Vocalist and guitarist Kathryn Calder discusses songwriting and solo projects
When Kathryn Calder joined The New Pornographers nearly a decade ago, the band’s second album, Electric Version, had recently broken into the U.S. Billboard top 200. Only 23 at the time and nearly a decade younger than most of her band mates, they took to calling her “the kid.” Since then, she has not only outgrown the nickname, but gone on to contribute vocals and keyboards to four New Pornographer albums, all of which broke the top 50 in the U.S., and released two solo albums.
When Calder was asked to join The New Pornographers by Carl Newman, her uncle and a vocalist and guitarist in the band, she felt as though she had “been plucked out and put in the band,” a group she admits having been a fan of. Calder confessed that some of the early formative elements of the band, like where the name came from, are lost in time. “People like to say that the name came from a televangelist who said that ‘music is the new pornography,’ but other people say it’s because of a movie called The Pornographers—I don’t know.” Wherever it came from, Calder likes it. “It stands out,” she said, “it even offends some people.”
With seven full members as well as a touring member, many of whom also have ongoing side projects, the band is larger and busier than most acts. It is not exactly a chore to get everyone together, however: “It’s annoying in the way that it’s annoying to get eight people to decide on what restaurant to go to,” Calder said. Being part of such a large band also has its advantages. “There’s so many of us that there’s a good safety blanket,” she said, “I don’t really feel nerves purely due to the fact I’m surrounded by seven other people.”
There have been many memorable moments with The New Pornographers for Calder, but a few stand out: “We were in Mexico City around ‘07 doing this huge show and the fans were so excited,” she said. What really stood out for Calder in Mexico City was that, “outside the show, these people were selling all this fake merch with hijacked images; it was a really funny moment,” she said. Calder made sure to buy some of the counterfeits as souvenirs.
Before joining the band, Calder was a member of the now defunct Immaculate Machine. “I was in a group called The Reactions in high school, grade 12,” Calder said, “ but Immaculate Machine was the first band where we went on tour, and had fans, and people would come out to see us.” One of the biggest differences between Calder’s former group and The New Pornographers is that in the Immaculate Machine, “we all wrote the songs together, in the same room,” she said. “In The New Pornographers [Newman] and [Dan Bejar] do the writing.” Calder’s role in the creation of the group’s music is geared more towards arranging her keyboard parts. “I come up with ideas and then [Newman and Bejar] sort of decide what’s cool,” she said. “It’s a messy process and I never really know what they’ll keep.”
Being largely absent from the songwriting process is, in part, the reason Calder decided to start her solo project. “I started writing my solo album partly for my mother, who was dying at the time. I wanted to do it for her and I wanted to know what my own music sounded like,” she said. “I had spent all this time making music in a group and I didn’t even know what my own music was.” Whatever the project, Calder feels a link to all the music she helps create: “I feel connected with both [projects]. In The New Pornographers, I like to find my space within the larger picture,” she said, “they fulfill different artistic roles for me.”
Calder only recently started thinking of her future in music. “When I joined the band I had no idea. I never thought that far in advance,” the 32-year-old said. “You never really know. An opportunity would come-up and I would just take it without thinking ‘oh, this will be good for my career.’ I still don’t really know, but we just keep going,” she said. “I know I’ll always be making music, but it was only in like the last five years or so that I started thinking long term.”
The New Pornographers play Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre on Feb. 4 with Operators.