AC Newman is responsible for crafting some of the world's best power pop records over the last 14 years, including three wonderful solo albums and five towering albums with The New Pornographers. The band's latest, Brill Bruisers, is out this week; it finds them dialing back on the chamber pop melancholy of the previous two albums, a return to the effervescent zest of songs like "It's Only Divine Right" and "Star Bodies." As Tom Scharpling accurately put it, "Picture AC Newman reenacting the Drive soundtrack on an ABBA jag."

The band will play Hammerstein Ballroom on November 17th—you can get tickets here. They're also playing a special show at the actual Brill Building in midtown next Thursday—find out how to get tickets here.

We talked to Newman all about the new album (his favorite NP album), along with his love for polishing turds, the importance of dumbing down songs, and douchebag bicyclists in the East Village.

How is everything going preparing for the tour? Things are going great. We’ve played a couple of shows where we’ve been teasing out some new songs. We do four songs from the record and now we’re getting to the point where we have to start playing more. It’s cool, and I’m really excited to play all these songs. I feel like they all work. I feel like we could go through the record and play every song, which we haven’t been able to do since Mass Romantic.

Because even as early as Electric Version there were songs that were very much studio creations where we try to play them and just give up, “Oh, no way can we do this.” But now I go through this album and I’m like, “There’s no reason every song on this album can’t be a great live song.”

It's very exciting to hear how they're all going to come alive. Especially something like “Backstairs,” which has a lot of complex layers, and...is that a vocoder? Yeah, there's a vocoder there. The arpeggios are the arpeggiator, which definitely is all over the album. Yeah, there are a few songs where that’s very key. “Champions of Red Wine” and “Marching Orders” in particular.

Did you fall in love with the instrument, and then base songs around it? I did on “Backstairs” in that there’s a little synth part at the beginning of “Backstairs.”, a little leaping synth that goes, "do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do." That was basically the beginning of it, then I went off on a huge tangent from there and the rest of the song became “Backstairs.”

With “Dancehall Domine” it sounds like you wrote your “Don’t Bring Me Down”. It’s funny. I thought “Backstairs” was the “Don’t Bring Me Down” song because “Backstairs” has that same sort of lazy rock beat. That sort of hip-shaking rock beat. “Dancehall Domine” is definitely one of those songs where once we had the beat I thought, “yes.” The tricky part of that song was knowing that the song didn’t need that much. We just had to figure out what was essential to make that song feel great.

At this point in your career, do you still find that you are looking over your shoulder at your favorite bands? I think there’s no way for me to avoid writing with my own voice, I just don’t know how to do anything else. But, in terms of arrangements, I think I’m always influenced by whatever it is I like. Sometimes it’s a subtle influence, sometimes it’s just listening to a record and going, “Let’s be that good.” I’ll hear a National song I like and I know we’ll never sound like the National—and we shouldn’t sound like the National—but I’ll listen to it and think, “We should be that good.”

And I guess that’s a form of influence. Listening to music and feeling like, “These guys are awesome, let’s be more like them.” I can’t really think of any modern bands that we look to so much for anything stylistically. Maybe to a small degree Tame Impala because I really love Lonerism and I love the production on it and I love his songwriting, which is very classic songwriting.

Didn't he put that album together mostly by himself? Yeah, Dave Fridmann mixed it, I believe. It definitely has that work of a crazy loner genius. There are lots of modern bands that I think are awesome, like MGMT. But most of our influences are pretty old. Most of the time we’re looking to classic rock. I’m actually shocked: when I look back at our entire career and I try and think of the most major influences on us, I really think they are ELO, Wings, and Lindsey Buckingham.

“Champions of Red Wine,” made me feel like I was listening to an updated version of [Fleetwood Mac's] Mirage. Oh, really? That’s good. That’s a huge compliment.

I’m curious about the process of putting a New Pornographers record together, considering you guys live all over the continent, and have separate solo careers. At this point, do you primarily write the songs on your own (besides Dan Bejar's stuff), and bring them to the band one-by-one? Well, I write them on my own and then usually John and I will start demoing. Some songs will start with a click and we’ll think, “This is great. Let’s keep what we’ve done here and we’ll just add the band members. Let’s add the drums, let’s add the keyboards, let’s add the vocals.” Then some demos we just piece together the vibe and then we’ll go into the studio and knock it out, using our demo as a reference point. So there’s those two approaches to the songs.

But I also know, having been doing this for so long, that when I think a song is finished, I know it’s going to change when we go into the studio and start recording it, so I don’t get overly precious about even having songs finished. Like “Brill Bruisers”—it went in unfinished. I just had the melody and I knew how I wanted to play it, and when we started playing it I thought, “Oh yeah, this is going to be good. I’ve got to finish this one cause this going to be good.”

Now, when I listen to the song, it’s hard to believe I didn’t have all of that at the same time, because it seems really seamless to me now. But it's an ongoing process. And that’s what I like about making records, that freedom of just doing whatever you want. You’re working on something and something inspires you and you go on a left turn, you go on a tangent, or if you don’t like a lyric, well, I’ll change the lyric because I have the power to. If I don’t think it’s fast enough, we’ll play it faster. It can be maddening to other people and sometimes maddening for myself as well but, you know, you want it to be good so you do whatever it takes.

