The Current

Great Music Lives Here ®
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now

The New Pornographers perform songs from 'Continue as a Guest' at The Current

The New Pornographers – studio session at The Current (music + interview) The Current
  Play Now [25:56]

by Jill Riley

May 24, 2023

A band since 1997, the New Pornographers continue to evolve with their latest album, Continue as a Guest. The band visited The Current to play songs from the record, their ninth full-length release, and their first on Merge Records.

Watch and listen to the complete session above, and read a transcript below.

Musicians playing instruments and singing in a recording studio
A.C. Newman (vocals, guitar) and Kathryn Calder (keyboards, vocals) of The New Pornographers performing in The Current studio on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Interview Transcript

Jill Riley: Hey, I'm Jill Riley from The Current, and it's another in-studio performance. And not only do you get to check out performance videos, exclusive content from The Current, you get to also get to know the artists that you hear on The Current and get caught up with what's going on in their world. So the New Pornographers in town to play the Fitzgerald Theater right across the street from Minnesota Public Radio, and I'm sitting down with one of the members right now. A.C. Newman, how are you?

A.C. Newman: Good, how are you?

Jill Riley: I am good. So new record, the New Pornographers, Continue as a Guest, which when I read that title, it kind of made me laugh, because it landed at the right time, because 20 years ago, "I would have been like, what does that mean, to continue as a guest?" And I think it's because during the pandemic, I started buying too many things. But I didn't want to commit to, like, starting an account, because like, I'm never coming back here, or why would I ever shop here again? So yeah, that just Continue as a Guest made me go, "Oh, I've had that experience." So like the experience, certainly, of the pandemic informed a lot of this record. Did you want to kind of talk about where you started with the album? 

A.C. Newman: Yeah, I mean, we, yeah, basically, when everything shut down, I think I was, I was lucky in that we finished our tour and which was good. And we just finished our touring like two days before. And then I thought, "Well, I've got my home studio here." Like I wanted to take time off. It felt like, if I'm going to be stuck at home, I felt like I was lucky, and that I can still do what I do. I can still tinker away. And I think I just used making music as a kind of therapy. Like I didn't care if I was finishing anything. I would just go and work on music because it, you know, it's doing creative things. Like anything, it doesn't have to be creative, just keeping yourself busy, you know, is good for the mind. So yeah, I started a lot of, I started a lot of music that I'm still trying to finish! I mean, this, this record was just kind of like an album's worth that I just sliced off. I thought, "OK, maybe go into these 30 or 40 songs you started writing and like finish an album's worth." Yeah, it was it was it was very, it was very helpful. And I felt very lucky. Because I realized a lot of people, like, they put their whole worth into their job. It does come back to like, I think the idea of the record was like, it was about just wanting, feeling outside, feeling outside because you're purposely isolated, but also feeling, thinking about how much you want to be part of society, how much you want to be in it. And I think anybody who makes music, not anybody, but I think I always felt like an outsider. And I think outsiders look for different communities, whether in like art or music, or... 

Jill Riley: Well, there's a community anywhere for anyone. 

A.C. Newman: Yeah.

Jill Riley: You just have to seek it out. Yeah.

A.C. Newman: So I think you get older and you try and join proper society. You know, you get you get married and you have kids and you have to, you have to join; you have to take part in this giant machine. And yeah, I started asking myself, like, how much do I really want to be a part of this? Like, how much do I like being here by myself and being separate? Separate from and also seeing how ugly, like, society has become, thinking like, maybe it's important to not be a part of this. Maybe, maybe it's important to point out, I'm not a member, I'm just, you know, I'm just gonna continue as a guest.

Jill Riley: Yeah. 

A.C. Newman: Yeah, don't send me emails.

The New Pornographers - Continue as a guest
'Continue as a Guest,' the new album from The New Pornographers, released on March 31, 2023, via Merge Records — their first for the label.
Merge Records

Jill Riley: I'm with AC Newman of the New Pornographers talking about the just the beginnings, the beginnings of Continue as a Guest. When was it time to bring in other members of the band, or to gather some other ideas?

A.C. Newman: It was pretty, pretty kind of steady from the beginning. Like, I'm sure they're, I'm sure they're like, there are probably guitar parts on this to Todd Fancey doesn't remember playing, because he recorded it like two and a half years ago. And he doesn't, he doesn't remember sending them to me. But I think I always wanted to get people's input. And, you know, a lot of it was, like, taking everybody's ideas, they would send it to me, and just like, trying to figure out how to fit them together. So I always, I always want to, I think that's important, just getting, you know, everybody throwing a lot of ideas around, like, as much as I can be controlling about music, I think it it's, it's not, I'm not controlling in that creative phase. Like, that's, that's where I want, everybody's, you know? And I'm not the person who's gonna say like, "My ideas are the best." I'm hoping for other ideas that aren't mine, because they're outside of me, and I tend to like them better.

