Formed in: 2003, Montréal, Canada
Key Albums: Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005), At Mount Zoomer (2008), Expo 86 (2010)
Wolf Parade are an indie-rock outfit from Montréal signed to Sub Pop Records. The band are notable for having two distinctive songwriting voices: Spencer Krug (who also plays in Sunset Rubdown and Swan Lake) and Dan Boeckner (who also plays in Handsome Furs).
"We're not like a band with one principal songwriter," keyboardist Hadji Bakara told me in 2005, "where that principal songwriter has a creatively dictatorial reign in the band, so that their single aesthetic vision eventually ends up moulding the creative aesthetic of the band as a whole. And we realize that’s a little bit rare in the contemporary context."
That rarity, coupled with the obvious difference in the pair's songwriting, has often lead critics and fans to taking sides; something that has annoyed the songwriters themselves.
"For me the most depressing, the worst thing, that has happened with Wolf Parade is how the media pit me and Spencer against each other," Boeckner told Brooklyn Vegan. "Spencer's side against my side. My side is 'bone-headed, blue collar, roots thing' and Spencer's stuff is 'baroquely precise songs.' There are musical differences between us, but to pit us against each other? We're in the same band!"
BackgroundKrug and Boeckner first met in Victoria, British Columbia, in the early-'00s, when the two were in two bands: Frog Eyes and Atlas Strategic. Frog Eyes were formed by Krug, frontman Carey Mercer, and Mercer's wife, drummer Melanie Campbell, in the basement of the Victoria house they shared, in 2001. Krug played on their first LP, The Bloody Hand, then left. "I would've loved to've stayed in the band; I just needed to leave Victoria," he says.
Boeckner played in Atlas Strategic for four years, 'til 2002. The band made a fan of Modest Mouse honcho Isaac Brock, and reportedly had a Sub Pop deal on the table; only for Boeckner, in the wake of his mother's death, to go "completely nuts," move to Montréal, and never call his prospective label back.
Wolf Parade was born when Krug was offered a show by a just-formed Arcade Fire, under the misassumption that he had a band. With three weeks to make one, he contacted Boeckner. "I knew that Dan could play guitar and sing, so I sorta knew that he would say yes," Krug told Montreal Mirror.
After coming up with a set of songs backed by a drum-machine, they roped in drummer Arlen Thompson. "I just got a call out of the blue: 'do you want to play drums this weekend?'" Thompson recalled, in 2008. "I joined the day before the first show. I think we might've had two practices together before we played."
Though they "didn't know whether [they] were gonna be a band until after the show," the trio liked it enough that they kept at it, eventually roping in Bakara on electronics. In those early days, Krug, Boeckner, and Thompson all played in the Arcade Fire at various points; forging a close connection to a combo that would soon set the world music media's spotlight on Montréal.
"I don’t know if Wolf Parade would have taken off if Arcade Fire hadn’t paved the way," Krug confessed, to Pop Matters. "You can talk about Canadian bands but just say the word, it’s Arcade Fire, you know? They kind of blew it out. We were touring with them and I know that had a lot to do with Wolf Parade getting known."
After self-releasing two self-titled EPs in '03 and '04, Wolf Parade signed with Sub Pop. Recording sessions with Brock, they worked on material that would become their third self-titled EP, and their debut album, Apologies to the Queen Mary. With their release, Wolf Parade were met with much hype.
"We know that not only are we a hyped band, but we come from a hyped city," Bakara said, at the time. "It would be a huge mistake to take this kind of attention seriously in any way at all. We just see it for the fleeting, ephemeral, shallow recognition that it is. We accept it, and we’re thankful for it, but we know it's not something that means anything."
After a year of solid touring, Wolf Parade went on hiatus in 2006, going from heavily-hyped to completely-silent overnight. "Different people at different times wanted to do something that wasn't Wolf Parade," Thompson said. "But there wasn't any point, really, where we thought this was done. Whenever we play together, there's always sparks."
Wolf Parade's follow-up LP, At Mount Zoomer, was released in 2008. Debuting in the Top 50 of the Billboard charts, it definitively dismissed the notion of Wolf Parade as a mere product of hype.
Written in a converted church owned by their old pals Arcade Fire, the set was born from a series of jams. Often sprawling, the album was very much the work of a band playing in a room, lessening the split-songwriters feeling of Apologies to the Queen Mary.
"It's quite a bit different to the first one," Krug told me. "I think we've reached the point where we're not as self-conscious, not as pretentious. It feels like, now, we're just a rockband."
Wolf Parade's third album, Expo 86, was released in 2010. With the departure of Bakara and the full-time addition of Dante DeCaro as a full-time third guitarist, there was no surprises that Expo 86 was the band's most unashamedly rockin' record. "There's a lot more energy on it," Boeckner told Pitchfork. "There's a lot more uptempo stuff on it than there was in the last record. But it's really dense. All the songs and arrangements are really, really dense. And it sounds like a band playing live."