On the Rise of Wolf Parade, Who Blew Up After Playing Phoenix

We're guessing Wolf Parade won't need a place to crash this time.
We're guessing Wolf Parade won't need a place to crash this time. Shane McCauley
Rock ’n’ roll is weird sometimes.

In late 2004 or early 2005, the acclaimed Canadian band Wolf Parade stayed at my house after a gig at Modified Arts. A band I was in at the time, Hillbilly Devilspeak, shared the stage with them, and the four relative unknowns who then comprised the band had no place to stay after a weeknight gig in a city they’d never been to before.

Of course, I had to offer them a couch or two and some floor space. We commiserated about the fact that no one had been there to witness the epic show we had just put on. At the very least, Wolf Parade was great and made an indelible impression, and we bonded over our shared appreciation of bands like Modest Mouse and Jesus Lizard, and talked into the early morning hours to the point where it was hard to get up for work the next day.

Singer and guitarist Dan Boeckner is a founding member of Wolf Parade and remembers the show at Modified well.

“I totally remember that. There was no one at that show,” Boeckner recalls. “It was before the album [Apologies to the Queen Mary] came out. It was the first time I had been to many of the places we went on that tour. I remember that show was super-fun. I think there was a lot of bong hits, too.”

Boeckner sounds a bit more like a Southern California native these days than a British Columbian, but this could be attributed to the time he spent living in California during the five-year hiatus Wolf Parade took from 2011 to 2016. During that stretch, he worked on other projects like Divine Fits, Operators (who played Crescent Ballroom in 2016), and Handsome Furs.

It seemed like there were about as many people at my house after that Modified performance as there were at the show. But for Wolf Parade, it was the calm before the storm.

When the band’s highly acclaimed debut record, Apologies to the Queen Mary, came out in 2005 on Sub Pop, the band went from being relatively unknown to indie rock darlings seemingly overnight, and all without a radio hit, or really, any radio play to speak of, especially here in Phoenix where they haven’t played (at least as Wolf Parade) in the past 14 years.

For the uninitiated, Apologies to the Queen Mary was as good of a debut record as almost any that Sub Pop’s released. Produced by Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, who had befriended Boeckner years earlier, Apologies is whirling dervish of a record that nods, occasionally (and strongly) toward the weirdo pop direction Modest Mouse would also continue to take. It also drips of an earnestness to explore new territory in a manner that’s both catchy and challenging.

Soon after that Phoenix gig, the band was selling out shows in venues holding 8,000 people in New York City. And from 2005 to 2011, Wolf Parade enjoyed the kind of career many bands aspire to have. The special nature of this type of career is not lost on Boeckner, who lists Brian Eno, Sparks, and Cluster as big influences on his writing.

“We’ve never had any radio play,” he says. “The records got more prog rock-influenced and weird, but [as far as] the live show, we kept selling more and more tickets. I feel like we became kind of a cult band. That felt good.”

In 2016, Boeckner and bandmates Spencer Krug, Arlen Thompson, and Dante Decaro (formerly of Hot Hot Heat) decided to end Wolf Parade’s hiatus, touring and working on new material. The band’s latest release, Cry Cry Cry, was released on Sub Pop in October 2017 and sounds as if the band never stopped playing together. Influenced by both John Cale and Leonard Cohen, Cry Cry Cry represents a sort of indie meets mid-1970s prog rock sound that delivers the goods for both new and old fans alike.

According to Boeckner, Wolf Parade plans to tour for much of 2018 and record a follow-up to Cry Cry Cry later this year. It definitely will be nice to welcome the group to Phoenix again, even if The Van Buren is a little larger venue than Modified Arts. I’m guessing this time they won’t need a place to stay.

Wolf Parade are scheduled to perform at The Van Buren on Wednesday, January 24. Tickets are $24 to $39 via The Van Buren's website.
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon