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Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade)

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade)

Handsome Furs is a synth punk indie rock band founded in 2007 and based in Montreal, Quebec (Canada). The band comprises husband and wife duo Dan Boeckner (from Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry.

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Dan Boeckner (b. 1978) is a Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist. Previously a member of Atlas Strategic, Dan Boeckner also fronts Wolf Parade (also a Montreal Indie Rock band formed in 2003, currently on an indefinite hiatus as of May 31, 2011).

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We met Dan personally in Cluj-Napoca, before the Handsome Furs' last gig in 2011 at the Boiler Club. We met around noon for a cup of coffee at the Booha Bar.

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Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): We played Moscow recently.

RiCo from CZB: I've heard that to be quite a Western Capital.

Dan Boeckner & Alexei Perry (Handsome Furs): (in unison) We didn't find that to be very Western at all.

Alexei Perry: No one speaks a drop of English. All the signs are in cyrillic. We were studying the alphabet to be able to read basic signs.

Dan Boeckner: It's all in cyrillic. We learned to read the alphabet a couple of months before we started the trip because we thought that we might need it.

Alexei Perry: And we did.

Dan Boeckner: And we really did.

RiCo from CZB: I managed a band that I wanted to take to Bulgaria and the same thing happened to me when I got out of the train station in Sofia.

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): So you're half Greek.

RiCo: Less than that.

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): Does that make it easier for you to read cyrillic?

RiCo: My great-great-great grandfather was Greek. I never learned Greek. I learned the cyrillic alphabet when I was an adult, out of curiosity. The cyrillic alphabet is the same however in Greeece and Russia because it was the Greek Orthodox Church that brought the concept of the alphabet to this part of Europe, through the distribution of the first printed Bibles in their language. Romania was a Roman occupied territory and that's how we got the Latin alphabet.

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): I've seen gravestones here with cyrillic lettering on them...

RiCo: Because of the Greek Orthodox Church ... and this part of Romania being occupied by the Catholic Hungarians for a long time, it was the local way of keeping the faith and the separate national identity alive during that era. It was their way of saying... Fuck You.

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): But did the Eastern Orthodox Church impose the language of the Church on the people?

RiCo: The first Bibles that got here were written in the Greek cyrillic alphabet.

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RiCo from CZB: The name Boekner has a Dutch feeling to it.

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): It's pronounced bEckner. It's a German name. It used to be Böckner, spelled with the o with the umlaut on top of it and the immigration authority took the umlaut off and left the written sound (oe) and then the pronounciation became Boeckner.

CZB: So your grandfather was German ... do you speak German?

Dan Boeckner: I understand a little bit of German. My dad used to speak German to me when I was a kid for fun. My grandparents settled in a German rural community in Ontario, that was mainly German speaking, called Tavistock (close to Kitchener), surrounded by other towns like New Berlin and New Hamburg.

CZB: Before the Second World War?

Dan Boeckner: Yeah, right before the names got changed ... except, for some reason, New Hamburg is still New Hamburg.

CZB: Because they thought it was related to Hamburger (hahaha)?

Dan Boeckner: Probably (smiles ). I don't know what the name of Tavistock was before the war but as soon as North America started getting involved in the war, they changed all the old German names. There was quite a prejudice in that part of Canada ... Basically the Canadian-German community in Ontario was made up of Lutherans. They were pacifists who rejected the war on religious grounds. I mean they are like REAL Protestants ... the keep your head down, don't enjoy anything, don't put any salt on your food, get up at 5 a.m., work on the farm kind of people [Tavistock used to be called Inkerman ... 1850s – 1930s].

CZB: Like the Amish?

Dan Boeckner: Almost like Dutch Calvinists ... THAT'S very German Ontario.

CZB: I had no idea. How did you get to Vancouver (in British Columbia)?

Dan Boeckner: My father moved from Ontario to British Columbia in the mid to late 60s for a teaching degree. There was a real lack of High School teachers in Canada, especially in these remote communities where I grew up. So if you were a college student, you could take a two-year program that could qualify you as a high school teacher. You could get it in the same time you can get a Bachelor's Degree.

CZB: So they really needed teachers.

Dan Boeckner: They needed them really bad, so my dad ended up there and my mother's family was almost from the same part of Ontario – and she got the same job, independently, in a small town ... and then THERE'S ME.

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CZB: When did you first get a passion for the music?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): There was always music in my house. My mother was a professional ballet dancer for a long time and my dad was just a crazy hippie ... he loved the Beatles, he loved Leonard Cohen - so when I was young, music was just always around. I think I really got excited about the idea of making music myself. I got into Metal when I was about 12 or 13. Somebody gave me a cassette with Metallica's Master of Puppets on one side and Gwar ... they're dressed up in costumes; they're terrible ... but the Master of Puppets side I just wore out, so that's what got me into music. That was like the first thing that I listened to that my parents didn't like. It was something that was MINE.

