Matson on Music
Interview: Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner explains "Yulia" from "Expo 86"
Posted by Andrew Matson
"Yulia" by Wolf Parade
Seattleites of a certain age remember Expo '86, Vancouver, BC's Worlds Fair. Canadian indie rock band Wolf Parade remembers it, too — the members were kids when it happened — and named its third album after the event.
I talked to Wolf Parade guitar/vocals man, co-songwriter and all-around rock hero Dan Boeckner about the best song on "Expo 86," "Yulia," which he wrote. It's a succinct, repetitive anthem that sounds like a million other rock/R&B songs but in a timeless way, and also sounds like nobody but Boeckner, highlighting his ruggedly distressed guitar style and bloodied/charging singing voice. He's made a handful of Wolf Parade songs like "Yulia," but perfected the "Boeckner banger" in 2009 on his electro-rock band Handsome Furs' criminally underrated "Face Control" album, which was written following time spent in Russia and organized around Russian themes. "Yulia" bears a strong songwriting resemblance to "Face Control" and takes a Russian documentary for inspiration.
New Wolf Parade album, new Arcade Fire on the way, Drake already dominating...this is it, right? The full-scale Canadian pop invasion on America?
Ha ha, yeah. The full-frontal. I guess it's kind of a Pincer move going on, because we got Justin Bieber, too.
My candidate for breakout Boeckner banger on "Expo 86" is "Yulia." Is there a plan to make it a single?
Because there's two songwriters, it's hard for us to pick individual songs to promote. We've been sending the whole record to college radio stations and seeing what songs they like. But Sub Pop did mention that. That was their pick for a song for promoting.
What do you mean in "Yulia" with the lyric "The radio sings a patriot song / it's the devil that you know"? Are you talking about government propaganda in mainstream pop music?
Actually that was government propaganda in late-1960s USSR. That song is one of the most topical-fiction songs that I've written. I watched this great documentary on the Soviet space program called "The Red Stuff," and they're interviewing this woman. I forget her actual name, but for the song I changed her name to Yulia. She's talking about how her husband was lost in this failed attempt to land a Soviet space capsule on the moon before the Americans. They overshot their orbit, and are presumably still floating in space. She was listening the radio broadcast, and then it cut out. I guess when mission control found out the capsule was a goner, they started playing patriotic music over the radio, and that was the moment she knew her husband was gone. Amazing documentary, totally worth watching. It's downloadable.
That song sounds a lot to me like a Handsome Furs song. Did you originally write it for that band and then repurpose it for Wolf Parade?
I wrote it for Wolf Parade. I write a lot of the Handsome Furs stuff on keyboards, and I wrote that song on keyboards. So maybe that's why it sounds like Handsome Furs. I got a little more comfortable after "Face Control" came out with whatever thing it is I do when I write songs.
You mean that particular form of song, with the repeater coda for the chorus and that classic R&B chord progression?
That 1-4-5. Yeah. Last year, I became really comfortable with that. I think I do my best work in that format, that language.
I think there's a strong case for a mixtape to be made, "Boeckner Bangers," that's just nothing but those types of songs you've written.
I like that idea! That would be really flattering.
Alright, but when I start giving it away for free online, you can't be mad.
OK. I'm down.
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