When news of Ric Ocasek’s death broke earlier this month, the range of artists who grieved publicly—Beck, Ice T, Nile Rodgers—showed the wide influence the Cars achieved as one of the most popular new-wave bands ever. One of the sharpest and most apt tributes came from A. C. Newman of the Canadian indie-rock band the New Pornographers. “I don’t even need to listen to the first Cars album, just press play in my brain,” he tweeted. “It’s cued up.” Another thought: “The deep in the pocket minimalist groove combined with the maximalist wall of vocals, that is my favorite part of the Cars’ magic.”
The specificity of his appreciations wasn’t surprising. With their intricate but immediate rock that features bright keyboards and cliché-tweaking lyrics, the New Pornographers are one of the proudest descendants of the Cars working today. By phone, Newman selected some of his favorite songs from Ocasek’s catalog to dissect. His band’s eighth studio album, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights—which coincidentally features an automotive theme throughout, just as many Cars songs did—comes out Friday. This conversation has been edited.
“Good Times Roll” (1978)
A. C. Newman: When I was 10 years old, what I wanted for Christmas was the Cars’ album. Now, after Ric Ocasek’s passing, I realize [that] subconsciously, I’ve taken a lot from the Cars’ music. In “Good Times Roll,” that offbeat syncopated groove—almost an angular reggae—that’s a go-to of mine. In particular I think of “Jackie” from Mass Romantic. I was trying to figure out, what can we do in the second verse to kick it into another gear? And I wasn’t sure exactly when I was doing it, but I gave it that “Good Times Roll” groove. It’s so effective.