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CZB: When did you begin playing the guitar?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): When I was 13 or 14. I started on bass. I got a ¾ size bass because I wanted to play bass in the school band. There was a spot for electric bass. I was in seventh grade, I was pretty young ... I started with bass but I really wanted to play guitar ... I had this thing where I was listening to Metal, I wanted to play in a Metal band but I just wasn't technically good enough to play Metal. The songs were just totally beyond my skill level and they probably still are... So I got all these books, like How To Play Master of Puppets ... there's so much virtuoso stuff that's really fast, you know? I was more interested in song writing but I don't think that I knew it yet. So then I discovered punk-rock music and I was like, OK, I can play it! (laughs)

That was pretty much it ... and Sonic Youth too ... Sonic Youth and Nirvana were like a huge influence on me.

Nirvana 'cause there was so much emotion in the songs and I could figure out the chord structure, because it's pretty basic.

Sonic Youth I got into just by de-tuning the guitar and open-tuning, so everything sounds good. You can just move your fingers up and down and it sounds good here, and it sounds good there and that really opened my mind for music... so I started a band that was pretty much a huge Hardcore meets Sonic Youth rip-off. That was my first band ever...

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CZB: Would this band be God Shaped Vacuum?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): No, it was before that. I was still a teen-ager. It was called Say Uncle.

CZB: Uncle.

Dan Boeckner: You know the phrase, like if ...

Alexei Perry: If it feels like you're being wrestled to the ground and you can't take it anymore, and you're a little kid, and the bully on top of you keeps saying Say Uncle the only way to get out of it is to say Uncle.

Dan Boeckner: I was in the band with my best friend, the only other kid in town that listened to punk-rock. We'd go into the forest, drop acid and talk about how great our band was going to be and we'd come up with conceptual ideas for songs and then we'd try to recreate this stuff...

CZB: Do you know where this friend of yours is now?

Dan Boeckner: He doesn't do music anymore but he lives in Vancouver. He's an outdoors man now and takes people on hunting trips through British Columbia.

CZB: What's his name?

Dan Boeckner: Christoff Hoffmeister, also a German. His father move from Germany after the war. He was West German and immigrated to Canada.

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CZB: What was it like moving from Vancouver in British Columbia to Montreal in French Quebec?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): I moved from Vancouver to Montreal in 2002. That was the year my mother died. I went back home to be with my dad and I had this band called Atlas Strategic, which was after God Shaped Vacuum and we had been touring a lot and we had met people from Sub Pop and they wanted to sign the band but our keyboard player had a mental breakdown and couldn't go on tour anymore. He became agoraphobic. He became afraid of everything.

It was like, if this band doesn't tour, then we can't play music anymore. It was the only way we were ever going to make any money, so I moved from Vancouver to Montreal and I've been there ever since.

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Then, I started Wolf Parade shortly after getting there; then I met Alexei at a telemarketing office ...

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CZB: The 2005 song Do They Know It's Halloween? was inspired by other benefit songs' misguided and Western-centric patronizing attitudes. How did you get involved in the project and do you know what projects UNICEF invested the sales profits in?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): That project was the brain child of this guy, Nick Diamonds Thorburn, who weirdly used to date Alexei sister ... so there's six degrees separation there – and he grew up about 250 km north of where I was, on the same island but I never knew him because he was younger ... but he had a band called The Unicorns and he came to me and said I'm doing this project with all these people, like Beck and Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and David Cross and he was like, I want you to sing part of it and I was just so excited to be involved in anything with people who were successful, so I went for it. He never really explained the sort of political background on this. When you emailed me the questions, it was the first time I found out about the logic behind that. I thought they were just doing a benefit for UNICEF. I guess I never Wikipediaed it before.

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Do They Know It's Halloween?



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CZB: Not everything there is true though.

Dan Boeckner: That is true (laughs) ... so I know that the proceeds went to UNICEF but I'm not sure what they spent the money on.

Alexei and me did a T-shirt benefit project for this project called Stupini Kids, which is supporting homeless kids basically. So we've been selling T-shirts and proceeds from that goes to the foundation that basically gives kids a place to sleep.

http://stupinikids.org/

... and we've also done stuff back in Vancouver, where there is an un-proportionately high population of amphetamine and heroine users. Vancouver has the highest concentration of these people in North America. It's crazy. When I was in Vancouver I had to work in this hotel called Hotel Portland. If you're a drug addict or a homeless person and you were too fucked up to stay at the Salvation Army, you ended up at our place, the Hotel Portland. We'd do a combination of baby sitting these people, drug counseling and generally making sure they didn't kill each other or themselves. Alexei and I have donated and done a couple of direct action benefits for them. First we did a tattoo benefit where we offered 40 dollar tattoos to people at a shop and the proceeds went straight to the Hotel Portland.

www.dtes.ca/cms/index.cfm?group_id

Dealing with the bigger foundations like UNICEF or the Red Cross, there is a lot of debate about whether the money for those places actually goes to the people that need it or whether they just exist to keep themselves going ... so the less people between me and where the money is going, the better I feel about it.

