Boeckner: “I’d never thought to put out anything under my own name.” (6/13 at JB’s)

“I came from the late ‘90s hardcore scene, and the uncool-est thing you could do is release an album of songs under your own name.  Being a singer/songwriter was...

“I came from the late ‘90s hardcore scene, and the uncool-est thing you could do is release an album of songs under your own name.  Being a singer/songwriter was extremely uncool before the indie thing,” Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, Operators) tells me during a recent phone chat.  This March he released Boeckner! via Sub Pop (the home of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs), the first album as Boeckner, whose idea he says actually came from Sub Pop’s co-founder: “It really came out of conversation I had with Jonathan Poneman at Sub Pop…  I’ve been on the label for 20 years now, in one way or another, which is funny…  He was like, ‘You’ve never put out anything under your own name!’”  However, Dan admits that it’s not really such a huge change from his other projects: “Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Operators… it’s all me as like different personas [laughs].  And I’d never thought to put out anything under my own name.”

Dan tells me that he considers Boeckner (the project) to share certain similarities with the first Wolf Parade album: “That album was incredibly personal: moving from a small town to a big city, losing my mom… and the second Operators album was incredibly personal, but I always found myself using science-fiction metaphors to process my emotions…  For this record, I wanted to return to writing things personally.”  However, despite this newly personal approach, Boeckner! still boasts much of the sci-fi imagery Dan has come to be known for, notably on singles “Lose,” “Euphoria,” and “Dead Tourists.”

The origins of Boeckner! date back to Lift it Down, a highly conceptual “lost” album (released by Sacred Bones) from the fictional cult leader of Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic horror film Mandy, starring Nicolas Cage.  The project was the first time Dan found himself collaborating with producer Randall Dunn, who serves as Boeckner’s musical partner for his debut solo effort.  “I’m a big metal guy.  I love all of his work with Sunn O))) and Boris,” says Boeckner of the producer, who is best known for his work in the world of heavy music.

Along with him, Randall Dunn brought Matt Chamberlain (Fiona Apple, David Bowie, and Phantogram), with whom he worked on Zola Jesus’ 2022 LP, Arkhon.  The Boeckner! band was rounded out by Medicine’s Brad Laner (“I’m a longtime fan of Medicine,” says Dan, who apparently collected the shoegaze band’s import cassettes as a teen.), who was originally asked to contribute to a single song, but wound up as part of the band, playing throughout the whole LP.

This April Dan Boeckner took his album to the road for a round of West Coast dates, which he tells me went very well: “There wasn’t a single show that was a bummer.  We just played the entire album, and then said, ‘Hi,’ and then played some catalogue stuff [including songs by Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits].”  Although these dates featured the songs of Boeckner! in a slightly modified form.  “The sound Randall created was so heavy.  We layered tons and tons of keyboards on it,” says Dan, referencing the plethora of ‘90s analogue synths that he didn’t feel like lugging around on the road: “I’m not gonna take those on tour…  We’re just gonna play this as a rock band, so the live versions are a little rawer and more punk than the album.”

Although Boeckner’s live band isn’t exactly the same band that is on the album, they are a collection of seasoned musicians who Dan has worked with for some time now: Sam Brown (Operators, Divine Fits, New Bomb Turks) on drums, Alex Fischel (Spoon, Divine Fits) on keys, and Brad Laner on guitar, in addition to Ben Greenberg, who Dan characterizes as the band’s secret weapon.  The band are currently nearing the end of an East Coast-ish run with a date this Thursday, June 13th, at Johnny Brenda’s.

I joke with Dan that the last time I saw him at Fishtown’s “mini rock n’ roll ballroom” was in 2009, when he played there with Handsome Furs (his duo with then-wife Alexei Perry) in support of their sophomore LP, with more recent Wolf Parade performances taking place at the more-than-five-times-the-size Union Transfer.  “[Places like Johnny Brenda’s are] kind of my preferred place to play.  Even in places like Union Transfer, your movements need to be a little bigger to connect with people in the back.  But in a smaller club, your movements, the way the band is expressing themselves, can be a little more subtle,” says Dan.

And, as of recently, Dan’s been playing some really big places with a mega-act that he’s recently joined: “For the past two years, I’ve been touring with the Arcade Fire, playing to 20,000-seat arenas.  We played some shows recently in South America and – I did the math – there were 30-40 times more people in the audience than live in my hometown [laughs].”  “It’s nice to play all of the settings, but I always have to go back to clubs.  It’s the most direct.  There’s the least amount of artifice,” he tells me.

Boeckner’s final scheduled date for the moment is in London at the end of the month, but he tells me that that won’t be it for this band.  In fact, he says that his current touring lineup is going to be Boeckner’s official lineup moving forward, and he’s already working on new music for them: “I have about eight songs written, and I’ll probably scrap half of them, and then write six more, and then take two away [laughs]…  I’ll probably have something out by 2026.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.