By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Mar 10, 2006 at 5:27 AM

The New Pornographers' frontman A.C. Newman has got the day off from music, and he's happy about it. With nine tour dates down and 20 more to go, Newman's got a day in New York, which the Vancouver native is currently calling home, to sleep in and catch up on some interviews.

As he begins his interview with OMC, he rephrases, "I should say, I've got the day off from touring, not music. Big difference."

The New Pornographers, like its tour mates Belle & Sebastian, has never before played a show in Milwaukee. "How did Madison get dates and you guys didn't for so long?" Newman wonders.

Good question. Nevertheless, Milwaukee's now got the band in its radar and is reeling it in for a Riverside Theater performance with Belle & Sebastian on March 11.

"The tour's been going really well," he says. "We hooked up with Belle & Sebastian in Toronto and it's really exciting -- we're all such big fans. The best part is that, over the course of the tour, we've been lucky enough to hear just about all our favorite songs. Like any band, they are leaning heavily on the new stuff, but last night they played "My Wandering Days Are Over," from "Tigermilk," and it was amazing.

In the presence of veterans like Belle & Sebastian, the members of The New Pornographers may find themselves as awe-struck as any concert-going fan, but the truth is that, over the course of five years, the six -- or seven, or eight, depending on which month it is -- of them have established themselves as quite worthy of sharing the stage.

The immediate success of 2005's "Twin Cinema" has recently garnered the band the much-deserved attention on a more mainstream level that it was already receiving by the spoonful under the radar since 2000.

Comprising Newman, John Collins, Kurt Dahle, Blaine Thurier, Todd Fancey, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, Kathryn Calder and Nora O'Connor, The New Pornographers have earned the label as a "supergroup." When asked about it, Newman is humble.

"It's kind of stupid. When we started everyone had been in different bands, but it was all on such a minor level. I guess it's just stuck with us over the years."

Still, the label seems appropriate. Newman fronted Vancouver's Zumpano in the early '90s as well as released '04's highly lauded solo album, "The Slow Wonder," Collins was in the Evaporators and Bejar comes bearing Destroyer fame. Then of course there's vocalist Case, who Newman says is "officially part of the band," but who has made a successful go as a solo singer/songwriter and was once in the band Maow.

In tune with what seems to be a growing trend for Canada-based bands (Think Broken Social Scene and the whole Toronto music collective thing), Newman says that the ever-changing number of members is, quite simply, just the nature of The New Pornographers.

"The lines of who's in our band are constantly being blurred -- it's the only way we can function as a band. We have to be flexible. Before 'Twin Cinema' we weren't flexible, and because of that, we only played two shows in 2004. We didn't tour because we thought we couldn't if everyone didn't come. Well, it turns out that we missed out on a lot of really good opportunities trying to restrict ourselves and limit the definition of what a band can be."

When they take the Riverside stage, it will be without the vocal support of Ms. Case -- although she has a solo performance scheduled for the Pabst on March 30.

In her absence, Calder -- who, by amazing coincidence, turns out to be Newman's long-lost niece -- sings her parts.

"At first it was trial by fire, but now it seems really natural. Neko has tricky shoes to fill, but Kathryn's got the pipes to back it up. She works well because doesn't seem like a Neko replacement. I really wanted to avoid that."

Although Newman is appreciating his day off from touring, he's not looking to take a hiatus any time soon. Basically, there is no plan B.

"There are so many musicians who complain about how draining the road is, but it's like, this is your job! I'd rather be doing this than anything else. I had the job of 'poor musician' for many years, but I don't have a backup career."

That's certainly good news for the music world.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”