The idea of straightforward rock & roll has become passé for a lot of music listeners. It’s easy to become disillusioned with any genre when we hit its saturation point, and key terms like “aggressive,” “chest-beating,” and even “punk rock,” have sadly been tired for some time.
Then come along Japandroids, the duo from Vancouver who inadvertently saved rock & roll’s soul with their second album, “Celebration Rock.” The group’s debut “Post-Nothing” was incredibly strong and showed the agility and strength of guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, but its on this new one-two punch of a record, that the band taps into the spirit of youth as they fight to hold onto its glory. Every song on “Celebration Rock” explodes with passion, longing, and exuberance. Its release, a week after Memorial Day, is perfectly timed — it’s undoubtedly going to be the soundtrack to the best summer of a lot of people’s lives.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Brian and David during their stop over in New York to make an appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” where they the two played album highlights, “Fire’s Highway” and “The House That Heaven Built.” At Brooklyn’s Kellogg’s Diner, the three of us chatted over some fruit smoothies and Bloody Marys. Here’s what we talked about…
Brian King: [to waitress] I’ll have a Tropical Paradise please.
What’s a Tropical Paradise?
BK: It’s basically like a smoothie. I wanted something in my stomach but I’m not ready for a meal yet.
Dave Prowse: [to waitress] I’ll have a Bloody Mary.
Okay, so before “Post-Nothing” came out, you two were on the verge of breaking up. Can you explain how this almost happened, how it was averted and what your contingency plan was?
DP: I think we were both going to continue playing music in some respect but it seemed like we were doing the same thing for quite a while and not really feeling it was getting anywhere. We’d been putting quite a lot of time and effort into doing as much with the band as we thought we could, setting up our own shows and putting out our own records. And we really weren’t getting a lot of interest from anybody, even in the local scene. I don’t know if I thought that far in advance for a contingency. We basically planned to stop and then right as we were about to stop, that’s where things got kicked up again. So the timing was strange. We were playing what we thought was going to be our last show at CMJ and then something like a week later we got a phone call asking about putting out a record.
BK: I had put [“Post-Nothing”] on the internet in late 2008. We renamed the files… the band, the album, and the songs after another record that was coming out that was popular, hoping people might download that one and hear it and be like “What the hell is this?”
Really? Can you say what it was?
BK: No. We don’t have enough money to afford a lawyer.
When that album took off, your guys toured a lot. Did you feel an urgency to just incessantly tour to take advantage of this sudden fame?
DP: We’d been a band that had been an obscurity for so long, so when we had an opportunity to do a lot more, we basically just said “yes” to everything. It started where it was just one tour, and then the next tour, and the next one, and then it was a year and a half later.
Comparatively, what was it like for bands in Vancouver trying to make a living off of music?
DP: There’s a lot of great bands from Vancouver but it’s pretty isolated and its pretty hard to tour from there especially if you’re an unsigned band without industry connections. Crossing the border to the U.S. is especially difficult first of all. It really helps when you have a booking agent and all those proper credentials to play in the U.S. or else you’re trying to smuggle your gear across the border.
And then as far as within Canada goes there’s not a lot of big cities near Vancouver and there’s not really a lot of music infrastructure. There aren’t really any record labels based in Vancouver so what often happens is bands will just move to Toronto or Montreal.
“When we play a set, this is what really makes people go crazy and this is what raises the energy to its maximum…wouldn’t it be great if you could play a set that was totally like that the whole time instead of ebbing and flowing to these peaks and valleys?”
Both your albums are very tight: 8 songs, 35 minutes. Was this always a conscious effort on your part to fit this formula?
BK: It’s a good formula for us and it’s a good example for a lot of other bands.
I wouldn’t say “Celebration Rock” is a stylistic departure, but it’s a very apt title. Was it your intention to make this album filled with celebratory, life affirming anthems?
BK: Yes and no. I mean the songs were written over a chunk of time so to some extent you don’t really know what your record sounds like until the end. But having said that, we were aware from all the touring on the first record the reaction to playing certain types of songs. Like the reaction to playing the song “Young Hearts Spark Fire” would get a different reaction from than playing some of the other songs on the record. You could physically see a different reaction from the audience. That was sort of the peak in the energy and excitement from the audience.
