INTERVIEW

Celebrate Good Times. And Bad. And Volatile.

japandroids

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES. AND BAD. AND VOLATILE

A bottle of Maker’s Mark is nestled by David Prowse’s drum kit as he hammers the skins and Brian King threatens to choke on the microphone every time he throws himself forward. A few feet away, kids and grown men old enough to know better are hurtling, slamming and caterwauling to Japandroid’s spirited sound. On stage, David and Brian look exhausted, two wrecks finding strength in the moment, the crowd, and each other, powering through on a mix of whiskey, adrenalin and conviction.

This was 2009 and one of the last shows on Japandroids’ whirlwind ‘Post Nothing’ tour. It, and they, came out of nowhere, the internet buzz around their debut album reaching pandemic levels and driving two intense years of touring. This time, though, it’s supposed to be different.

“Things are good but it’s quite busy and quite overwhelming,” Brian explains. “People forget that in many ways, this is like a first album because it’s the first time we’ve actually done the traditional album-making process properly. It’s the first time we went in, recorded an album, got ready to release the album, then released the album and toured on it.

“It’s what 99.9% of bands do,” he continues, “but with ‘Post Nothing’, we put the album out ourselves, had it floating around for a while then it got picked up and it felt like a much slower process. So many things happened in such a short amount of time. This, now, is ten times as overwhelming as that was. You never really get used to it but if you’re a big time rockstar, it’s probably old news.”
After surviving the whirlwind around the debut, Japandroids now face the obligatory pressure around its follow up, ‘Celebration Rock’. Where first time round they were a band making music without expectation, the building anticipation for the new album is a factor they’ve been painfully aware of.
“I think we went through every second album cliché we could when making this album,” Brian admits. “When we recorded ‘Post Nothing’, we didn’t have any fans, we’d never toured, so when we played the songs to people they were friends or friends of friends. It was probably a case that people didn’t necessarily like the music; they just came to support us because we basically had no audience. It was just for us, just for fun, and so when you’re writing and recording the second album, and you’ve gained this massive audience, and you know people are waiting for it, and you know a certain amount of people are going to hear it and review it, it’s a totally different psychological process to write and record. In one respect, the first album was totally pure, then the second time it can be very impure if you let it get away from you.”

Taking responsibility for everything from the merchandise to the social media pages, Japandroids are still a band driven by a proud DIY ethos that extends beyond just writing and recording. Whereas ‘Post Nothing’ was born out of a raw, one-take necessity, ‘Celebration Rock’ enabled Brian and David to strive for further improvement, and it’s an understated ethos that’s driving the spirit behind every album.

Brian: “With ‘Post Nothing’, we didn’t have that luxury where we could go in and play a song five or six times until we get one where we can’t hear any fuck ups. I can still hear plenty of fuck ups but they’re less obvious. The only goal with the second record was to try and make sure there was the same lineage and that you hear a band getting better, in song writing, in recording, in performing. Going out and playing shows and hearing people sing along to the songs gives you a confidence that what you’re doing isn’t totally terrible.

“I think if you listen to the albums chronologically you can hear a band just trying to work it out. We don’t work with a producer so there’s no one to take a band and turn them into something they’re not. You have these crazy buzz bands that have only played 20 shows and can sell 50,000 records and they work with some producer and sound like this super-professional band and you’re thinking how can they sound this good? They don’t! They don’t sound that good but they hired someone and paid them a bunch of money to sound that good, so as time goes on and they tour, they’re working to be that good. Our records are a reflection of how good we are at that time so hopefully you get an idea of how the band’s changing. If you always do the same thing, all you’ve really got is the songs to show that evolution.”

Driven by an energy and vitality, ‘Post Nothing’ was everything you could ask from a debut – a raw, honest and unfiltered dose of rock to soundtrack breaking free and cutting loose on an open road. Capable of capturing moments without being explicit, it’s an album that revelled in the space and volume it creates, inviting you to colour in the blanks. Characterised by anthems and ambiguity, it set down a difficult benchmark for ‘Celebration Rock’ to follow.

“We often get feedback from ‘Post Nothing’ and it’s usually about the feeling of a record,” Brian explains. “It’s quite a hard thing to understand, to capture how someone feels and try and use that for the next record. As far as the themes go, they’re pretty similar, but I think the ways they’re delivered have evolved. There isn’t too much you can do in a duo where you can evolve, sonically, album to album so I wanted to write more lyrics and say more.

“In some of the five/six-minute songs, like ‘Crazy Forever’ where we weren’t actually saying anything, you’re letting the listener use their imagination, which has its merit, but I felt that was going to be taking the easy way out to do it on this record again. I think that was one of the things that helped people gravitate towards the first record. Thematically, I think they’re the same, I’m just saying more.”

In the seven years since the band formed in Vancouver, there’s a wealth of things to say. Brian and David’s longstanding friendship, coupled with the close two-person band relationship, makes for an intense dynamic. The simplicity of two friends playing in a band and travelling the world together is a permeating one – from the on-stage bond to the sense of brotherhood to the Polaroid album sleeves, you know the balance between fondness and fury is the fuel for the band, no matter how exhausting it might be.

Brian agrees. “We started the band in 2006 so this is our seventh year together,” he reiterates. “It’s quite rare that bands with four or five members will stay the same for that amount of time, unless you’re in a huge band and you get paid to stay. The relationships don’t stay consistent and creative and positive for that long and our relationship is far from perfect. In fact, it’s incredibly dysfunctional, but we’ve managed to make it work. I agree with that feeling of freedom and spirit and release, and I’m not sure how you’d capture that but it’s easier in a two-piece because you just need to focus everything through less of a committee and have to have more of a relationship.”

By Reef Younis

Originally published in issue 38 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2012.

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