Progress Report: Japandroids
Canadian pop-thrash duo Japandroids will release their sophomore album, the aptly named Celebration Rock, next month via Polyvinyl Records. Judging from the response to our recent Premature Evaluation, early reaction to the record seems to be both very positive and seemingly just as enthusiastic as the response to 2009’s Post-Nothing proved to be (i.e. lots of comments along the lines of “This band makes me wanna punch things, but in a good way’). As it turns out, crafting pitch-perfect garage rock anthems that sound as if they were bashed out by hyperactive teenagers with endless hooks and yell-along melodies coming out of their asses is really hard work and, if you are Japandroids, takes a really fucking long time. I called up guitarist/vocalist Brian King to find out just how the Celebration almost didn’t happen at all.
STEREOGUM: Do you still spend most of your time in Vancouver?
KING: I do live here. I wouldn’t say we spend most of our time here. Especially the last few years it seems like we’ve spent hardly any time here at all.
STEREOGUM: The last record came out in 2009, have you basically never stopped touring since then?
KING: Yeah, we pretty much toured from when that record came out in the Spring of 2009 right up until the end of 2010 — which was about 18 months. We came home now and then for a week here and there but some of those tours were three months straight. It was crazy but we loved it. We’re eager to get going again.
STEREOGUM: Were there any parts of the world you didn’t get to play?
KING: Oh yeah, tons, one of the goals of this new records touring cycle is to make it to all the places we never got to go to before. We spent most of our time in North America and Europe. We also got to go to some more exotic places like Mexico and Costa Rica. But we didn’t go to Japan or Australia, which are two massive music and touring markets. We just got back from our first trip to Brazil and it was amazing. I want to go back to South America some time in the next tour hopefully.
STEREOGUM: When all that touring finally ended was it hard to get back into normal life?
KING: Oh yeah, being home after touring it’s always nice to rest and see friends and family and not have to be somewhere and have something you have to do. But at the same time after you tour for so long, that feeling wears off relatively quickly when you get home. That was the goal of why we started a band, not to be famous or make money, but to go on tour. So for us making records is more of an excuse for us to go on tour and play the songs for people. So going on tour at first was a dream come true, just doing that alone … it felt like we had made it. We toured for so long because we didn’t want it to end. We wanted to tour for so long that we had to make a new record just to keep touring. That was part of the motivation — actually, the primary motivation — for making a new record.
STEREOGUM: That’s funny. A lot of bands are itching to get back into the studio and not have to go on tour so much.
KING: For us it’s totally the opposite. After 18 months of touring the label is like “We need another record” and it was like, “Ah shit, how are we going to do that?”
STEREOGUM: So how was the process of making the new album?
KING: Well, what a lot of people don’t realize — despite the fact that we’ve talked about it in interviews — is that we had basically broken up as a band right before Post-Nothing came out. We had been a band for a few years before it but there was not much difference in where we were as a band from the very beginning and people didn’t seem to care about us. Since Post-Nothing was going to be the third thing we self-recorded and released, we just decided to stop. I can’t remember when it was exactly, but around January of 2009 everything started to take off for the band. We had already sort of moved on, but we were just committed to press 500 copies of the album and try and get them into record stores. That would be it. When things really took off with Post-Nothing and we had the opportunity to go on tour, it was like getting back together. It was a really temporary decision at first. Like, let’s see how it goes. It felt like a victory lap, if anything. Like, wouldn’t it be great to do one tour? The singles series we did after that was a way for us to release the last few songs we have in a cool way. That was pretty much all the thought we put into it. We had enough time to sneak into the studio and it seemed doable. If we had known that we were going to do the second album we probably would have saved those songs for the next full length. We thought the band would end whenever the touring stopped so we kept taking on more tour dates to ride the ride as long as possible.
STEREOGUM: Even in the midst of that success you still thought the band would end?