Working on songs for the second record was totally different in that sense because you have all that live experience to influence the actual song…And it shapes the kind of songs you write because now it’s like “Well, when we play a set, this is what really makes people go crazy and this is what raises the energy to its maximum.” And we were sort of like “Well, wouldn’t it be great if you could play a set that was totally like that the whole time instead of ebbing and flowing to these peaks and valleys?”
Do you feel like an audience being able to identify with the band is very important?
BK: I feel it’s essential for our band.
Do you personally feel that you feel closer to music when you identify with the songwriter?
BK: I think most people do. It’s probably true of any of the records that we listen to and feel quite personal about, [that] those artists have taken their experience and done it in a way that someone they’ve never met hears and bam its like “I get that, that’s for me, that’s my life in that song.”
“What does it take to motivate people? I’ve started thinking about it a lot in the last few years.”
I once saw The Flaming Lips in 2007 and Wayne Coyne had said to the audience during one of his famous orations something to the effect of, “If you love someone and they don’t love you back, well then that’s okay. You love them and that should be it.” Would you say that “The House That Heaven Built” is coming from that mindset considering the lyric, “But you’re not mine to die for anymore, so I must live”?
BK: I mean I never thought about it that way. I don’t think there is a wrong interpretation, I mean that goes back to the last question. That’s exactly what we’re trying to talk about. We’ve had lots of interviews where people talk about what they read from the song. The same thing happened when we put out “Young Hearts Spark Fire.” You have an idea what this is about and you’ve tried to create something that someone can listen to for themselves so it can mean something to them. I feel like that interpretation that you had is actually much more significant or powerful than what it means to me. That’s where the power lies. But it’s always interesting when people say “This is the way I interpret it, is that true?” and I never say yes or no. It often gives me a lot to think about when people say things like that because now I’m looking for that in it.
On “Adrenaline Nightshift” when you sing about “waiting for the generation’s bonfire to begin,” do you feel like that’s where you guys are at? Can you explain that line.
BK: That’s a loaded question…Without being too specific, I just think we’re at a certain age [when you] you start to notice that it seems like up until that point, everyone you know is doing the same thing or at the same place. Then you hit a certain age where everyone’s not at the same place anymore. Some people are just growing up and choose different lives for themselves, whether that be in their personal lives or professional lives – whether they choose to get married or have kids or go back to school.
If you’re younger and you could pick anything you wanted to do, this, being in a band, seems almost too fantastical to take seriously. So we’re in a unique position where we get to do that one thing that not everyone gets to do. Despite what you can infer from the internet, it didn’t just happen over night. It took a lot of hard work and certainly some luck, but a lot of grinding away. Not everyone has that and there’s a lineage to not having anything and being total fucking miserable and hating life and wanting to die, and then there’s the other end of the spectrum where having something like this happening where you couldn’t have asked for anything grander with your life. Everybody you know is following their own path and ends up somewhere on that lineage in some different way due to whatever circumstances or different personalities, etcetera, etcetera.
You want everyone else to be at that place for whatever it is for themselves. You want everyone to get that for themselves. But not everyone does that. Not everyone feels like that. That idea in general is where that sentiment comes from. What does it take to motivate people? I’ve started thinking about it a lot in the last few years. That’s a pretty long winded answer, but I didn’t want to be too specific [laughs].
[At the conclusion of the interview, the boys spoke of their recent trip to the Primavera Sound Festival where they performed. Here are some highlights from their visit]
DP: We both saw Refused which was awesome.
BK: [We] saw The Cure. Our plan was like “Okay, we’re going to watch The Cure for a while, but then we planned to sneak away and watch some other bands play but by the second half of the set, they just start banging out hit after hit after hit. And it’s like an hour and a half in and every time you start walking away, you’re like “Oh well we have to stay for this one.” And before you know it you haven’t even moved.
DP: I saw The Dirty Three and it was unbelievably good. I was really blown away. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as a live dynamic for the band but they were so great. Warren Ellis is absolutely captivating on stage.
BK: I saw Mahem play at Primavera. That’s a sight to see if you ever get the chance. I was with out tour manager and we could hear it but couldn’t see it yet, but the first thing you see when you get closer is a hook with a dead cattle corpse hanging off it. Then you can see fire burning and you can’t even see the band yet. And it was very loud.
“Celebration Rock” is out now on Polyvinyl. Check out Japandroids on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” below.
Japandroids — “Fire’s Highway”
Japandroids — “The House That Heaven Built”