It is nearly impossible to fathom that the sound generated by two-piece Canadian rock phenomenon Japandroids isn’t the result of a much larger, powerhouse sextet or septet. With sights set on making as much noise as humanly possible, guitarist Brian King and drummer Dave Prowse run and dominate the gauntlet of rock and roll tricks and sub genres.
After self-releasing two EPs, Japandroids released their critically-acclaimed debut album Post-Nothing via Polyvinyl in 2009. They toured extensively throughout 2009 and 2010, playing over 200 shows in more than 20 countries, and quickly gained notoriety for their extremely energetic live performances. Their latest album, Celebration Rock, lived up to its title, garnering high praise from the taste makers at Pitchfork, Spin and Rolling Stone.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Prowse as the duo prepared for a Summer run of dates to discuss the record, late night TV, the power of back ground vocals, and whether or not they’d ever come to blows with Danzing. This is what he said…
We are coming up on festival season and I imagine you guys are playing a bunch of those. Are those ideal venues for your band or do you prefer the intimacy of a club?
I think we have a pretty good tour coming up that is a “best of both worlds” kind of deal. There are certain advantages to playing festivals. It is always a lot of fun. In theory you can play to a lot more people, although I hope we’ll be playing to a lot of people at our regular club shows. By in large there are usually a lot of our friends playing as well. It is just kind of a different environment and it is fun to switch it up a little bit. We are bouncing back and forth on this next tour pretty evenly between club shows and festival dates. I like it that way the best. It is nice to be able to play somewhere that is a little more intimate where there isn’t a giant barrier between you and the audience, and you can play for a hell of a lot longer, which is always fun. At festivals you have to cut it short because there are so many bands playing.
I always enjoy what kind of backstage beefs come out of these things. Have you ever been a part of one of those?
A beef. Have you guys ever punched Danzig in the face or anything like that?
(Laughter) Fortunately, no. I have not punched Danzig in the face, nor have I been punched in the face by Danzig (laughter). We are pretty peaceful dudes. We come from your gentle northern neighbors. We haven’t gotten in any fist fights back stage. We’ve been fortunate enough that whenever we tour with another band they just become friends of ours. For example, I’m in Seattle right now hanging out with a dude who was in a band that we toured with four years back. I still keep in touch with him regularly now. It is a pretty special bond that develops when you get to tour with another band. You get to travel together and you are there for both the good shows and the bad shows. We’ve toured with very, very few jerks in our touring career.
You and Brian met in college, but is there a larger story there? Did he puke on your shoes at a club or something like that?
The larger story is that a mutual friend of ours, who may be the biggest Japandroids fan there is – a guy named Sam Cowley – introduced us. Sam was my neighbor in my dorm in college and Sam grew up with Brian. Sam is still a very close friend of ours. I think he is the person who has seen us in more cities than anyone that I can think of. He’s actually hopped in the van with us a few times too, so he’s seen us in most major American cities at this point. He’s the unsung hero of that story. He has been telling me for a while that he should get his due, so he’ll finally have his story told here.
I hear a lot of Pixies influence in Brian’s playing. Is he a Joey Santiago or Frank Black fan?
Yeah. Pixies were one of the bands that we agreed were a phenomenal band when we first started playing together and trying to figure out what bands we wanted to sound like. I don’t think we really succeeded in sounding like the Pixies, but it is definitely in there somewhere in the mix of influences.
What drummer did you grow up idolizing and wanting to be?
I don’t know. Obviously, the greats are greats for a reason – John Bonham and Keith Moon. One drummer that I always admired was Jeremiah Green, the drummer from Modest Mouse. He’s really inventive in terms of the kind of beats that he has created for that rock format. He’s unique and has his own voice. Beyond that, some of the biggest influences for me were drummers that played locally in Vancouver and Victoria. They were people that I could actually watch and try to emulate. There is a drummer from Vancouver named Al Boyle that has played in many, many bands. I’ve watched him play in bands dating back to when I was first starting to play drums. And then drummers like Matt Skillings, who recorded our first two EPs back in the day , is a great singer/songwriter who plays the drums. He would switch off between guitar and drums, but he is a really impressive guy to watch on the drum kit. Those kind of people have a more profound influence on me than other drummers who I may have idolized because they are people who I could study. The are people who I could watch play in small clubs a couple times a month over the years.
Do you guys get a lot of comparisons to other duos from Canada like Death From Above?
I think we did. That has been pretty common. People say, “Well they are kind of like The White Stripes, but…” or “They are kind of like Death From Above, but…” People have been more interested in comparing us to bands who are direct influences lately, more than the whole two piece thing anyway. We are hearing more comparisons to The Replacements, and other bands who we have modeled ourselves after. We are fans of a lot of two piece bands, but we never limited ourselves to thinking, “What can a two piece do?” or “What are other two-piece bands doing?” We are more interested in what songs we love, whether there are six people in the band or two people in the band.
If the internet is correct, in 2008 you guys were close to a break up. What made you change your minds?
