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Interview: David Prowse (of Japandroids)

on June 05, 2012, 12:01am
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japandroidssophlp e1333124902179 Interview: David Prowse (of Japandroids)

Were you guys joking when you said that Polyvinyl didn’t like the album name?

[laughs] You gotta ask them. I should preface this by saying…so the record was made in isolation. There wasn’t back and forth between Polyvinyl and us. You know, them wanting to hear rough mixes of songs or something like that. Or them hovering around the studio peering over our shoulders. They basically let us do our thing, which was really cool. They were just, “Do your record, and we’d love to hear it when it’s finished, and we’d love to put it out when it’s finished. We trust you and trust you to do your thing.”

So, when we sent the track listing and album title, they actually still hadn’t even heard the record yet. I think maybe we played one or two of the songs once from a laptop when we ran into them on tour while in the midst of recording. They hadn’t heard any of the record. I mean, obviously they heard “Younger Us”, I suppose. So, they just saw the album title and they just got a little bit of cold feet. But they hadn’t even really heard it. They didn’t have the context of the album. I think once you hear the album, that album title makes a lot more sense. I mean, there’s fireworks that start and end the album; it’s pretty celebratory. Brian just likes to tease them, so he put that into the bio sheet, but yeah, they had cold feet and they were a little bit worried. I think they were worried it was sounding too cocky or something like that, or too big, like we’re a big rock band. So, it just kind of scared them for a second and they sent one sheepish email, and they were something like, “Are you sure this is the album title you want?” or something like that, and we said, “Yeah,” and then they said, “Okay.” [starts laughing]

I am a big supporter of sequencing songs on an album for fluidity. Regarding the album’s sequence, let’s talk about the Gun Club cover, “For the Love of Ivy”. Brian said that that song was chosen because it got you to a peak that you couldn’t get to on your own. Was this song chosen and recorded after the album was completed?

No it wasn’t, actually. It was recorded earlier on. We’ve been stockpiling some covers. On our singles series, we’ve been doing covers as B-sides. Originally, we were thinking that “Evil Sway” and that Gun Club cover were going to be a single, and they were going to be an A-side and B-side. So, we recorded those at the same time in what kind of turned out to be the first session for the record. Originally, we thought it was going to be a session for the 7”, but it ended up being a session for the record. From there, “Evil Sway” mutated into a pretty different song; the choruses stayed the same, but that’s about it. Almost everything else–the verses changed very drastically. I guess the first version still had a drum solo in it too, so I guess it wasn’t that different, but the verses are quite different. It definitely mutated and evolved, but it came from that. We recorded that Gun Club cover around the same time. We talked about having a cover on the record, and we originally were thinking we were going to record something completely different, and we were going to save that Gun Club cover for a later 7”. But, as time went on, it just fit in in a lot of ways.

Like Brian said, I think it occupies a certain territory that’s not really occupied on the album otherwise. It really fit that way, and also, I think recording covers as B-sides is one thing, but including a cover on your album, first of all you gotta make sure it’s a song that you’re gonna want to play every night. People are going to know those songs on the full-length a lot more than they’ll know B-sides and stuff like that. And you’ll also want to make sure it’s a band you feel really strongly about. We feel strongly about all the bands we cover, but certainly on the full-length you really want to make that sure. That was the big reasoning behind that. We talked about covering other bands, and we’d start making different suggestions and stuff, and talked about it for a while. And then it just kind of became more and more obvious that the Gun Club cover was just the one that should go on the record.

gunclub e1338850159781 Interview: David Prowse (of Japandroids)

When I came in this morning, I went into the stacks and pulled the record out, Fire of Love. I started playing it, and damn if it doesn’t sound like a song that was meant for Japandroids to play. But what I was more blown away by was that your version is a bigger sounding one than Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s version, and they had two guitars and a bass player.

Heh-heh. Yeah.

But I also noticed you guys changed the lyrics.

Yes.

I listened to it like three or four times, your version, just to make sure. Like how you were saying that the lyrics on your earlier material was buried in, and the lyrics on the Gun Club song are certainly a buried form of lyric, but Pierce definitely says that word very clearly. I was trying to see if you were muffling it, but it sounds like you changed it to “hunting for answers”? [the original lyric is “hunting for niggers”]

Answers, yeah. That’s a relatively common practice with covers of that song. The White Stripes covered that song as well at various times, and Jack White would just kind of ad-lib different words to replace that word as well. There’s a little bit of debate covering that song, because it does include a controversial lyric, but at the same time, it’s punk rock and it’s kind of meant to be controversial. But second of all, I think we just thought, like, the intent was not hateful in any way.