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CZB: OK. Here's the Wolf Parade question (laughs)... Why did Wolf Parade decide to take a break after less than a decade of music? Some sites consider the break taking place in November 2010; others in May 2011 ...which date would be the correct one ...and would the parallel projects be to blame for this?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): The parallel projects are not to blame for the break-up of Wolf Parade but I would say that we actually made the decision to break-up in May of 2010, when we were in Europe. Basically what happened is that the drummer (Arlen Thompson) and myself ... we both quit. We needed to dissolve the band. There were a lot of reasons behind it but the main one is that half the band kind of wanted to do one thing but the other half of the band didn't seem to really want to do anything so there have been a lot of missed opportunities and we've canceled a number of tours which I was personally very disappointed about ... we canceled a tour of Australia, we canceled the show in Moscow ... and the differences between what people wanted became so great and heavy that we wouldn't have been friends any longer if we didn't stop.

So we had had this big meeting and we were basically like look, we can keep doing it like this and everybody is just going to hate each other ... we've had some terrible fights in our band... there's been chair throwing, physical fights ... this was more of an ideological split in the band and Arlen and I were just basically like if we keep going the way we're going right now, the quality is going to drop and we're just not going to be friends any more and it's just not worth it to have that band ruin friendships that I've had for 10 – 15 years. I've known most of the guys since I was a teenager. We all grew up in British Columbia, we all came up in the same scene together. Spencer (Krug) and Dante (DeCaro) and Arlen are the closest thing I've had in my life to REAL family brothers, in a lot of ways.

I wanted to stop it while we were still getting ahead.

I thought the last record was good. I was really proud of it. We were playing good shows, the band sounded better live I think than we've ever sounded. Everybody was really playing well together, so I just thought this is great. We'll stop here because if we do it any more it's going to be a disaster.

Half the band was completely unhappy on the road, you know? Not me and the drummer but the rest were completely miserable. They just hated being on tour and I loved being on tour, so that was a big division. They just have different tolerance levels.

CZB: Lots of unexpected things happen on tour.

Dan Boeckner: They also come from the fact that everybody comes from different backgrounds. I would always bear in mind if I was on tour and getting tired or something terrible would happen, that it was always better than working at the telemarketing office, it's better than being a cook, it's better than spray painting fences with galvanized paint. It was better than being in college for me, so if I ever got down on tour I would remember that and then I wouldn't feel so down ... like, I'm in London or Budapest ...

CZB: or Cluj...

Dan Boeckner: Or Cluj, yeah, exactly. So that was that.

Then I'm not sure if the band will ever make music again together. I think it really depends on some of the other guys, whether they're willing to change ...

It's too bad.

In a way it's too bad and then in a way it's very very good because no one hates each other.

I know bands that have been together for years and then broken up and probably will never speak with each other again because there's too much shit. It becomes like a bad relationship, a marriage gone rotten, you know?

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Wolf Parade. Yulia



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CZB: Thanks for your time and patience.

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): It's great. I'm not good with writing back to email questions. If I answer as detailed as this, I always read my answers back and they seem worse, so this is better for me.

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CZB: Who had the idea for the Handsome Furs once you two met?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): We both wanted to work on a project. We were living together in this really small apartment in Vancouver ...So I'd actually moved in Vancouver to be with Alexei ... and we didn't know if we were going to do like a collaborative piece of writing or ... we just wanted to make something together ... and it was like, why not a band?

So, we just started a band together and we had no idea what we were doing.

We bought a drum machine. The first one we bought didn't really work for us. We bought another one, a different one... the one which we use all the time now. It's become our instrument.

Then we wrote a couple of songs and I called my booking agent in Sweden. It was like, can you book me a tour of Scandinavia and he was like, absolutely.

We didn't have a record out and we'd never played anywhere and he was like yeah, you might not make any money but you can at least pay for the flights.

So, it was very romantic. We got on the plane, we landed in Oslo (Norway), we got on stage, it was the first show we ever played and it seems like everything has just kind of gone from there.

