Our writer Brendan Frank caught up with Canadian duo Japandroids the day after their impressive performance at this year’s Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington to talk to them about the evolution of their sound so far, the origins of the band and more.
BPM: So how’s Sasquatch treating you?
David Prowse: It’s really good. We were here back in 2010, but it was pretty brief.
Brian King: We were supposed to play in 2009 but we had to cancel last minute. And then we played the next year.
I suppose it’s pretty close by for you guys.
David: It is. Yeah, we have a lot of friends coming down for the festival and stuff. It kind of almost feels like a hometown show. There were definitely a lot of Canadians in the crowd last night. As evidenced by the chants of “Canada! Canada!” over and over again.
You’ve both expressed your frustrations with breaking into the scene in Canada when you were first starting out. What were the biggest obstacles?
David: I think Vancouver’s pretty isolated, geographically, and it’s kind of a bit of a hinterland, culturally. There’s a lot of great music happening there and a lot of cool stuff, but it doesn’t really get the same attention as say, Toronto or Montreal would get. We just didn’t feel like much was happening and people weren’t really paying attention to what’s going on in Vancouver. I feel like that’s changed to some degree in the last few years, there’s a lot of Vancouver bands that seem to be getting quite a bit of attention these days. But at the time it just felt like it was a very hard place to get notice on any larger scale.
I was at a [Vancouver] Canucks game about a month ago and “The House That Heaven Built” is their entrance music. It must be kind of surreal for you guys to finally get that sort of recognition in your hometown.
Brian: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I mean, I’m a big Canucks fan, my whole family is. It’s pretty weird, though. The whole world that professional sports exist in is so different from the world that we exist in. It’d be one thing to hear your song coming over the speakers of Sasquatch or being played at a bar. To have it when a hockey team comes on the ice, it’s pretty strange. The music they used to use were, like, really famous songs by really famous bands. Which is generally what teams would skate out to, like some kind of a sports anthem.
Post-Nothing was much more of a jam record, whereas Celebration Rock was much more rooted in songcraft. What does Post-Nothing mean to you creatively in retrospect?
Brian: I think it’s just a part of our natural progression. If you listen to No Singles, you’ll hear a band that’s never really written any songs before and doesn’t know much about songwriting, if anything. We were just trying to write some stuff that’s fun to play and we thought sounded cool. It gets a little more refined on Post-Nothing. You figure out what sounds good and what doesn’t sound good and what people like and what people don’t like, what you like and what you don’t like. You know the third time you sit down to write ten songs it’s easier. We played Post-Nothing for like…. I don’t even know, like two hundred shows? So we were really aware of what parts of those songs worked and what to focus on and how to improve. That’s why I think Celebration Rock is like you said, we took a lot more time to think about what kind of songs we wanted to play.
Even with “Art Czars” it seemed like you guys were toying with bigger hooks.
Brian: That song definitely has a more traditional pop structure. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. It was very Nirvana-esque in that kind of way. That song by nature I think suits that form. It would be weird if we were jamming out that song for 10 minutes, we’d get bored of it.
Would you guys ever consider expanding beyond guitar and drums?
David: I don’t think we felt that kind of pressure when we made Celebration Rock. It felt like we’d improved so much as musicians that we could make a very similar type of record. We could go into the same studio, have the same basic setup and make an album that we thought was a clear improvement. As time goes on it’s harder to say if that will be as obvious to us, I suppose. Maybe we will want to expand but I don’t think there’s any pressure to do that in the immediate future.
Brian: I think it’s more likely that we would expand what we try to do musically between the two of us rather than having more people play in the band or play onstage or something like that. Maybe just incorporate new musical elements. I mean you never know, we’ve been a band for eight years with just guitar and drums and singing over top and in that eight years we haven’t felt like it’s been a limitation. We’ve never gotten to the point where we though we can’t do this because it’s just the two of us, like keyboards or something.
How good are you at playing each other’s instruments?
David: You played drums once Brian, remember that?
Brian: Oh yeah, that’s true.
David: You’re alright, you got some rhythm.
Brian: Yeah, no I’m not a drummer. I’m not even actually that good at playing guitar, to tell you the truth.
Brian: Well, no, I mean technically speaking I’m good at playing our songs because I’ve played them like 500 fucking times. So I can play them really well, better than anyone else. But I can’t solo for shit.
Those “Stairway to Heaven” tabs are on your shelf somewhere though?
Brian: No, I never learned how to play that song. I remember as a kid buying that tab and spending a weekend with it and just being like “fuck this shit, here you go Brad Carmichael.”
Brian: True story.
David: It is a true story. Shout out to Brad Carmichael.
Brian: I gave him a lot of tablature books.
David: And he never gave ’em back.
So both of you guys went to school in British Columbia?
David: We met at the University of Victoria.
Brian, you’re a geologist by training, right?
Brian: I was, back in the day. Actually, by now I’ve been doing this as long now as I was doing that.
Was there ever a tipping point between geology and Japandroids?
Brian: There never was, really. I mean, playing music as a job, it’s kind of like a dream. It’s like someone who paints for fun never imagines that they’ll be able to make a living off of it. You just think of it as something that’s fun and cool to do because you’re just into music. You just have to work hard and get lucky and maybe you’ll have the ability to stop doing whatever you’re doing before, and then it’s not even really a discussion it’s like “of course.”
David: I think we were both ready to drop everything and do this full-time, but it’s not something you can really bank on.
Brian: There’d be a lot more bands in the world if you could just decide. Just tick a box [laughs].
I noticed during the show yesterday you had a couple of photos on your guitar.
Brian: They’re photos of my family.
A nice reminder when you’re on the road.
Brian: Yeah, I like to jazz up my guitars a little bit. I swap them around quite often.
What are your favourite songs to play live?
David: I think for me it’s probably the most obvious ones. Like “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “The House that Heaven Built” are the most popular with crowds. When you get to play music and have them sing along and really engage with you in such a direct way, it’s quite powerful emotionally. Those two songs are probably the biggest, where the crowd is the most involved.
Everybody was singing along to those yesterday.
Brian: Yeah, you kind of know that no matter the venue or no matter what the crowd, “The House That Heaven Built” for us, that where the energy comes from. It’s the song the most people know, and so you’re usually going to peak then.
David: “For The Love of Ivy” is fun too, because that’s almost always our closer. You can really let loose with that one.
Brian: It’s a pretty different song from the other songs we have too. It has a different dynamic for us that isn’t present in a lot of our other songs.
I think yesterday you said something like “the whole success of this festival will be determined in the next four minutes.”
Brian: [laughs] Yes, I like to use colourful language to encourage the audience to get wild.