Operators Personal Politics
Published Apr 21, 2016Operators were one of the biggest new buzz bands of two years ago, and if you really wanted to understand what all the hype was about, you had to see them live. The newest project from Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Divine Fits) made headlines for their sweaty, woozy dance parties. After a dozen-plus recordings done in Montreal, a series of EPs that began with EP1 in 2014 quickly came to a halt.
Following a lengthy tour supporting Future Islands, the band decided to scrap it all and start anew. "I was in a completely different psychological state," Boeckner explains, "and needed to write new songs."
The band holed up in a Southern Ontario barn with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh behind the boards. The producer of albums by Alvvays, Young Rival and Lights, they specifically sought Walsh out for his work on Viet Cong's self-titled 2015 record. "I think that's one of the best-sounding contemporary guitar-bass-drums records," Boeckner says.
"As we kept performing, it became more and more 'in the red,' over the top, noisier, less controlled," he continues. "And that all kinda fed into itself when we were writing these new songs and recording them and getting the sound with Graham. I felt like the lyrical content, the way the songs were structured and the way I wanted to present them live, it was necessary to push everything as far as we could push it, sonically. And Graham was the right guy to do that."
Blue Wave, the band's debut LP, combines grit and new wave in creating a series of sleek synth-rock tracks. Alongside Divine Fits drummer Sam Brown and synth commander Devojka, Boeckner continues the political ethos of Handsome Furs, with a wider sonic palette.
Boeckner's Handsome Furs material was inspired by trips to locations including China and Russia, but Blue Wave exists in a world of its own. "I kinda wanted to set all the Operators songs in a little universe they live in, where it's like 15 minutes into the future, or a year into the future — a little bit dystopian," says Boeckner. "Right off the bat, the first song, 'Rome,' is just about the apocalyptic end of capitalism that I think all of us who are alive right now are gonna live through."
While most of the album obscures real world politics with referential smoke and mirrors, Boeckner's personal life and feelings are ever-present, albeit buried beneath the surface. "I dealt with kind of a specific massive wave of depression during some of this writing," he reveals. Blue Wave takes its name from a metaphor Boeckner created for "an undiagnosed psychological symptom that I think almost everyone has, which is this sort of ambient disconnected feeling from the way human communication is done. It's like my brain is mourning the inevitable uselessness of my body — the impending obsolescence of the flesh."
Yet, the record's biggest asset is its underlying sense of humanity. With analog synths and a human drummer, any errors only make the album sound warmer and more real, which is most noticeable on stage. Operators have always been a live band, and even now, post-record release, Boeckner's most excited about taking the songs on the road. "When you perform live, you have to cherry-pick the melodic figures, or the rhythmic figures that really connect with people, and then amplify those live.
"You have to find the core elements of the song and then sorta push them and strip away everything else, so that's fun. That's something you can throw yourself into and it's not intellectual. I think the recording side of it is more of an intellectual process, and the live performance is just caveman, lizard-brain, pure emotion."