Dan Boeckner is a man of 1,000 lives. In bands like Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits, he’s shown himself time and time again to be an unparalleled source of energy and passion. With a heart on fire, he’s lit 1,000 flames and found himself at home on a scorched earth. In turn, it’s no surprise that the debut EP from his latest band, Operators, ended with the mantra “Start Again.”
But with Radiant Dawn, the second full-length from Operators, Boeckner proves there is still ample uncharted terrain, and that those dark horizons are best explored in good company. Writing alongside mononymous electronic musician Devojka and accompanied by drummer Sam Brown, he’s ready to take listeners to new landscapes.
“Dan and I just poured so much energy into conceptualizing the record,” Devojka says, “collecting inspiration and feelings from all of this stuff that has been happening in the world … just like a musical, spiritual palate cleanser.”
“After the first round of [first LP] Blue Wave touring, we spent a lot of time on ambiance and absorbing,” Boeckner says. “Things kind of just exploded in 2018. The songwriting process was, for me, very cathartic.”
Catharsis, for Boeckner and Devojka, takes the form of a sci-fi epic. Radiant Dawn opens with a shell-shocked narrator, freshly unstuck in time, “staring down the void from the bottom of a glass in a floodlit parking lot.” If visions of bug-eyed Nicholas Cage in Panos Cosmatos’ 2018 film Mandy come to mind, you’re not far off — Boeckner contributed lyrics to a song in the film. Over the course of 42 minutes, a colorful cast of characters intersect in a common dimension, all questioning how to cope with their own menial existence.
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“Each song is kind of a vignette and has a different vantage point and narrator,” Devojka says. “Dan is good at giving a global voice and contextualizing the strife of the day to day. I’m much more navel-gazey … I think how this record is really different than Blue Wave is this one has more personal narrative.”
“The one theme that runs through this record is the Lovecraftian theme of cosmic horror,” Boeckner says. “It’s human emotion in the face of these systems and things beyond our control. When we were making this record, I was really obsessed with hyper objects, these things that are so massive we can’t measure them. We only know about them when they affect us really negatively or when they break. We have a choice to either approach with curiosity or approach with revulsion and fear.”
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For Devojka, the struggle between these approaches is tangible. In the face of dark times, it is easier to justify disengagement. But her desire to live beyond present circumstance is felt deeply on the record.
“I struggle with depression, and Blue Wave was named after me affectionately calling my depression a blue wave,” Devojka says. “Dan likes to call me a nihilist ... The idea that we’ve hyper-normalized and sanctified our existence is a marvel of biology and the desire to endure. Radiant Dawn touches on that, but it’s also a tender record. Because we do have humanity. You’re in it, so you might as well be in it. I contend with that every day.”
Beyond the vast new terrain of the record, Operators will also be exploring new territory live, both in arrangement and repertoire.
“I’m really excited that I’m mostly just singing,” Boeckner laughs. “Dev is taking most of the live musical aspect. Sam is obviously playing drums, and then Brad, our visuals guy, is a new addition to the team. We’re also going to be playing some Handsome Furs stuff, which we only previously did at the New York and Toronto shows.”