But we were, yesterday, we had a day off, we just went into a local studio here. And for a day, and it was it was, it was fun to kind of be a band like that. It was just me and John and Joe and Kathryn, just to like, just mess around with songs. You know, it reminds me like, yeah, we're totally a band, no matter how much we do long distance. Even if we're doing things like and just sending tracks to each other, or we're in the room together. Like, there's still a very similar dynamic, you know? We're just trying to be creative, and see what sticks and see what sounds cool and just have a lot, you know, have a lot to work with. You know, it's never like, "Don't worry about it, just do it." Like, even if you're not sure about your idea, just do it anyways, because if we don't like it, we won't use it. But maybe that's going to be the best thing on the record.

Jill Riley: What's the harm in trying it?

A.C. Newman: Yeah.

Jill Riley: Now, the band that you've guys have been together, kind of in one shape or form for a couple of decades now. Now, when it comes to the New Pornographers, as a band, has your idea of what the band is changed or evolved over the years? Because it would seem you know, at the beginning, it was kind of like, I don't know if there's a difference, but a band, a collective, or people getting together to try something as a band? How has that kind of evolved over the years?

A.C. Newman: You know, I think I feel like it's evolved. But these days, it feels closer to what it was at the beginning. And that, at the beginning, I didn't really, when I had this idea, like, I wanted to make a record and it was fun to get my talented friends involved, you know? And I knew Neko, and you know, Neko, had only put out like one record. She'd only put her first one, and I thought, well, she's a cool, she's a great singer, I want to get her. And I'd seen, I knew Dan Bejar from around town and thought, you know, he was a rare, he was a rare songwriter. And I thought I want him to write some songs in it as well, and you know, and yeah, I just found people I liked and thought, let's make this record. Didn't know it was going to become a real thing. And I mean, I think at the time I thought of it as a kind of computer program, almost; I thought, let's just take these songs and put it through this program that's all of these people and see what comes out the other side. And then I like I wanted it to be kind of faceless.

The New Pornographers perform at Rock the Garden 2008
The New Pornographers performing at Rock the Garden 2008.
MPR file photo

But then, you know, my mistake was that I asked too many charismatic people to be in the band, and then all of a sudden we put out this record, and we weren't faceless anymore. All of a sudden people, people knew the various members, and people called us a super group. And and then and then, you know, there are, like, growing pains; there are growing pains as things start going good. You realize like, "OK, we have to figure out how to do this, we have to figure out how to be a business." Like, "We're making lots of money now, we got to figure out who's gonna handle this money, we can't throw it all in our backpack," you know, and go to next show and come home with a bunch of money, you know, cash, and just hand it out to each other. Like, we had to have a business. And so that, I think, and yeah, when they when it, when it becomes this thing that everybody does for a living, like it changes, and it's great to be doing well, but then it causes stress, it can cause stress within the band. So I feel like we've, years and years and years have gone, we've gone through and now we're coming out the other side, and it feels very much like, like it like it used to be, like I just, I, like, I write songs. But now it's different. I'm not... I don't have three roommates in my place that I rent for $300 a month. Now I do it in my little home studio at my house in Woodstock. But in terms of like writing or working on songs, it feels very much the same. And like I was saying, yesterday, we were in the studio, and we were just like throwing around ideas. And that's what we did on Mass Romantic except we did it in somebody's basement. But it was that same thing, like just, just go in front of the microphone and do some crazy stuff and see what happens. Yeah, and so, and even though like yeah, some members have gone and some new people have like showed up, it feels it feels very much the same. I mean, for me, it it... Yeah, it just feels the same. It's just trying to, trying to be creative.

A man sings and plays guitar in a recording studio
The New Pornographers performing in The Current studio on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Jill Riley: Well, you mentioned Dan Bejar's name, because from what I could see here with the first song that we started playing from the record on The Current, "Really Really Light," I noticed there was a writing credit from him.

A.C. Newman: Yeah.

Jill Riley: And so like, is it, did he have input? Or did you kind of find yourself combing through and maybe cleaning out the studio a little bit when you were spending time in there? Did you work on all new ideas or where you're pulling some old ones into it?

A.C. Newman: Oh, I'm always, I feel like I'm always kind of like, going through old ideas. Not like that, because that was, that was a song we recorded, it was with Pornographers, but it just never released.

Jill Riley: OK.

A.C. Newman: And it was, it was essentially done, but I guess Dan wasn't happy with it. And, and so yeah, it was just sitting on a few hard drives through the years, and one day, I just thought, "I like this chorus. I'm gonna take it." And I called him up and I said, "I'm thinking I'm just gonna, is it OK if I basically dismantle your song and just use the chorus?" And he said, "Sure. Do that." And that was all the input he had on it. I remember when I told the idea to John, John wasn't sure about it. He said, like, "You're gonna cannibalize that song?" It's like, "Well, that song is still there. Like, we can we can put out that, we can still put it out. I'm just interpolating it." Like I'm not, I'm not tearing it apart so it can never be put back together again.

