This week, Vancouver art punk duo Japandroids–more specifically, drummer David Prowse and guitarist Brian King-release their second full-length, Celebration Rock. A bombastic, sharply focused effort layered in fuzz, Celebration Rock takes the raucous noise from the band’s debut, Post-Nothing to a bigger, badder plane. Having effectively dissolved their partnership prior to the debut’s release, their unexpected re-discovery at a Canadian rock festival created a fervor that eventually led to the band touring the world for two years in support of the record, during which time King nearly lost his life due to a perforated ulcer. Now, the two have returned with an album they never expected to make.
Consequence of Sound caught up with Prowse to talk about the new album, what went into it, and how the two managed such a new, bold sound despite working with all the same players. Prowse explains the decision behind the band’s breakup, Polyvinyl’s initial hesitation at the title, and about changing controversial lyrics as they did with their cover of the Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy”.
I gotta ask you this straight off, and I mean no disrespect: How many of your friends know you share your name with Darth Vader?
Oh, everybody knows that. You know, you think that guys in touring bands are really cool, but a lot of the guys in bands we tour with, they’re all secret Star Wars nerds too, and they know that too.
I saw that and thought it was awesome, but I never see anybody mention it, so I just wanted to see if that was anything novel for you, but I guess not. Oh well.
It’s relatively novel in the music world, but every time I’ve ever gone into a video store, pretty much without fail, they call me on that one.
Let’s go back a little bit. I don’t think many people were aware that Japandroids actually broke up before the debut came out. What went into that?
Yeah. We never like…It’s a funny thing. We made plans to break up [starts laughing], but never followed through. Basically, we’d just been kind of…we were very dedicated to the band for a number of years before anything, really, kind of happened. Recording; self-releasing EPs; setting up all our own shows; renting out halls; making and printing our own posters, and postering for every show we played; setting up small little tours, just runs to Seattle and back, and Victoria and back, Calgary and back. That kind of thing. Mailing out to college radio stations, magazines and blogs, and whoever we thought might like our records. Doing all that kind of thing on our own for a number of years.
With Post-Nothing, we thought it was going to be more of the same. There was no inkling that anybody had any interest in putting out our record. Not even locally, not even any local labels. There was zero interest, really. We’d started getting a few cooler opening gigs for bands locally. And we started getting into a few little festivals here and there, but even that had been pretty disheartening, ’cause we went to these festivals [where] nobody knew who we were there, so we were still playing to nobody. So, we kind of hit this point where we just felt like we hit a wall. So, we had kind of made up our minds some. We had a few cool things on the horizon, like we had a gig to open for A Place To Bury Strangers, which we were very excited about, in Vancouver. And then we had gotten into Pop Montreal, and we had also gotten into CMJ. So, we were like, “Let’s do all those things (because those are really exciting for us), but it doesn’t really seem like anything much is going to happen after that. Let’s put out this record and get it out to our friends, and get it out locally, but maybe after that it’s time to kind of just move on and try something else.”
Did you guys keep your day jobs, or was this your life?
We had days jobs, yeah. It was our life, but we had day jobs, if that makes sense. We were losing money on the band; we weren’t making any money, so there’s no way we could not have day jobs. It basically consumed our lives with all the time that we weren’t otherwise employed. When we weren’t working our day jobs, we were doing band stuff. We weren’t really doing anything else. So, we kinda were like, “Maybe it’s time to move on after that.” And then, basically, things started happening for us.
Basically, it can all be traced back to one show at Pop Montreal, because at that one show at there was a writer from Toronto who saw us, and he gave us a really good review. And there was also a guy from a record label based in Toronto called Unfamiliar Records, someone who’s now a good friend of ours, named Greg Ipp. And he was running Unfamiliar with the help of a friend of ours named Edo van Breeman, who plays in a band called Brasstronaut. Basically, those guys were there to see Brasstronaut play, but we just happened to be playing on the same bill as them because we had set up the show with Edo and a few other Vancouver bands. They both saw us, and we got a really good review in a Toronto paper, and it turned out that that guy also contributed to Pitchfork and would later…he was the person at Pitchfork who gravitated, at first. And then Greg wanted to put it out on Unfamiliar, too. So, two things happened at the same time that both kind of led to a lot of other crazy things happening.
