“I’m an optimist,” Wolf Parade singer/keyboardist Spencer Krug tells Vancouver Weekly by phone from the back of a van heading from Portland to San Francisco. “I like to think there’s always a bit of hope. There’s like a light at the end of the tunnel in our songs.”
The Canadian rockers, who include singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner and drummer Arlen Thompson, are on tour in support of their fifth LP, Thin Mind, released last month via Royal Mountain Records in Canada and Sub Pop in the U.S. It marks the trio’s first release since multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro amicably left the band last February.
Krug stresses his positive outlook because it’s easy to read doom and gloom into Thin Mind: its title refers to the way content overload and endless, mindless scrolling have diminished attention spans. The songs imagine an apocalyptic future where widespread misinformation – much of it intended to incense and divide populaces along political lines – increasing dependence on technology, and industrial and real estate development have ravaged civilization and the planet.
Like sailors on a sinking ship, characters all over Thin Mind look to escape. But on songs like “Out of Control,” escape seems like a hopeless dream; they don’t know where they’re going to go or how they’re going to get there.
Ecological decay takes its most destructive form on “Forest Green.” The Forest Green is a fictional place, but it’s essentially a stand-in for Vancouver Island, where Boeckner grew up and where Thompson and Krug live.
“Dan’s song ‘Forest Green’ is about him grappling with his own issues about the Island, his own past, but also the political shittiness that’s on the Island, as well, in terms of class division and demographics problems.”
Vancouver Island is also a hotbed for rampant real estate development and over-logging. Similar forces transform the Forest Green into a wasteland. Ultimately, the Forest Green gets wiped out by waves.
Asked whether the “weird, pervasive darkness” or rejuvenating spiritual vibes of the Island’s amazing nature Thompson spoke of in a press release filtered into Thin Mind, Krug replies, “I don’t know how it couldn’t bleed its way into the creative process when we’re all there. We wrote and recorded over the winter, and winter on Vancouver Island is really – well, you’re in Vancouver, right? You know what it’s like. So yeah, we have the darkness and the clouds, and everything stays wet and falling apart for months at a time.”
Still, though, Krug offers more optimistic takes on both “Out of Control” and “Forest Green.”
“The speaker there has reached a place of contentment with their decision to live in a place where they lost the race,” he says of “Out of Control.”
As for the latter, he agrees that waves overtaking the Forest Green could be interpreted as nature reclaiming itself. Furthermore, he points to the field recordings Boeckner took of birds chirping.
“Maybe that’s a nod, an homage, to the beauty that does exist in the place even though it can get quite dark.”
As optimistic as these interpretations are, to Krug, the music might be where the band puts most of their positivity.
“Outside of lyrics, Wolf Parade has always had a bombastic energy that comes out of it, for lack of a better word. There’s an almost happy quality to a lot of our progressions and the tone of the songs. It’s not nauseatingly twee or overtly optimistic or happy, but there’s a high energy that must come from some place of appreciation.”
True to his description, Thin Mind is exuberant, filled with hooks, and percolating with 80’s and 90’s synth parts. Teaming up once again with producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Unwound, Bikini Kill), the band hunkered down at Risqué Disque, a stone barn-turned-studio on Vancouver Island. For the first time, Wolf Parade wrote and recorded the album in one stretch. It is poetic to think this novel approach was an exercise in focus, but, Krug clarifies, it was out of necessity, given that the members no longer all live in the same place, as they had years ago in Montreal.
The most playful song on the album, at least lyrically, is “Julia Take Your Man Home.” It’s a tongue-cheek imagining of Krug’s worst self, someone who gets too drunk, carves dicks into wooden bar tops, and yammers about his enemies, cocaine, and, for some reason, New Jersey.
“The album is made up of a series of different songs that were written one at a time,” Krug says of “Julia Take Your Man Home” “They were not all written with these themes of ecological decay or technology or anything in mind. Those were the themes that we realized were overarching the whole album once we took a step back and looked at the thing we had created.”
Regardless of the amount of intention behind Thin Mind, and despite outliers like “Julia Take Your Man Home,” the album’s themes are cohesive enough to render a vivid world that’s easy to step into. Doing so doesn’t require much imagination, either: after all, with Thin Mind, Wolf Parade are holding up a smudged, cracked mirror to the world.