KING: Yeah. That was how we thought about it for most of the time we were on tour. I wouldn’t say we parted on bad terms or anything, but there were definitely unresolved issues. We didn’t have a lot of time to like address some of them beforehand so it was just get back together and go on tour immediately. I think the general feeling was that we wouldn’t be able to do anything once we stopped touring unless we addressed some of the issues and made an actual plan. We were winging it for so long and our lives were sort of in chaos, so we had to address the issues if we wanted to continue the band indefinitely. It wasn’t until the end of 2010 — when we were finishing all the touring we were doing — that we ended up in New York. By the time we got there we just had two more shows and then it would all be over. It hit me then and there that we had to figure it out or else they could really be the last two shows of our career. We went to dinner and decided we would try and make another album. We didn’t really have any new songs at that point since there was never going to be anything else to work on. I had some of my own stuff that I’d been working on casually, but it wasn’t really a fit. So it was basically starting from scratch. So we spent all of 2011 working on the album. To be honest, neither one of us would really consider ourselves to be songwriters. I don’t even think of myself as particularly creative, so writing an entire album that you are proud of and that meets the expectations people had for us was pretty challenging. It took a long time to get going. The first few months were a lot of restless nights. I’m pretty sure that even writing one song is considerably more challenging for us than it is for other bands in a similar position to us. It was a grind to say the least, but by summer we had done a bunch of songs and did a tour in September and got to see how the songs went over. After we got to the point where the record was about three quarters done we felt like we needed to mix it up, so we rented a house in Nashville for six weeks in the fall. We didn’t know anyone there but were really into the city, so we drove down with all of our gear and worked on music together. It was like moving into our jam space. So we ended up living there for a month and going out and discovering the city and getting really inspired by it and writing a lot of songs in a month that would have taken us three times longer at home.
STEREOGUM: Wow. Well, it’s certainly a big commitment — to decide to continue on with a band that’s going to take up the next year of your life — but it seems worth the gamble.
KING: I think the consensus was that we should at least give it a chance and try. We weren’t going to regret trying and failing. We were just at that point where we were almost going to give up, we were so close to finishing the record and it was such a make or break period when decided to take that trip to Nashville and go for it. Even if the band was going to implode we should just go for it and go out with a bang. I think the thing that saved the band was that we had all these tours booked and deadlines to meet that we had sort of blown off. When we drove out to Nashville we weren’t able to do anything but drive and the only concern was to decide what records we should we listen to while we were in the car. It felt like a mini vacation. It was nice for one week driving and being able to explore and not have to be rushing to do a sound check. Taking the long way or scenic route really changed the vibe between us … so when we got there we felt really good and the recording went really well.
STEREOGUM: I always think that being in a duo can be great because there’s such an economy to it — so much less baggage, less personalities to try and deal with — but there’s also no getting away from each other.
KING: There’s extreme positive and negatives to it. A lot of bands we’ve toured with, their line-ups don’t really all stay consistent. With a band like us you can’t really do that, you have to work it out and figure out someway of making it work. You don’t really have a choice; if you want to do it you have to make it work.
STEREOGUM: Now that the record is done what are your feelings towards it?
KING: I’m extremely proud of the record, I think that if you listen to No Singles — which was all of our earliest songs — and then Post-Nothing, you can hear our improvement and I think this record is the same sort of thing. You can hear the progression across our older albums and into the new one. I think our performances are better and I think the songs are better in all respects. We’re a lot more confident in what we’re doing and the recordings are better. Looking at our discography, it’s a pretty tangible improvement across the board. Having said that, I tend to hear what’s wrong with it — which I think is pretty common for bands. I took a bit of a break from it and then knowing that one or two songs were going to be put online I went and listened to them in an effort to make sure I felt good about it. We recorded the album basically live, so there’s always stuff that’s not exactly like how you planned for it to go. That’s the inevitable part of what we do … but having said that, we’re still extremely proud of the record. I think we’re at the point now where we can be exited about it and let all the stress and drama of it go.
STEREOGUM: I like that the new record really captures what you’re about as a live band.
KING: There was a lot of talk about whether or not we should work with a big producer and I think one of the most important decisions that we made was that we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to continue working the way we had before so we could be sure to preserve the sound of the band. With both of us just getting better at what we were doing, we were pretty confident that we could make a better record than we made before.
STEREOGUM: When do you hit the road again?
KING: We will head out about a month from now. We start touring in May and go to the UK and then we come back and to a North American tour through June and then I believe it takes off indefinitely. We did some SXSW shows to get warmed up and now the epic booking begins. We haven’t announced a ton of dates yet but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for now. We’re excited.
Celebration Rock is out 6/5 on Polyvinyl.