In our Handsome Furs cover story this issue, Dan Boeckner talks about the song “Damage” off their new album, Sound Kapital, and its crazy heavy origins.
Also mentioned in that story was how the whole album was really inspired by their travels through Asia. On Sound Kapital, Handsome Furs almost becomes a musical journalism project. That’s been part of Boeckner and his partner Alexei Perry’s musical evolution.
“I don’t write about stuff that I don’t care about,” he says. “I don’t feel like an actor. Alexei and I don’t inhabit our sings with characters that aren’t real or amalgamations of other people. So we just kinda took that to its next logical extreme.”
A perfect example is the song “Serve the People.” It starts with what’s one of the quietest moments on the record. Boeckner sings, accompanied by piano: “Dogs in the capital howling at dawn. Someone’s driving by with the radio on. Someone’s making noise from the center of town. You kick ’em in the head and you kick ’em when they’re down. You don’t serve the people.”
Then, in comes the synths, programmed drums, and loud guitars that make up Handsome Furs musical palette on Sound Kapital, building to an epic peak.
Like Boeckner said, he isn’t talking about abstract stuff here. Specifically, “Serve the People” was inspired by their trip to Burma, where they had to be smuggled in to even play their show. Boeckner, who counts this as one of his personal best, felt he needed to speak to the situation without too much faffing about.
“We were writing about these kids we were friends with in Myanmar. We wrote four pages of lyrical and then we started stripping all the poetry from it, stuff that was our ego and stripped it back to the basic things. If we’re singing about something we actually care about, we want to make it as direct as possible.”
Fugazi was an inspiration for Handsome Furs in this way, especially the song “Public Witness.” (Boeckner, by the way, mentions Fugazi twice in the interview. I feel like he’s a fan.)
In “Public Witness,” “[i]t’s not a cloudy sort of metaphor for being sad again and again and again,” he says. “That’s my personal taste. There are great melancholy songs, but I’m kinda tired of that. I feel like that kind of songwriting has become as tied to this era in North America, this musical era in North America as writing about being a robot in the eighties.
“In the eighties, all the synth-pop bands were all, ‘I’m singing detached. I get in my car and I feel nothing,'” he says, dropping into a monotone Kraftwerk voice.
Handsome Furs play tomorrow, July 16 at the Exchange. You should really, really go.