How do you feel your songwriting has evolved since the Zumpano days? I didn’t really know what I was doing in Zumpano. I picked up a guitar when I was 18 for the first time and I think I started Zumpano like four years later. And that wasn’t four years of intensive study, that was just me dicking around and playing with people. So I think I was starting from scratch with The New Pornographers, trying to write songs. And one of the things that was my weakness and my strength at the same time was out of the gate I wanted to write songs like Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach. And I didn’t know how to do it, but I was trying to do that. So there were years of learning.

I think the big breakthrough was realizing maybe I shouldn’t be trying to do that. That maybe I should dumb it down, or try to streamline it. I shouldn’t say “dumb it down,” but I always talk about dumbing it down. When we first started, whenever I played “Letter from an Occupant” to people, I was apologizing for how dumb it was. “I’m so sorry, this is the most boneheaded song. But I think it will be good, I just want to try it.” And through the years, no one’s ever accused that song of being dumb.

At the time, I thought—coming out of Zumpano where it was all about “let’s switch from 3/4 to 5/4,” all about these weird chord changes—doing something a little more straight-headed felt like me giving up. I’ve realized through the years how important arrangement is. There’s a ton of songs that are amazing and if you strip them down to play them, they’re only one or two chords. And what makes them classics is the arrangement. Like if you listen to “Loser” by Beck, there’s not much to it. In fact if you listen to a lot of “Beck” songs, there’s not much to them. But they’re brilliant because of the way he puts it together.

So that’s why, one thing I’ve learned through the years, is don’t worry. Just write the songs you want to write. And don’t worry about where they fit in pop music history. Just work on how you present them, because that’s a huge part of it. It’s all about the polishing turds, I’ve realized. You just have to learn how to be a really good turd polisher.

You sound like you've been a pretty harsh self-editor along the way. I think that’s an important thing. I love the term, “Kill your darlings.” I think that’s such good advice for something. When I think about things that have held me back on a song or album, it’s when you’re just attached to something. And then you realize, just get rid of it. On the song, “Champions of Red Wine,” when I first started writing it, it was built around this melody line which I immediately scrapped. Well, not immediately, but halfway through the process I thought, “Sure, this is what I wrote the song around but it’s outgrown its usefulness.” Now there’s an appegiator in here, now there’s a chopped up men’s choir, and I thought I was the lead singer but it turned out Neko’s harmony was better so that became the vocals. So “Kill your darlings.” Just do what works.

Do you ever write specifically with Neko [Case] or Kathryn [Calder] in mind? Not really. I don’t really know how to do that. I remember thinking “Marching Orders” would be a great Neko song. But the rest of it, I didn’t really have an idea. I’ve never really had an idea. I was just talking to someone about it, on the song “Electric Version,” I sing lead on it but that’s only because the day that Neko was supposed to sing lead on “Electric Version” the computer crashed, and then Neko had to leave, and that was all the time we had with her. So I thought, “Well I guess I’m the lead on ‘Electric Version.’” So that’s how I became the lead singer on that song: not because I wanted to be, but because Neko was gone.

And the two main songs she’s sings lead on this album, I think are two of the strongest Neko songs we’ve had.

In the press release, you call this a “celebration record.” Do you feel like the last couple albums have been weighted down in some way? Yeah, I think they definitely have. There have been deaths in the family, and the anticipation of a baby coming is a happy time but also a worrisome time, because having something that you value so much makes you worry at the same time. So it’s not necessarily celebration, but it’s feeling less weighed down, feeling a little more relaxed in life. Because there’s always shit happening, but things for the time being seem okay.

You have that great line on “Hostages” that goes, “You get what you want and you don’t know what to do” which I thought was a pretty nice summation of that feeling. Yeah, that was definitely about having a kid.

Are you satisfied with the new album? Are you happier with it than the last couple? I think it’s my favorite record we’ve ever done. I don’t know what that’s worth for other people listening to it, but I just feel like every song came out the way I wanted it to come out. Every step of the way I listen to it and think “Yeah, it sounds like it should sound.” If somebody doesn’t like it, I don’t know what to say. This is what I do, if you don’t like this, you don’t like me.

You've become a pretty avid tweeter. Do you love it, or do have more of a self-loathing relationship with it (like a lot of people)? Yeah, I think there’s a self-loathing thing. I don’t take it very seriously a lot of time. The person I am on Twitter is not quite me, it’s a slightly more obnoxious version of myself.

But I also love it for things like last night, when the whole Ferguson, Missouri thing was happening [Editor's Note: this interview took place August 14th], I just spent an hour retweeting the news. And I thought, that’s a good use of Twitter. When the news isn’t reporting something and it causes thousands of people on Twitter to go, “Hey, this is happening.” That’s the best use of it. I rarely use it for that, though. I mainly use it for stupid bullshit.

Well, a lot of amusing stupid bullshit, at least. Like your tweets about Big Star the other day.

Yeah, that was fun. The funny thing was, I wrote the tweet about how much I love female Big Star fans and how much I hated male Big Star fans, which was great because all the women loved it and all the guys were going, “Hey!” And I wanted to write, “You know you’re a loser, come on.”

Lastly, my coworkers want me to ask: do you really think that bicyclists are the biggest douchebags in New York?

Well, the ones around my apartment in the East Village are. But no, I'm sure there are bigger douchebags. The only reason I write that stuff is because I am legitimately angry at bicyclists nearly running over my baby stroller. That happens all the time. And I know not all bicyclists are assholes but god, a lot of them in the East Village are.