Jill Riley: Save it for the deluxe version.  Yeah.  But that riff on that song. It's just it's so big that doo doo doo doo doo doo doo!

A.C. Newman: Yeah.

Jill Riley: Was that part of the original idea?

A.C. Newman: No, no, no, no.

Jill Riley: Yeah. OK.

A.C. Newman: No, the the Bejar part is the "we sit around and talk about the weather, hot just like a feather, Really, really light" that was, that was the the Bejar, that was the chorus from the other song. I thought, "That's good." Yeah, except I think, I think that line only happens once in the original song. But I'm a person who goes, "That's a cool chorus. Let's do it a few times."

Destroyer perform in The Current studio
Daniel Bejar performing in The Current studio in February 2020.
Helen Teague | MPR

Jill Riley: Yeah. A.C. Newman with me here on The Current, the New Pornographers, Continue as a Guest. So all right, new record, you know, you've had enough ideas, people came together, time to record the record. Part of the story of this new record was signing a new deal with a label. And why was Merge Records the one? I mean, what what attracted you about that? I guess I would, as an outsider, and I'm not a musician, but it kind of seems like a musician's... like when musicians run a label and they do it well, that that maybe was an attractive thing for you. 

A.C. Newman: It definitely worked. Well, I mean, Dan Bejar has been on the label for 20 years. So I've known like, like Mac [McCaughan] and Laura [Ballance] and Christina [Rentz] from the label I've like known for a long time. And when we were in between deals, we did talk to them; like, we almost signed with them in 2016. But it didn't, it didn't work out. But on this one, when we found ourselves free agents, and I remember saying to our manager, like, "I want it to be Merge; like, If they want it, we'll go with them. Like, I don't want to send it to different people. It's like if Merge wants it, let's, let's go with them." And they were into it. And you know, I just really liked them. And I like that they're huge fans, you know; like hanging out with Mac, like, you know, he's still a musician, you know, like he, he hasn't, he didn't drop music, you know, because he's got this massive label.

Jill Riley: He'll like, put on a tie, like, no more Superchunk; only three-piece suit or whatever.

A.C. Newman: Yeah, like, he's still he still he still wants to make records, he still wants to make Superchunk records and Mac McCaughan records and Portastatic records. And I think I really identify with that. I know, they put out so much cool music, like, through the years like, and, and they're also a, their approach is very artist friendly. I think they're, I like kind of how pragmatic they are. Like they've had huge bands, but they also have small bands. And then, and I don't think it matters to them. That it's like, "If we like you, it doesn't matter to us that you only sell 2,000 records." We'll keep, we'll keep, we're not gonna give you $100,000 to make your record because that's just not logical. But you know, you know, I think they've got a reputation for being a label that says if we like you, you know, we're, we're gonna put out your records. And there's another part of it, like, I like that they're, you know, they have bands like Redd Kross and Teenage Fanclub that are like, kind of bands from like, another era, but they're still going and I thought, OK, it's nice there's a place, there's a place we can...

Jill Riley: There's a place for us someday.

A.C. Newman: Like, like Merge is not necessarily just looking for the new thing. They've presented the world with the cool new thing many times, but they're also cool with like, putting out just bands they like that have been around for 30 years. And I appreciate that. You know, it comes back to them just being really into music. So yeah, I'm hoping, I'm hoping they don't drop us.

Jill Riley: All right, well, hey, we'll see how this year goes. The New Pornographers, Continue as a Guest. So today, I mean, you performed the title track, and a song called "Firework in the Falling Snow," which, just reading that title has such like, I can see it, and I can hear it, like, it's like, I can hear that sst! And that's, like, kind of feels like the explanation for the song. But maybe that's a little more interpretation, but for you, like, what inspired that song?

A.C. Newman: Yes. Um, well, that one, I had, you know, I had kind of the melody and the kind of the structure together, but I couldn't figure it out. And I sent it to Sadie Dupuis from Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, who I still haven't met yet. But I said, "Hey, do you want to help? Can you help me with this? I just don't know what what to do with it." And she was pretty quick. She, a few days later, she sent it back to me. And, and in my style, I kind of cut the song up again. You know, like, I cut half the music out, but then she came up with that, in her lyrics, was like, "a firework in the falling snow." And I thought that's good. You know, I like, underlined it. And I thought, "OK, that's good." It felt like, that's the center. That's, that's the center of the song. That's what the song is called. And then, and then so I kind of went through her lyrics, and just kind of rewrote some of them. And it came out the other side.