I didn’t really seem like anything was happening with our band. We had been a band for more than a few years and had self-released a couple EPs, set up a lot of shows for ourselves out of town, and had done a bunch of tours to neighboring cities. We’d gotten into a festival or two. It felt like it had been three years and we weren’t much further along than when we first started. Feeling stuck is a really crummy feeling, and we were feeling stuck. Fortunately for us, a change came to us, and the possibilities for our band changed very dramatically, very quickly once we got a few good reviews here and there. So a record label called Unfamiliar Records told us they wanted to put out Post Nothing. Once those kinds of things happened we started to feel encouraged that we weren’t totally wasting our time. That was the big thing that encouraged us to keep going. In slowing the band down, all of a sudden these things started happening organically – there was a booking agent who wanted to book us, and a possibility we’d be touring all over Canada and the U.S., and a label who was willing to press 500 copies of the record for us. For once it wasn’t just us doing it and figuring out how to get them into record stores and to find people who would listen to them. All of sudden we had people helping us do it. That kind of encouragement is instrumental in helping you keep pushing.
How crucial was Pitchfork’s support in helping you guys get things turned around?
I think we’d started getting signs of encouragement before that, but Pitchfork is just so instrumental so that changed things drastically for us very quickly when that album review cam out. It is a powerful publication. People trust it, not just music fans, but people who write for publications are curious about who Pitchfork is championing. When that review came out we were still very much under the radar. We were starting to get some buzz in Canada, but not a lot. But after the review came out, the number of people who were going to our Myspace page was staggering. It went up a 100-fold over night. It definitely opened a lot of doors.
Celebration Rock came out about a year ago. Are you still on the tour cycle for that or are you working on the next record?
We are still pretty knee deep in it. We are finally getting to the point now where we are talking about the last shows for the album cycle. We started touring on this record more than a year ago, and while we were on one tour we were already booking the next one, and the one after that. We’ve finally gotten to the point now where we have got all of the shows that we are going to play in front of us and we are starting to count down a little bit. So we are getting to the point now where we are thinking about what to do next, but we are still in the thick of it for another three solid months. The next thing on the horizon is starting to be stationary for a little while and thinking about another record.
The back ground vocals seem to be a crucial part of your performance. How important is that element in creating an interactive atmosphere in the live setting?
I think it is pretty instrumental. We realize how important that element was to our songs when we started touring on Post Nothing. We had that interactive element to our shows. It isn’t really something that you can orchestrate intentionally that easily. We liked playing that way and making as much noise as possible, so we were both going to be singing, we were both going to be playing our instruments as loud as we can all of the time. We definitely clued in that we’d tapped into something, when people would sing along to very specific parts of that song. Once we had that feeling, we recognized it was an amazing thing to interact with an audience like that and to see that they felt like they were as much a part of the show as we were. It was an amazing feeling to have and we got greedy for that. So on this last record, we wanted to have more of that feeling throughout the record and we wanted to have a really strong record from start to finish where we felt like people would be excited for whatever song it was, would be wanting to sing along, and would be willing to engage with us in that way. That was a very conscious decision on the new record because those parts are so fun to play live.
“The House That Heaven Built” has been adopted as the entrance theme for the Vancouver Canucks. Are you guys big hockey fans?
You can’t be from Canada and not be. Brian I think is a much bigger hockey fan than I am, but I grew up going to Canucks games as a kid. It was pretty surreal when they made us the theme song.
Also, we have a lot of friends and family who know that we play in a band. They know we tour a lot. But a lot of them don’t know what the significance of some things in our world are. The hockey thing was funny in a sense, because anyone who lives in Canada gets the significance of that. So we started getting a lot of weird, funny congratulatory e-mails from people who were like, “Holy shit, you are the Canucks song!” So it was funny in that respect.
Who is cooler: Carson Daly, Conan or Jimmy Fallon?
We didn’t actually meet Carson Daly. They came and filmed one of the shows we were playing, which was a lot less awkward than going to a television studio at 10 in the morning and being expected to rock out. Still getting to play at a music venue in front of your own fans obviously felt a lot more natural.
The whole TV world has been fun. People have been kind to us. We are still getting used to us. We are getting more and more used to it, but it is definitely strange to go in and play a TV show. It definitely doesn’t feel natural. It is its own thing that is very different from anything else we do.
So here’s the question on everyone’s minds: When will you do a triple bill tour of Japan with Japanther and Japancakes?
(Laughter) Very good question. We actually played a show with Japanther. I like that band. We played in Calgary at Sled Island and I think one of the bookers thought it would be funny and clever to put us on the same bill. I’m glad they did it. Those guys put on a really good show.
Coming up with a band name is one of the worst parts about being in a band. It is difficult to come up with something you feel like you could live with for any length of time. When we came up with the name Japandroids we had no idea that we’d have to live with that name for seven plus years. That is just one of those funny things where you pick something and then you are stuck with it for better or worse.