Interview with The New Pornographers’ Blaine Thurier

I met Blaine in that surreal, Zuckerberg-facilitated fashion that so many of us experience these days.

I was doing my usual rounds on Facebook a few years ago, when I noticed a profile pic that perfectly parodied the latest New Pornographers’ album cover (see above, below). I shot the guy a quick email telling him how spot-on his parody looked only to get a reply that it wasn’t a spoof- the cover was indeed based on the photo.

Glancing at the name, I blushed. I’d just accidentally contacted Blaine Thurier- one of the members of my favorite band. This was a month before Second Skin (the movie I wrote/produced) hit SXSW, and I remember reading that Blaine’s film had won SXSW a few years back. A few festival-related emails back and forth followed, and our Facebook friendship was cemented.

After a recent extended Facebook conversation about The Singularity with Blaine, I thought it might be fun to ask him some other questions, some even pertaining to the just-released New Pornos album Together. Mr.Thurier graciously accepted, and here we are.

A little Wikipedian background for you: Blaine plays synthesizer with The New Pornographers, directs the band’s music videos and has released films of his own, including A Gun to the Head (trailer below).

You recently said, “Making a movie for me is, metaphorically, like doing cocaine and getting in street-fights. It’s adventurous as well as self-destructive.” Care to elaborate on that? What aspects are self-destructive and what’s the most adventurous part?

The most adventurous part is trying to be truthful and honest. Looking into your own heart and soul and then trying to show people what’s inside is a scary thing. It’s self-destructive because it can also be heart-breaking. Shooting nights for three weeks straight isn’t exactly good for the mental health either. Despite all that, it’s the most gratifying thing in the world. I should add that anything beyond the joy that the process brings is just gravy.

If making a movie is about doing blow and re-enacting Beat It, then how would you describe working on a NP album?

It’s like social networking. We’re rarely in the same room together, some recorded parts are sent via file sharing, ideas are shared over chat or email. Very impersonal stuff. I’m always amazed when it comes together. Rehearsing and touring is just the opposite though, it’s very intimate and personal.

What was it like working on Together, versus prior NP albums? Any good anecdotes from the recording process?

Nope, recording is slow and painful. As the lowly keyboardist though, I don’t have to be there all the time. Carl, John and Phil did most of the sitting for hours, days, weeks and months in various studios.

Where’d the idea for the Together music video come from and how’d you go about working with Vancouver dance troupe Hybrid Movement on it?

Carl’s idea. He just thought the riff sounded like a combo move. I put an ad on craigslist and found a choreographer. One of her dancers introduced me to the Hybrid Movement guys. The location was another huge part of that video. It was shot at a Japanese community center in a Vancouver suburb. Inside and out, it looks like 19th century Japan.

What was your favorite NP video to direct? Why?

I liked Your Hands because it had the most surprises. We had a very basic plan and left lots of room for stuff to just happen. The dancers and the Hybrid guys were great at coming up with amazing stuff on the spot. It’s the one video where I just let people bring what they had to bring. I like to gather people together and let them entertain me, then cut it into something that other people might like.

How do you split your time between movie making and NP?

It’s worked itself out so far. The first movie was made before the NP’s first album. I made the second and third movies in the wake of Carl’s solo records. I can only hope to find a window for another one. I try to keep writing though, even on the road.

If you had a $100 million budget, what kind of movie would you make?

See below.

If you could adapt any book, which one would you choose?

I’d like to do a mini-series of the entire Bible, complete with all the sex and violence. No punches pulled. It wouldn’t really be a Christian show as such, since it would portray incest and glorify genocide, just like the bible does. It would just show the raw story, as it is on the page with as little interpretation as possible. I’d like to shoot all four Gospels, as each one has its own tone and slant, but I’d also like to film the reconstructed version, the one scholars have been trying to piece together that tries to reveal the original story, stripping away all the stuff that was added later. I’d probably portray Paul as the guy that ruined everything.

There’s a great book on the subject called The Jesus Sayings by Rex Weyler about the early days of Christianity and how the original message was completely co-opted and bastardized. Max von Sydow was right in Hannah and her Sisters. “If Jesus were to come back today, he’d be throwing up all over the place.”

If you had to remake any movie, which one would you choose?

My friend Lynne Stopkewich suggested that we remake each others’ first films. I’d remake her necrophilia-based feature KISSED as a comedy. Two of my favourites are the original Heartbreak Kid and Bad News Bears. I haven’t seen their remakes because I’d like to continue to imagine that I would’ve done a better job.

I’d also like to find that movie with a great idea and lousy execution that nobody’s heard of and hasn’t been optioned already.

A book that everyone should read before they die?

Wow. That’s a tough question. I think all Christians should read the bible from beginning to end and try to reconcile it with their own lives. Will they give away everything they own and bar women from speaking in church?

I’m also in the middle of reading Saul Friedlander’s two volume work “Nazi Germany and the Jews”. It really makes you want to go out and be nicer to people. It’s heartbreaking but essential knowledge.

I make an annual summer mix of euphoric music. As you can imagine, NP appears on most of them. Any other tracks I should include on it?

I rediscovered my favourite album, Forever Changes by LOVE, when we were rehearsing for the tour in Woodstock. I’d just put the whole thing on there. My dirty, nerdy secret is that I listen to almost nothing but classical music. I love Bach and twentieth century music, Xenakis, Ligeti, Shostakovich, Messiaen etc etc etc. And Schubert. Even some Mozart.

You have a time machine that you can use once. Where do you go?

Just one? Oh man… I’d like to go hang with the historical Jesus, get the real lowdown.

Okay, I can’t do it. Picking one is just not fair. I want to take a stroll in Ancient Rome. I want to visit Vancouver each year since its first settlement and track the changes.

There are a few blown opportunities I’d like to take another shot at, completely sexual in nature. Yeah, if I just got one, it would be one of those, sadly.

You and I have been talking about the Singularity a lot lately. What’s your conception of the end of the world?

We’re either going to destroy ourselves by destroying our environment or undergo a transformation like the one Kurzweil is talking about, where we evolve into cyber-beings. I was raised on The Book of Revelations and some of that apocalyptic thinking is still stuck in my brain. I wonder if the world would be different if the Council of Nicae hadn’t narrowly voted to include that book in the canon.

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4 Responses

  1. Evelyn says:

    Great interview — I really got to know Thurier.

  2. Evelyn says:

    Great interview — I really got to know Thurier.

  3. Lex says:

    we should totally start a kickstarter for that movie- would *love* to see that version of the bible story.

  4. Lex says:

    we should totally start a kickstarter for that movie- would *love* to see that version of the bible story.

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