If you look back, you’ve got the Gun Club, you have Elvis Costello, you have Dead Kennedys, and they all used that word a lot of times, and all usually to make a point. Since this track is off of Gun Club’s first album, do you prefer the LA material or when he took his Debbie Harry fixation to New York?

I don’t really know where he was living when he made the different records, but the ones I’m really into personally are Fire of Love, Miami, and Las Vegas Story, that kind of 1-2-3. Fire of Love is just the one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart; it’s the first one I really got into. I got into the other ones, or at least those other two records, but that’s kind of my first love with the Gun Club. Your first is always your best, right?

I remember a couple of years ago, Karl Precoda and I were talking about Pierce, and he was saying how they used to rock out together in LA. Pierce had this huge Debbie Harry fixation; he was just in love with Debbie Harry of Blondie, and that’s what prompted him to move to New York.

Really?

Well, that’s what Precoda was saying; he may have been embellishing a bit, but I thought it was pretty funny.

That’s a good story.

You said that you found it difficult to write and record a new album while touring, and that’s why you released a series of 7” singles. But some of them, like “Younger Us”, are making appearances on the new album. Are there any plans to compile those singles the way you did your earlier EPs on the No Singles compilation?

Originally, that was something that crossed our minds. It’s getting a little bit more complicated now, just because now “Younger Us” is on the record. Originally, we planned to do five singles, and then as it became time to make the record, it seemed to not make any sense to focus on finishing a singles series when you just had an album to make. But at the same time, I think we both feel like there’s a bit of unfinished business there, so we would like to definitely do a few more singles, and then hopefully if Polyvinyl is willing, we could put those all together so people could get it in one place.

I like the simplicity in your album covers. It takes me back to early punk and post-punk records. Is that the intention with the imagery?

Yeah, definitely. So, Brian designs all the album artwork. That’s kind of his favorite era, especially for the imagery and the look of things. It’s definitely going back to those older Japanese, early ’80s punk rock scene for sure.

You’re touring with Cadence Weapon, a rapper. How did that pairing come about?

Brian and I have both been listening to him for a real long time, and we’re both big fans. It just came about because we found he was available to tour at that time. As with any tour, when you’re headlining, different bands are submitted and as soon as we found out he was available, we were both really excited about that idea. It’s going to be a little weird for Japandroids’ fans because I don’t necessarily know if fans of our band are hip-hop fans. But we’re both really big fans of his music, so we’re really excited to be on tour with him and get to watch him perform every night. As soon as we found out he was available to do it, we asked him to do the UK tour as well as this North American tour because we were both really excited to hang out with him and tour with him.

I loved his album After Party Babies. I thought that was great.

Me too.

You guys are a bit unusual because you make the records to support your touring rather than touring to support the record. Do you really like being on the road that much or is it more that you just really like playing?

Playing live is my favorite thing in the world to do, period.

I find this really interesting. When I was reading your bios, there is always mention of how you originally wanted to be a three piece but that you gave up the idea because you didn’t want to have a lead singer. What I find interesting is that there seems to be no thought whatsoever of even having a bass player.

Yeah, no, that never really crossed our mind. You can blame it on naivete, but I think when we were just jamming in our jam space we’d be like “oh, this is sounding great”, but neither of us really wanted to sing at the start. A part of that is just being excited about playing and making music with your friend. We were both a little bit more nervous about singing. But we thought, even back then, we were not very good musicians. Not that we’re great musicians now, but even back then when we were much poorer musicians we were like, “Oh, this sounds great; we just need somebody to sing over this.” [starts laughing]

So was it over some beers when you said, “Fuck it, we’ll sing it ourselves”?

Yeah, pretty much. We just hit a certain point. This is awesome, drinking beer, jamming in a jam space three days a week, or whatever, but we could actually probably start playing in front of people. And I don’t know how many two-piece– I mean, there’s a couple two-piece instrumental bands I guess, but we’re no Hella. We’re no Lightning Bolt [laughs]. We’d rather get somebody to sing over this.

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