Q&A: Japandroids' Brian King on Their Single Series, Disappointing PJ Harvey, and That Siren Festival Rumor
A pair of late bloomers, guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse had never been in a band before they graduated from the University of Victoria and started chaffing against responsible adulthood and career jobs. Which meant that when the Canadian duo formed Japandroids--pride of Vancouver, heroes to those in need of fuzz and euphoria--that they laced their anthems of a life where nothing could ever be more important than friends and feedback with sense that the authors were old enough to know both how childish such ideals really are. And how much they needed to sing about them anyway. Their wry take on heartfelt punk, guitar/drums/back-and-forth vocals approach and waves of blissful last-nights-of-summer guitar gauze turned last year's Post-Nothing and its single "Young Hearts Spark Fire" into Best Of The Year staples.
They've hardly slowed down since. In addition to a year-and-a-half spent mostly touring, the pair started a seven-inch/mp3 singles series with their label Polyvinyl. So far we've seen "Art Czars" (their most bitter song yet) and "Younger Us" (their most earnest song yet) and "Heavenward Grand Prix" (their dreamiest song yet), backed with righteous covers of punk heroes (X's "Sex And Dying In High Society" and Big Black's "Racer X"). A cover of PJ Harvey's acoustic Uh Huh Her deep cut "Shame" is on the way, as well as two more single entrees and, before long, an ambitious second album. The group is wrapping up their endless tour with stops tonight at Death By Audio with friends/co-headliners A Place To Bury Strangers and tomorrow, October 27 at Maxwell's. We recently caught up with guitarist/singer Brian King to talk about cohesive albums and, more importantly, whether or not they did actually vomit before playing Siren Festival in July 2009.
In addition to constantly being on the road, you've stayed busy with your singles series. What was the idea behind this?
There were a couple different motivations. When we recorded our record, we had a bunch of other songs that were at different stages of completion, and we really only had the time and the money to record a chunk of the songs that we wanted to. I really am a fan of very cohesive records, records that sound and feel like a certain time and a certain place, and I didn't want our second album to be made up of songs that we wrote in 2007 through 2009 that didn't make it onto Post-Nothing. I wanted it to be a brand new group of songs that are from now. So if we didn't have them on [either] record, I felt like they were just going to die. And I didn't really want to do that, because we play them in our set and we like them a lot--it was just that we didn't feel that they were quite up to snuff for the [debut] record we wanted to make. So this was a way to put out some of those songs on seven-inches without having them die.
We knew that when we started touring so heavily there was no way we for us to record a second record until we actually came home for a good chunk of time and stopped touring. The more we toured, the more and more opportunities we got to tour even more, suddenly there were festivals we could play and go to Europe and go to different countries in the world, and there was no way we could not do that stuff. So we thought at the very least, whenever we came home for a week here and a week there we could at least do a seven-inch. So it was a way to have some new music trickle out over this course of time when we were touring so much.
On top of that I also just think the concept of a single series is really cool. I know Jay Reatard did one a few years ago. It's a cool way to release music and it's a cool thing for music fans to have. All of these things combined, we convinced Polyvinyl it was a good idea, and they thought it was cool--they had never done a single series before.
It's interesting. "Heavenward Grand Prix," has a slow-burn, hazy feel to it that is different for you guys.
That's the thing about Post-Nothing. We knew it was going to be a short record, and so we felt like it would be better to do this short, constant burst of energy. And when we were thinking about that song, there was nowhere we could put it on the record. We thought it would be this lull in the energy. That's one of the reasons it's a single--it's its own thing.
It's funny to think that on an eight-song album there wasn't room for more songs.
We only had a few days to record. So it was going to be about eight songs, 35 minutes or so, no matter what. So we decided that it might as well be this sonic burst the whole time, and maybe by the time we get to a second record, we'll have more time.
A lot of the songs on Post-Nothing had a real knowing earnestness about them lyrically, but "Art Czars" is just straight cynicism. [Chorus: "Here's your money back/here's your punk rock back."] What inspired that?
Actually, "Art Czars" was one we really wanted to have on the album, and we took it off at the last minute because, like you were saying, it has a different feeling than those other songs and it wasn't part of the message we wanted to send. There's a bit more sarcastic, angry feel, and the album has a bit more of a hopeful feel as opposed to a--I don't know, you might call it a negative feel. But it doesn't mean that we weren't still proud of the song or [don't] still like it. I guess if we had more time, we may have had one of those great albums that explores all sides, but it just wasn't in the cards. It sounds stupid, but we had to pick a feeling and just sort of roll with it. You know how when you listen to a lot of classic rock'n'roll records they kind of explore all sides of it? We didn't have that time to do that.
The second single, "Younger Us." You guys seem pretty young to have such nostalgia for your younger self.
You know what it comes from? It comes from [the fact that] we started a band a little bit later in life that a lot of people start bands. Both of us went to University, and graduated from University before we started playing in bands, so we were already in our early '20s even before we had our first band. When we started the band we had already graduated from University, I was already working a quote-unquote "career job." I guess you just wake up one day and realize, "Well, I went to University, and got this degree, and got this job, and now I'm on this sort of path" that your society or your parents or whoever is sort of telling you this is the right path to be on, but you feel that you're too young to be on this path already. There's so much stuff that you still wanted to do, or expected to do, that you're kind of almost being told that you're too old for that now. It was just kind of like, "Well, fuck that."