An Interview with Dan Boeckner: From cooking for a living to endless tour life

operators band photo
Photo by Shervin Lainez / Interview Feature by Ziv Biton

Dan Boeckner has had a prolific career to say the least. In the last 14 years he has released 13 albums from five different bands. His work with Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs and Divine Fits has taken him all over the festival circuit twice over. When we get in touch over the phone he is just packing up for his tour with his new band Operators.

Having just come off a strong tour opening for 2014 rock opera epics Future Islands, it seems like Dan Boeckner never stops moving. When I ask him about his relentless output he tells me, “I remember playing a show at the Wiltern in 2010 with Wolf Parade, great show. Left the venue, drove to LAX flew to Hong Kong and started a month long tour with the Furs. That, to me, is my ideal life.” Before I can ask why Dan answers, “Because what else am I going to do?! Go on tour for six months and sit on my ass? I’ve seen the alternative, you get a job in a kitchen, or at an office. None of those things are even nearly as satisfying as being on the road.”

During our conversation we spoke about living on the road, keeping friendships through band break ups, and saving money on therapy by performing songs.

Operators band photos
Operators at Fonda Theatre — Photo by Ceethreedom

GG: You have been on the road for the better part of 14 years touring in different bands. What is your idea of home? Do you have a home?

DB: I do have a home, but I’m getting ready to leave it to go on tour. I’ve been in California for the last three years and I love it here. My idea of home is just a space where I have my equipment, my books and a kitchen to cook in, because I love cooking.

GG: Do you?

DB: Yea, I used to do it for a living before Wolf Parade. I was in a punk band called Atlas Strategic, which I financed by working in a kitchen. So, when I’m off the road I like reading, cooking and working on music. That is home for me.

GG: I can’t imagine you get a lot of time to cook while you are on tour though?

DB: Yea, it’s pretty much impossible. You are subjected to the food options of wherever you are. Like, this last tour we did a lot of crisscrossing the country so driving through Nebraska and like, Idaho you know. And, when you are stuck in a van and you have a 25-minute window to eat dinner you know where you’re going to eat, right? You’re going to eat at fucking Subway. You’re going to walk into Subway and tell yourself you’re making a better decision than eating at Burger King. The bar gets pretty low.

I always get excited when I hit the coast because if we’re going to New York there is just so much cheap, plentiful good food everywhere. And California has unbeatable Mexican food. But yea, a whole lot of Subway.

GG: [Laughs] It seems like Subway has that niche market like, ‘it’s better than Burger King!’

DB: [Laughs] Yea, what a shitty way to bring in customers! Like, you’re in the middle of nowhere and this stuff won’t kill you as fast as McDonalds. You are going to feel slightly less sick after you finish your Tuna Melt.

GG: But, you don’t try to get some of the local food when you are on tour? Like, if you’re in the South and you can get that Southern Comfort kind of food.

DB: Oh, absolutely! I do that all the time. But, a lot of the time on tour you are driving through this like, unseen America. Like, Baker City Oregon. No one is blogging about Baker City Oregon. You know, a huge chunk of the country lives in these towns. And they don’t have ‘regional’ food. They have a Target, a PetSmart; the usual suspects, a Green Burrito inside a Carl’s Jr.

Operators band photos
Operators at Fonda Theatre — Photo by Ceethreedom

GG: It seems with every new project you start you are channeling your current musical tastes, considering the dance-ability of Operators are you more into electronic music right now?

DB: Yea, definitely. But, I have been listening to electronic music since I was a kid; I’m 36 now. I remember in high school one summer I bought Selected Ambient Works 2, that great Aphex Twin record.

GG: A classic.

DB: Stone cold classic. That was THE psychedelic record for me. That was the trip-out record for me, living in a little town dropping acid on weekends. That was the soundtrack.

But the same year, or a couple years, later Guided By Voices came out with Alien Lanes and that’s always been a constant in my life. Underground music and electronic stuff.

GG: Have you felt like you are constantly trying to find the sweet spot between those two mediums? Aphex Twin and Guided By Voices.

DB: [Laughs] Yea! I guess I do actually!

GG: It seems that with all of your bands you never let them get too big before starting another band, and another band. Is that intentional?

DB: Wolf Parade was probably the closest to playing Stadium shows. But, Wolf Parade was never going to play stadiums. The songs were too long for radio play. We got a lot of college radio play, but not so much on the FM.

But, when we toured New York we did 7,000 tickets and sold out Terminal 5 two nights in a row. It was good!

But, none of those bands stopped functioning because we were afraid of getting too successful. With Wolf Parade, we just needed a break. Everybody needed a couple years off from the band. It’s nice because now when I go up to meet those guys in British Columbia we are friends. If we had kept going with that band it would have been stressful on our relationship.

With Handsome Furs the band was contingent on Alexi and me being a couple. When we split up the band ended. And I’m kind of happy with how it stopped. I’m glad that Sound Kapital was our last record. We were playing bigger places than we ever had and we had a nice slow growth from when we started in 2007. It was three or four years of expanding the fan base. We never did anything that I’m embarrassed of.

Operators band photos
Operators at Fonda Theatre — Photo by Ceethreedom

GG: You have mentioned that with Divine Fits you made a break-up record. Now, with Operators’ EP1 you have songs like “True” about having a true love, there is a song called “Book of Love,” and on “Cruel” you sing about finding “The house of love.” Are you believing in love again?

DB: I am. I totally am. I think what happened with Divine Fits was I wrote the darkest personal material I had ever written. It was a total 180 from Sound Kapital. That Handsome Furs record was very topical you know, talking about China; very political. Like, an angry political record.

When things collapsed with the Furs that [collapse] was all I had to write about, so I wrote about it. It was a taxing process, writing some of those songs. But, this amazing thing happened when [Divine Fits] started touring and started playing shows it was such a catharsis to perform those songs on stage.

That’s one of the great benefits of this job. If you are honest with yourself than you never have to pay for therapy.

The Operators play The Echo on Thursday, Oct. 9th. Get tickets here.


Operators with Future Islands at Fonda Theatre

PHOTOS & REVIEW: Divine Fits at the Fonda Theatre

PHOTOS & REVIEW: Diving Fits at the Hotel Cafe

One thought on “An Interview with Dan Boeckner: From cooking for a living to endless tour life

  1. Pingback: Operators showcase new material at The Echo inciting total movement across the dance floor | Grimy Goods

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