The Unicorns’ Alden Penner on the indie-rock band’s revival

The first decade of the millennium has been a banner one for indie-rock artists from Canada. Bands like Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara and the now-disbanded Broken Social Scene (and Scene’s family tree of artists like Metric, Stars and Feist) have become some of the biggest acts in America, routinely selling out smaller clubs and larger concert halls alike.

But one of the seminal groups from that decade didn’t stay together long enough to benefit from the northern invasion: The Unicorns released one of the era’s great albums, 2003’s “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?” then dissolved after a year of touring.

Alden Penner, Nick Thorburn and Jamie Thompson went on to other collaborations and work (the latter two comprised the backbone of Islands, another Canadian indie-pop band that found some success in the U.S.), but thanks to an invitation from Arcade Fire (who opened for the Unicorns during parts of that fateful yearlong tour), have reunited for a small run of shows, playing with the Grammy winners at shows in Los Angeles and Brooklyn. The band’s quirky humor (a faux audience Twitter feed at the L.A. shows featured gems like “Reunions are always terrible,” while the set’s video projections included a Flying Toasters screen saver) is still on display, and the music feels as relevant as it did a decade ago.

amNewYork caught up with Penner to talk about reforming and prophesies.


Eleven years later, when you listen to “Who Will Cut Our Hair ?” what do you hear?

My voice is a little higher back then. [laughs] It just feels like me. ? I don’t really feel like it’s dusting off anything. I don’t feel that much older. The youthful period of someone’s life kind of lasts well beyond what people ascribe to it in the music business. It’s not all about the 20s. It’s about being able to do that throughout their lifetime.

When an album that you create at the age of 20 is so loved, what is it like to revisit it and show it off to new potential fans?

It’s a different type of the same nervous emotion that comes from putting anything out there. When you’re going to play a show in front of 10 people, it causes a lot of anxiety and that’s normal. This is just on a different scale with different variables. Basically, it’s new insofar as it’s a bigger thing now, and Arcade Fire has become quite a phenomenon, but back then we were just friends having fun, going out and touring, and just being amazed that you can have a life like that.

The band’s final release was an EP called “2014.” Tell us this was planned all along.

It carries a sort of prophetic weight to it. Sometimes things become true by virtue of it being stated. It can be taken many different ways, but to me it’s significant enough to bring things together around that and create an anniversary.

IF YOU GO: The Unicorns open for Arcade Fire on Friday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Ave., Fort Greene, 917-618-6100, $30.50-$70.50.

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