Interview: Japandroids

Interview: Japandroids

Canadian rock band, Japandroids released their new album ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ at the start of this year. Returning to the scene after a four-year break in euphoric punk-rock style, the album marked a change in sound for the band. Consisting of drummer and vocalist Dave Prowse and guitarist and vocalist Brian King, the uncompromising duo are known for delivering sweaty, scream-inducing live shows.

Ahead of their London tour date this week we caught up with the pair to discuss the Canadian music scene, James Joyce and the band’s creative process.

Q: ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ marks a change in sound for the band, both through more polished production and varied instrumentation. Was this change in sound a natural progression for you both?

Yes, definitely. By the time we’d wrapped up touring Celebration Rock, we were finally able to stop for a second and sort of look back at all that we had accomplished in the past 8 years – 2 EPs, 2 albums, and somewhere around 500 live shows. We were (are) very proud of that time and all that we accomplished, though I think we both felt like we had come to the end of an era. The idea of simply writing another batch of those ‘kind’ of songs and recording them in that ‘kind’ of way just didn’t have the same appeal as it once did.

We were both looking to expand somehow, and see what else we were capable of doing as a band. We very consciously decided to start experimenting with our song writing, and later, with how we recorded those songs. It almost made us feel like a brand new band; one who were making their first album. We learned a lot. Also, it was just a lot of fun, and injected a very positive energy into the process, which I think we really needed.

Q: You lived in separate cities when writing the album – a first for the band. How did this affect your creative processes?

It totally changed the creative process. Rather than writing and developing songs in a daily or weekly routine (as we used to when we both lived in Vancouver), we were forced to spend large chunks of time writing on our own, then making the most of whatever slivers of time we did spend together.

It was difficult in the beginning, but after a while, that style of working proved to be very inspiring as each time we got together we would do it in a different city, meaning that the album became a product of four cities (Vancouver, Toronto, New Orleans, and Mexico City) rather than a single one. Some of the big themes on this record, like travel/movement, as well as our evolving idea of what ‘home’ really means, are definitely a by-product of living in different cities and being forced to write in a different way.

Q:  The album’s title track was inspired by the writings of Clarice Lispector and James Joyce. Can you tell us about what you took from these two artists?

Both of these artists write in a very open, free-flowing style that for whatever reason strikes me as very lyrical. They somehow manage to string together words and phrases in such a way that I’m able to read them and instantly paint a picture in my head, the same way I do when I listen to artists like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

While I obviously can’t write like any of these great artists, they’ve certainly influenced me in terms of how I express my own thoughts and feelings through my own lyrics. They both are capable of writing something that is on the one hand very honest, direct, and revealing, and yet also very mysterious. And I think about that balance every time I write anything now, as I think the best lyrics are a magical combination of both.

Q: After waiting and delaying the release, you finally worked with Peter Katis to mix the album. He has produced some standout records. What did you hope he could bring to your own tracks?

After making two albums with the same raw and direct sound, we were definitely interested in making this album more sonically adventurous, especially with respect to mixing. We wanted to get out of our comfort zone and see what would happen if we embraced the studio as a creative environment rather than simply a means for documentation.

Unlike our previous records, we felt strongly that there wasn’t a single ‘sound’ that could represent all of the songs and were intent on treating each mix as it’s own sonic universe (which we’d never done before, and didn’t exactly know ‘how’ to do). When the topic came up, Peter Katis was at the top of our list, as both Dave and I are fans of many of the records he’s made, particularly those by The National and Interpol. We hoped that he’d be able to take our recordings and help us develop a more distinct sound for each one. And he did, as he is a wizard!  

Q: Your live shows pull in audiences through your endless levels of raw energy. Has it been challenging to maintain this energy while adapting the new album for a live setting?

It has certainly been a challenge, but a very healthy and I think ultimately, a very positive one. While our shows have become know for, as you say, endless amounts of raw energy, we’d previously always expressed that energy through a single kind of intensity.

After 500 and something shows, performing in more/less exactly same way, I think we both became interested in the idea of taking that same raw energy and finding new and more interesting ways to express it – which was one of the primary factors in our desire to write ‘different kinds’ of songs on this new album – songs that when integrated into our set alongside our older songs, would lead to a more dynamic set, with a greater range in the types of intensity on display.I’ve always been in awe of bands like Radiohead who are able to craft a spectacle live performance out of so many different kinds of songs – songs from different decades, with different themes, different moods, different instrumentation, etc. and somehow perform them, one after the other, with a very consistent level of intensity that somehow glues them all together.

While we are no Radiohead, they are certainly a personal source of inspiration in that regard and I think them about them often, especially in those moments where it seems like we’ve hit the wall in our attempts to adapt some of the new songs live. But with every show, every tour, it is getting better and better, and I don’t think it will be long before all our of songs can stand equally side by side on stage. 

Q: You use particularly distinctive guitar tones. What pedals would you deem essential additions to your gear?

The most important pedal isn’t actually a pedal at all – it is Radial JD7 Injector, which is a rack mounted signal splitter. That is how I split a single guitar signal into multiple amplifiers, which is the heart of my guitar tone.

In terms of actual pedals, my main distortion sound is from several Sovtek Big Muffs set at slightly different settings. Everything else is in constant flux, as we’re always trying to make subtle improvements here and there. My favourite new pedal is the Eventide H9, and I’ll expect you’ll be hearing a lot of that pedal at future Japandroids' shows and on future Japandroids' recordings.

Q: Near to the Wild Heart of Life is your first release after signing with Anti-. What motivated the move to a different record label?

It just felt like a very natural thing to do, and at a very natural time. Celebration Rock (and the Celebration Rock tour) felt like a triumphant ending to the first era of the band, an era (and in particular, a sound) that I will forever associate with Polyvinyl. But starting in 2014, I think both Dave and I felt that we were no longer ‘continuing’ something but starting something new, and wanted a new label to represent whatever that was.

Q: The Canadian music scene continues to produce an eclectic mix of artists and sounds. Who are some of your favourite Canadian musicians, past and present?

My favourite Canadian artists of all time are probably the same yours – artists like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and The Band. I’ve been listening to these artists since I was young, and to this day, still listen to them regularly.

My favourite modern Canadian rock bands are The Constantines and The Sadies. The Constantines (in particular) were an enormous influence on Japandroids. When we started the band, they were probably our favourite band, and the one that we were most trying to emulate.

More recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Drake and The Weeknd, as I moved from Vancouver to Toronto in 2014, and both of those artists are synonymous with the city of Toronto. Their music seems to unite everyone in the city in a way that I’ve never experienced before, and travelling as much as I do, I love being able to listen to certain artists and feel like I’m instantly transported back home.

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