The Reader: I think most people consider you to be the de facto leader of the group but with John [Collins, bassist] not producing this record, did you see a dramatic shift in your role for this album?
Carl Newman: The big change was that I became tech-savvy enough to work by myself in the studio, instead of standing behind John saying “Yes, I like that!” or “Can I hear this guitar backwards?” The change in role involved a lot more solitude, but it was a lot of fun, playing with sound.
The Reader: I think there’s this great unhinged maximalism to this record. The opening track has this power-pop edge. Both “Colussus of Rhodes” and “Dreamlike and on the Rush” have these gorgeous string flourishes, and then there’s a gentle psychedelia to “Higher Beams” and “Opening Ceremony.” After releasing two records that were a bit more focused sonically, did you want to create something that was a bit more expansive?
Carl Newman: Yes, I definitely wanted it to be more expansive, and that’s why I was into the over-the-top string sections. I wanted it to be a more overblown take on our earlier style. Some of the songs feel like they could have been on Twin Cinema, if we’d gone in a more aggro direction.
The Reader: “Never book your farewell tour unless the reunion is in the books.” That seems like a fairly pointed commentary. Do you think it’s unfair that some bands are getting these massive offers to do reunion shows while you guys have been cranking out continuously great albums?
Carl Newman: I was talking more about the fact that we can’t quit. If we break up, I better plan the comeback immediately. I need the money. The bands that are getting massive offers to reunite are just simply more popular than us. People want them more. Not sure that breaking up would bring us closer to that level.
The Reader: Was the barb aimed at anyone in particular?
Carl Newman: No, but it does apply to a few different acts. The Who were the first band to stage a big farewell and then not stick with it. God bless them.
The Reader: You guys released Brill Bruisers, which was your most successful album from a commercial perspective and then followed that up with Whiteout Conditions, which I would describe as a quasi-krautrock. How would you position this record compared to those two?
Carl Newman: I consider this record a throwback to our first three records. Maybe it isn’t, but that was in my head when we were making it. I never know what record I’m making until it’s done.
The Reader: Part of Whiteout Conditions was influenced by the political landscape. Lyrically, it seems like that still permeates Brake Lights. Is it difficult writing about that without getting discouraged?
Carl Newman: I think I write to feel less discouraged. Writing can be a form of self-defense, trying to make something good out of the bad. Channeling it.
The Reader: This year, the band will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Mass Romantic, and I was wondering what you find to be different between the band that crafted that record and the band you are today?
Carl Newman: I feel like we’re the same band. I know we’re not, so much has changed, but we’re still friends. It’s still fun. It still feels like I’m winging it every step of the way.
The Reader: Where do you think the band sits in the pop landscape at this point?
Carl Newman: I have no idea.