We were totally unaware of any of that, really, at the point when it happened. We only could kind of figure that out through retracing our steps. But, basically soon after that, Greg had gotten in touch with us and wanted to hear the record. We were a bit taken aback–well, not taken aback, surprised–because nobody had ever asked [starts laughing], nobody had ever offered to put out anything of ours, so it was the first time that somebody had come out and asked us rather than us naively courting some record label, and them never answering our emails. Things kind of snowballed from that. Not kind of, they completely snowballed– avalanche-sized snowball from that.
You said that your “re-discovery” on the internet was unexpected. I understand that. But did you mean when you said it was also “untimely”?
I think what Brian would have thought by that, the fact that it happened after we had already made a decision that the band was slowing down rather than speeding up. I would think that would be the timing thing. If all that had happened six months before, obviously the conversations would have never really happened, when we would have talked about not being a band anymore. Because the whole idea, to a large extent, the idea of not being in a band anymore was just largely due to a frustration of continued obscurity.
Coming off the success of your first album, you toured for two years in support of it, when for years you struggled daily just to make it. Did you do anything differently when you began to make Celebration Rock?
Yeah. I think it was a pretty different process. We tried to keep…there were a lot of things we wanted to keep the same. It’s the same basic instrumentation; it’s still just guitar, drums, and vocals. It’s recorded in the same place, it’s recorded at the Hive again. And it’s recorded with Jesse Gander again. He’s the same guy who did Post-Nothing; he’s the same guy that did those singles we did between Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock. We were keeping a lot of the things the same, but at the same time we are in a very different space. Psychologically, certainly. You can’t really re-create that same energy that you had when you were purely making music for yourself with no…not even in our wildest dreams did we think that the record Post-Nothing would have gotten out to as many people and as many places as it did. I mean, we were kind of like aspiring to be a band that could tour Canada, maybe tour down the West Coast. Those kind of things–much smaller things now than what we’ve achieved. Those things seemed so huge to us back then. We weren’t even very well known in Vancouver. We had, like, a following in Vancouver, but it was very small. It wasn’t like we were a big deal in Vancouver at all. You can’t recreate that kind of situation, so certainly, you’re in a different head space.
You’re making the record with the realization that a lot of people are going to hear it, and you know what can happen if a lot of people like the record. But, at the same time, we did whatever we could to mitigate that kind of psych-out game and to try and keep it as real and in the moment as we could. It’s still pretty live sounding, pretty raw. We just had more time to get a take we really liked. We’re better musicians now, I think. We’re better singers. We’re also less ashamed of our voices; they’re not drowned in as much distortion and buried as low in the mix. A lot of those things. I think it’s pretty natural, the changes that happened from Post-Nothing to Celebration Rock. We definitely had no aspirations to make some sort of gigantic studio rock record. It’s a little more polished than Post-Nothing is. I think a large part of that, it’s just something you can’t even help to some extent. You can’t play as sloppy as you did a couple years ago when you just weren’t playing as often.
You said the album has a live feel, but that’s pretty much because you recorded the album live, right? I mean, there’s very little overdubbing. You guys pretty much play the songs the way they are, right?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. We tracked it live, so it was still just me and Brian in a room playing and just trying to get a solid take all the way through. There’s a handful of overdubs, if that. Maybe there’s only three guitar overdubs that I can think of. We just got to play them a lot more; we got a lot more takes of each one.
Regarding the overdubs, you guys said that the only reason you did it was because it was just too messy trying to do it all in one take on the guitar…
How is that going to translate to the live setting? Are you not going to worry about it, because it’s going to be so loud and distorted?
There’s three overdubs that I can think of. Two of them, we just play it, and if it gets a little messy, it gets a little messy. And the last overdub is on “Continuous Thunder”. There’s a pretty obvious overdub right near the end that’s just, like, a separate guitar hit. There’s not really any way that Brian can recreate that, so we’re actually messing around with that. I think that song might change a little bit live because that one’s a little bit more of a…it’s just different.
It’s the same thing with “I Quit Girls”. With those slower songs, they sound good recorded, but live it’s hard to get them to match the same energy as those fist pumper anthems that we like to play, so that one might get altered a little bit. We’re kind of tinkering with it. We’ve played it a few times now, but it still feels like it’s evolving a little bit in terms of its live set-up.
That’s pretty exciting. Something to look forward to on the tour.