By Joshua Erickson
VANCOUVER – The story of Japandroids is one of victory and frustration, vitality and desperation, emotional depth and youthful lust. Their songs are life-affirming anthems that beg to be the soundtrack to the best night of your life. They ask you to live in the moment, while you reminisce about the best parts of your past, and give a hopeful gleam into the future. The duo of Brian King (vox/guitars) and David Prowse (drums/vox) embodies all of these things as Japandroids, but this almost never came to be.
Japandroids formed in 2006, quickly making a name for themselves in the Vancouver music scene. They took a DIY approach to nearly every aspect of the band, even renting out their own spaces and PA equipment to put on their own shows. While recording their debut album in the summer of 2008, they had grown frustrated and felt the band was going nowhere, so they decided to quietly break up after they released the record. On April 8, 2009 their debut album Post-Nothing was released. Later that month Pitchfork gave Post-Nothing a “Best New Music” designation, and show offers from all over the world started flowing in. In 2012 the band released the critically acclaimed Celebration Rock and with it came a new level of success.
It’s been five years since Celebration Rock, and Japandroids are back with their new record, Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Last October, Japandroids did a small warm-up tour to get ready for the release of the record, which they kicked off with four shows at the Cobalt in Vancouver, all of which sold out. BeatRoute caught up with the band after the second night of this four-show stretch.
Meeting up with King and Prowse at the Café Brixton, within seconds of sitting down it is apparent they are excited to be playing shows again. These Vancouver shows were the first shows after a three-year live hiatus. After the final show of the Celebration Rock tour, Prowse remained in Vancouver while King split his time between Toronto, where he had recently moved, and Mexico City, where his girlfriend lived.
“We recorded Post-Nothing then toured for a year and half on that record. And as soon as we got home we began work on Celebration Rock. So from the time of Post-Nothing it was…” King pauses to think about it. “Five years. Those five years it was all Japandroids, all the time.”
In those five years between 2008–2013 the band played over 500 shows, toured through 44 countries and released two critically acclaimed albums. It was time for a short break.
“We were dedicating some time to fixing our personal lives, for once. Being like, ‘I need some time to get my shit together,’” says King. “When you’re travelling and working that much, your personal life is going to get destroyed. So we needed a bit of time to figure things out.”
The band apparently didn’t need that much time, though. After a short six-month break, they decided to start writing again. King says that while writing Celebration Rock, things were going slow so they decided to shake things up by moving to Nashville. The experience worked out incredibly well for them, so they decided to try it again for the new record.
After spending six weeks in New Orleans, the guys went back to their respective homes, getting back together every month or so, playing musical chairs with cities, bouncing between Vancouver, Toronto and Mexico City. King said the experience was very positive and inspiring for the band, but it wasn’t very time-efficient. He notes that five years is a long absence, but it didn’t bother him at all.
“I think [time] is less important to us. The goal when we write songs and record them is to do something we think is better than what we did before. So as we were writing, after awhile it just became, ‘It takes however long it takes,’” says King with a shrug.
Long-time fans of the band will find all the familiar Japandroids hallmarks on Near to The Wild Heart of Life: anthemic fist-pumping choruses, whoooahhhs-and-ahhhs sing-alongs, youthful vitality, nostalgia and catchy, memorable riffs. There is just more of it this time. On the record you will hear synthesizers, acoustic guitars and experimentation with production techniques. These were all the results of experiments in the studio and the two could not be happier with how it went.
“This is the first time we’ve done recording not trying to emulate the live band setup. Once we opened that door, the possibilities were endless. We just decided to go with whatever sounded best and figure out the live thing later,” says Prowse.
Previously, the band had a strict rule when they approached the studio — only guitars, drums and vocals with minimal overdubs. They wanted to achieve a “raw, live” sound with those records, according to King.
“Our early EPs were an attempt at that and it was refined on Post-Nothing, and it was refined to the point where we perfected it, the sound for our band, on Celebration Rock. We did it!” says King with an emphatic pause. “This time we decided to try a new thing; to me, this is like 2.0 or something like that. The start of something new.”
One of Japandroids’ early breakout songs was “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” and King says the song was “about something that [we] wanted to happen. And after Post-Nothing, it did happen.” Now, Japandroids are making their triumphant return to their hometown. The band has played countless shows in Vancouver, but this particular homecoming brings something new: the duo’s first show at the prestigious Commodore Ballroom.
“It seems ridiculous to be playing the Commodore,” says Prowse, still sounding in disbelief. King chimes in after him. “Yeah, when you’re growing up here, the Commodore, that’s where the ‘big’ bands play. And when you’re a local band here, to play the Commodore, that’s the dream. To play the Commodore is like playing Madison Square Garden when you’re a local band here.”
Japandroids perform at the Commodore Ballroom on March 20Commodore Ballroom, Japandroids, Vancouver