Jill Riley: So if you haven't met Sadie before, how did you connect? Like, why was she the person to go to for like, "Hey, can you take a look at this?"

A.C. Newman: Well, you know, I knew she was a good writer.

Jill Riley: OK.

A.C. Newman: Well, she was a good... she's a poet. She's a, she writes good lyrics. She was smart. I followed her on Twitter and thought she was cool. Yeah, I just wrote to her and said, "Hey, do you want to, do you want to try this?" Yeah, and then, yeah, it worked.

A woman in a dress lies prone on the floor near a vase of flowers
Sadie Dupuis has been celebrated for her literary lyrics, accomplished guitar playing, and embodied ethos of empowerment, whether with rock band Speedy Ortiz or the pop-oriented solo project Sad13, which debuted in 2016 with Lizzo co-feature “Basement Queens.”
Natalie Piserchio

Jill Riley: So there are good things that can come out of social media. 

A.C. Newman: Yes!

Jill Riley: Yes.

A.C. Newman: Yes. Not, not, not many.

Jill Riley: But there are just a few left.

A.C. Newman: I mean, I think, I think the great, I think the key with social media is not to, like, take in too much of the random garbage that's thrown at you. If you can, if you can just put your, you know, if you can have one arm up to like, hold all that away, and then just try and engage with the people you like. You know, I guess that's what the block function is for.

Jill Riley: Yeah. A.C. Newman, the New Pornographers, Continue as a Guest is the new record. Thank you for coming by today. It's been a lot of fun to sit and chat.

A.C. Newman: Oh yeah, nice talking to you. It was fun to, it was fun to play these songs. I feel like we're... this was, this was the first time Adam had come in and done one of these acoustic sessions with us. So it's fun to like, come up with, like, new kind of stripped-down arrangements and think, "Oh, this is cool. I like this."

Jill Riley: Yeah. And it's, and when you do kind of more of a stripped-down arrangement and you know, even just a couple of people from the band, it's kind of amazing how that saxophone sound almost changes. That it's almost like a little more highlighted, because you're gonna hear more of it. Because, you know, it's not part of such a bigger, you know, ensemble, if you will. But it is cool, like, hearing so much of the saxophone with it.

A.C. Newman: Yeah, it was cool.

A man plays saxophone in a recording studio
Adam Schatz playing sax with The New Pornographers in The Current studio on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Jill Riley: And with the new record, I mean, when did you get to a certain point where you were like, "We need saxophone, and we need it now."

A.C. Newman: No, it was just, um, Zach. My friend Zach [Djanikian], was, when I was making the record, I wanted another person there, because I felt like it was... There was nobody there like to mix. Like I wanted, there was Pete Hanlon, who engineered and mixed a lot of it, but I wanted another musician there. And I knew Zach and I trusted him and, and he played everything. So I thought, I wanted somebody who was like, in case I needed somebody to, to knock out a guitar part or a bass part, it's like, they could do it. And he was, I knew he was a really good saxophone player. So I was like, let's put you to work as the saxophone. And I think it, you know, and it plants, it plants a seed in my head, like, "OK, I've got a really amazing saxophone player here. Let's, let's use it."

Jill Riley: Yeah, try it. And if it doesn't work, it's OK.

A.C. Newman: Yeah.

Jill Riley: But clearly it did work.

A.C. Newman: Yeah.

Jill Riley: So I like that. I like that philosophy: Just try it, and if it doesn't work, you can do something else.

A.C. Newman: Yeah.

Jill Riley: So that's the, I think that's our takeaway.

A.C. Newman: That's what I'm forever telling anybody when they're not sure about it. It's like if I don't like it, we won't use it.

Jill Riley: We just won't use it, and we won't tell anyone.

A.C. Newman: But if it rules, we will use it.

Jill Riley: Exactly. A.C. Newman, thank you. Good luck with the rest of the tour.

A.C. Newman: Thank you. Nice talking to you.

Jill Riley: I'm Jill Riley, and you are listening to The Current.

Two people having a conversation in a recording studio
A.C. Newman of The New Pornographers talking with host Jill Riley in The Current studio on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Video Segments

00:00:00 Continue as a Guest
00:04:36 Firework in the Falling Snow
00:07:27 Last and Beautiful
00:11:35 Interview with host Jill Riley

All songs from the New Pornographers’ 2023 album, Continue as a Guest, available on Merge Records.


A.C. Newman – vocals, guitar
Kathryn Calder – keyboard, vocals
Adam Schatz – saxophone, keyboard
Joe Seiders – drums, vocals


Guests – The New Pornographers
Host – Jill Riley
Producer – Derrick Stevens
Video Director – Evan Clark
Camera Operators – Guillermo Bonilla, Peter Ecklund
Audio – Evan Clark
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

The New Pornographers – official site