the completion of their third full-length, Twin Cinema, they finish their contract with Mint and could easily move on to a bigger label. Dahle hopes they stay with Mint, however.

“I don’t think we’ll move away,” says Dahle. “I hope not. I like Mint records. For Canada, it works. I like the underdog.”

If the Pornos do choose to move away from Mint, the wider distribution and potential radio play could mean more exposure–the goal of most major label acts. But after creating and playing in Limblifter with his brother, Dahle has had enough of the mainstream.

“I didn’t want to do it anymore,” admits Dahle. “I was really tired of touring across Canada and making Much Music videos. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I’m not very good at that game–I felt like an impostor. I quit and I just wanted to play on the weekends. That’s why I joined this band, and then this band took off and here I am again.”

Dahle left Limblifter in 2001, just around the same time the Pornos were getting off the ground. This time around, though, Dahle is having a lot more fun.

“This is the kind of music I’ve always wanted to play,” notes Dahle. “It’s the kind of music I’ve always listened to. With Limblifter, it felt like more of a job. If anyone ever asks me what are the most important things about being in a band, my advice is always tap your foot while you’re playing and don’t quit your day job until you have to. As soon as you do, [music] becomes a job, and it kind of sucks. People write their best records when they’re working at fucking Arby’s or whatever. As soon as it becomes a job, it’s never the same again.”

While Dahle doesn’t look down on radio rockers, he emphasizes that creating art to get famous is the wrong reason to do it. Dahle recognizes the dichotomy between the type of music the Pornos play and the usual radio pop is what makes indie rock special. It’s what compels him to keep creating the catchy beats all over Twin Cinema and every other New Pornographers record.

“Maybe that stuff they play on the radio and on Much Music, maybe that makes us enjoy the music we listen to even more because we know it’s special,” says Dahle. “Maybe if everything sounded like us or the Flaming Lips or the Beatles, then we would probably be just as angry. Maybe I shouldn’t complain. You need to have negativity to be any kind of artist. You need to be able to say, ‘That really sucks.’ Because that compels you to do something better. Or what we think is better, at least.”

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