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CZB: What kind of drum machine is this?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): It's a Korg Electribe MX and it is not very well liked in the electronic music community. It's kind of looked down upon. Basically, Korg made this machine to compete with the Roland Groovebox, which was a more professional sequencer that combined all of their previous drum machines, like the 808, the 909 ... so Korg came up with this idea that they would make this machine that was really not for live performances. It was for kids in the UK to make drum'n'bass in their homes, pretty close to the mid-nineties. It was never really meant for live performance and all the sounds on it are very specific to this era. In the successive years in them making the new models of the machine, they never updated any of the sounds. The great thing about it is you can go through it and de-program it completely. You can take the sounds and tear them apart and put them back together again – and the work flow is very simple, because it's made for amateur electronic musicians, which I think is why the electronic community looks down on it – but it's great.

www.vintagesynth.com/korg/emx1.php

CZB: You have your own thumbprint sound.

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): Yeah, I think we're one of the only bands that makes albums using this machine, so that kind of makes me happy.

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CZB: Do you consider Sound Kapital a concept album?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): I think it became an accidental concept album, where, while we were writing the songs, we basically made this kind of unconscious decision in 2010 that all the things we've been experiencing and all these notes we've been taking on tour, specifically in Asia and in the Balkans, that we were going to write about things that we saw and experienced. There wasn't going to be any fictional stuff on the record. It wasn't going to be a record where we sat down and imagined a scenario to write about. Everything was taken from either conversations we had with people or things we had seen or done and we wanted to make it very direct and because we were writing a lot of it on the road... previously I'd come up with chord structures and guitar and Alexei would come up with drums and bass independently and then we'd get together and try and make them fit together. A lot of the melodic structure on the first two records was based around guitar figures that I'd written or a bass figure that Alexei had written... and this time because we were writing on the road, there were places I couldn't take the guitar with me, so we started writing everything on keyboards and that really shaped the sound of the album – and then just from touring and the places we had gone to and what's been happening in the Western world in the last few years, since 2008, the record became really really political, the more we wrote and the more places we went to ... and the more political it became, the more excited we got writing the songs.

So, it just kind of snowballed into that.

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CZB: So that's why all the song titles give off a negative vibe (Damage and Serve the People - Cheap Music with No Feeling)?

Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs): Well, Damage and Cheap Music are complete opposites.

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Damage is the most negative song on the record. We wrote that song when we were in Manila (Philippines) and I don't know if you guys heard about this but last year in Manila a retired police officer took a bunch of hand grenades and an automatic weapon and got on to a bus full of tourists from Hong Kong to hijack it. He got on the bus, did that – and then at one point the bus was surrounded by the Philippine version of the SWAT team – and the police force in the Philippines is extremely corrupt, since it was an ex-Spanish colony. So, there you have everything that goes with the ex-Spanish colonial bureaucratic system. The systems of bribery and corruption is just completely entrenched in this country and the concert was totally disorganized. I mean, they were predatory a lot of times because they were not getting paid well. The SWAT team surrounded the bus, we were in a taxi and we got caught behind this police curtain where they weren't letting any traffic to get through. We were pretty close to the bus. We couldn't see it but we were listening to a radio report – and the police blundered the operation and a whole bunch of people on that bus died. SWAT broke in, opened fire, the guy opened fire. It was a disaster and a lot of tourists got killed.

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2010.AUG.24. Manila. Bus Hijacking



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We took recordings from radio agency reporters that we first heard talking about the event in a cab we were in while in Manila. That was the beginning of Damage basically. The idea of the song is that we are so comfortable back home in Montreal. In Manila, the general attitude to the event in a city of 20 million people was like, who cares? This reaction to the event made me feel so soft ... I felt like a soft American guy ... and this event in Manila is more of a reality for the rest of the World than it is for me as an American.

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Cheap Music is a positive song for me. It was written when we were playing in China ...and Bucharest and Belgrade are mentioned in the song as well. We've met bands who aren't making as much money as friends of mine playing in American bands. However, you're making more here with what you have at hand. A lot of times you have to be more creative and the work ethic over here is better than it is back home.


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Interview by RiCo for ClickZoomBytes

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Our sincere thanks going out to Edmond Lenarth from The Independent Music Resistance in Cluj, Dan Boekner and Handsome Furs for their support, patience and time.

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Handsome Furs

  • Alexei Perry (synth, drum machine)
  • Dan Boeckner (vocals, guitar, drum machine)

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Discography

  • Plague Park (2007)
  • Face Control (2010)
  • Sound Kapital (2011)

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http://handsomefurs.com/

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CZB Interview. Alexei Perry. Handsome Furs. NOV.2010

http://czb.ro/articol/162/

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Wolf Parade

www.facebook.com/pages/Wolf-Parade/108413899182721

www.subpop.com/artists/wolf_parade


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06.01.2012, 18:52PM, scris de thanks!
this is a really great interview!

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