How Dan Boeckner Became Indie Rock's Most Impressive Balancing Act

The Wolf Parade frontman talks Divine Fits, reunion tours, and his newest album, 'Blue Wave.'

Written by Live Nation Staff • March 29, 2016

Dan Boeckner has no problem multitasking. During his triumphant run with Wolf Parade back in the mid-00s, he also played in Handsome Furs; when Wolf Parade called it quits in 2011, he started Divine Fits; eventually, Handsome Furs dissolved too, so he formed Operators. The recent news of a Wolf Parade reunion was greeted with surprise by fans, but given Boeckner's track record, it also made perfect sense.

"I don't see a point in taking time off," he tells me over coffee in New York's Lower East Side. "I never got to take time off when I worked at a shitty pharmaceutical company, and I hated that job. I love this job."

When he first encountered success with Wolf Parade in 2004, Boeckner's throaty growl and mangled guitar injected some heft into an often mushy and insulated indie rock scene—he came up in a hardcore band, and frequently plays with that same full-tilt sensibility. With Handsome Furs he took cues from the likes of Bowie and Bono, crafting dance floor-ready pop songs with easily identifiable hooks.

Operators, whose first album Blue Wave arrives this Friday, spring from the same well, a mix of distorted riffs and earnestness that moves at a driving pace. The group, made up of Boeckner, multi-instrumentalist Devojka, and drummer Sam Brown, debuted with EP 1 back in 2014. "That was Operators 1.0," Boeckner jokes. "The beta version. The current version doesn't haven't any bugs and it's faster." The band builds from bits and pieces of its frontman's past: Devojka opened a number of shows for Handsome Furs, and Brown played in Divine Fits. Even Blue Wave's producer Graham Walsh has a Boeckner connection; his band Holy Fuck opened Wolf Parade's 2007 tour.

While Handsome Furs relied solely on urgent but rigid drum machine beats, Operators are a more even combination of man and machine. "I'll program a full beat," Boeckner explains. "Sam will figure out the stuff that he feels is integral. Then it's Devojka and Sam's job to take out certain elements and then add new stuff in. It gives a lot more freedom. We can stretch out arrangements, we can change the tempo."

Boeckner says he discovered electronic music as a teen in British Columbia. "Growing up, I did a lot of acid and I listened to a lot of Aphex Twin and the Orb," he laughs. "I like the composition aspects of it, the way that you take one tiny little element and remove it or add it and it completely changes the feel. It's like experimental music, but it's immediately gratifying because it's beat-driven." He says that "Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage," a 2012 track from the English producer Blawan, was an important reference point for Blue Wave. Blawan's tune is nasty and breathless, with a relentless kick drum and a garbled sample that sounds disturbingly like a scream.

Another big influence on the sound is Walsh, whose other production credits include albums by Alvvays, Metz, and Viet Cong. The last Viet Cong record in particular stood out to Boeckner because of it's modern sound. For the Blue Wave track "Control," Boeckner says Walsh pushed him as close to disco as he's ever gotten—the song has brass-like flits and a peppiness unlike anything his other projects have ever done. But Blue Wave isn't a total departure; it's not hard to imagine songs like "Rome" or "Cold Light" on a Wolf Parade record.

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But at this point Boeckner has had plenty of practice keeping his projects separate. "There was a song that I thought for a while was an Operators song, but it ended up being a Wolf Parade song," he explains. "The trick is to pull the trigger when you know, instead of rehearsing song a with one band and then having it pop up on a another record."

As for Wolf Parade, Boeckner says the band is currently working on new material. "The hiatus was pretty amicable," he recalls. "The idea was to stop playing music before it got really bad." This year's reintegration, he tells me, started naturalistically. "Everybody's got a specific language with the other people [in the band], and just jamming on a riff is probably the best way to reestablish that. Then you bring songs in."

The next few months will be relentless for Boeckner. After a month-long Operators tour, he heads back to British Columbia to rehearse with Wolf Parade for the band's five-night residency at New York City's Bowery Ballroom in May. "After that I'll go home and write," he continues. "Then I'll go to Europe with Wolf Parade, come back and do more Operators touring."

But all that hasn't stopped him from planning for the future. Boeckner tells me that Divine Fits will likely make another album, and that he already knows what's in store for Operators next record: "It's going to be way more old-school sampled based, with hand-recorded, grimy samples." Even with everything on his plate at the moment, indie rock's consummate juggler is thinking two steps ahead—because, in his words, "Why not?"

Operators 2016 Tour Dates:
03-29 Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry
03-30 Omaha, NE - Reverb Lounge
04-01 Denver, CO - Lost Lake Lounge
04-03 Spokane, WA - The Bartlett
04-04 Seattle, WA - Sunset Tavern
04-05 Vancouver, British Columbia - Fortune Sound Club
04-06 Portland, OR - Doug Fir Lounge
04-08 San Francisco, CA - Social Hall SF
04-09 Los Angeles, CA - Bootleg Theatre
04-10 San Diego, CA - Soda Bar
04-11 Phoenix, AZ - Valley Bar
04-13 Austin, TX - The Sidewinder
04-14 Dallas, TX - Three Links
04-15 Houston, TX - The Raven Tower
04-16 New Orleans, LA - Gasa Gasa
04-17 Atlanta, GA - The Earl
04-19 Washington, DC - DC9
04-21 Brooklyn, NY - Baby's All Right
04-22 Philadelphia, PA - Boot & Saddle
04-23 Cambridge, MA - Middle East Upstairs