Vancouver duo Japandroids brings its forever-young punk rave-ups to The Firebird this evening for its first show in St. Louis since dropping the beyond awesome full length Celebration Rock earlier this year. We spoke to singer and guitarist Brian King about the band's rising notoriety, its fascination with breaking up, and a rare time signature known as "Japandroids time."
Ryan Wasoba: Whenever Celebration Rock came out, there were quite a few "think piece" type articles about it, which seemed strange since the album is so straightforward.
Brian King:: We do so many interviews where I'm boggled by the questions because I find it so plain and obvious that this is how we feel and this is what we played. Someone asked why we named our record Celebration Rock. And it's like, I don't know if you've listened to the record but it's really celebratory rock and roll music. It's like, "What's the story?" and there is no story. It's rock music and it's a celebration and that's all that is. I find that, for lack of a better term it's sort of a heart on sleeve record. There's nothing to read into it. We've been very direct about the way we feel.
How has touring changed sinceCelebration Rock?
Well, we have been in a band for quite a long time. So I see where the band is right now is a slow and steady climb through seven or eight years now. There's this step one, step two thing that's easy for outsiders to see, but we feel like it's been a continuous incline. We actually have three records worth of music and there's no question that the crowds are bigger, that the band is more exposed, and things are going better than they were on the first record.
It's been month by month climbing this ladder, making it up as you go along. This tour, we're playing rooms for more people than we ever did before. We're having to learn how to fill a giant stage. Last night we played in L.A., and it was much bigger than what we usually play. Someone like Arcade Fire, they have 12 people, so it's easier for them to fill the stage. It's still just the two of us up there. We are trying to just play as many shows as we can. I don't mean this in a negative way, but we're milking the record for everything it's worth as far as getting out on tour.
Japandroids seems like a band who uses records mostly as fuel for touring.
I think as time goes on that attitude is starting to change. The shows and performing live, that's what we love to do, but the record is what's important. It takes a while to understand that people might feel the way about your record as we do about the records we love. A lot of the records I love, I have no connection to the band live or their live performance. These bands were long gone by the time I heard them, so the record is everything.
For a while the records were what we did to play more shows, and we tried to play more shows and do less records. But as time goes the tables are starting to turn because the record is everything. If we quit tomorrow, it's the record that would hopefully hang around. It's taken a long time to fully appreciate that for your own band.
The record stays what it is forever, but shows are more volatile. You can't play the best show of all time every single night.
We try to. It's not always possible, and that gives me an appreciation for bands I used to see even if it wasn't always the way you want them to be. Bands are often very tired. It's grueling and you can't always be your best, which is frustrating because we try every night to play hard and work very hard and try to make the show better. I fought for ten minutes with the lighting guy last night because I knew it would be better for the audience if a light was tilted a certain way.
In a personal way, the bands we listened to seemed like these larger than life characters. They weren't real, they were almost actors or something. They were our kind of celebrities, these mythical kind of people. I don't think of ourselves that way. And sometimes people approach us that way and look at us like the way we looked at those bands and they're nervous to talk to us. It's a weird thing that you never get used to. We consider ourselves to be regular people that happen to play in a band.
Do you think the mystifying of your favorite bands had to do with never seeing them play?
I think it does. It's also just the passage of time. Japandroids could stop playing shows tomorrow and 10 years could go by. That passage of time creates a different mythology. For all we know some guy who saw us last night and thought were were just okay, 10 years later if we broke up he could be like, "I saw them years ago on their last tour ever." It's so common. When The Replacements were a band, they were not well known. People didn't come to their shows and that's why they broke up. They never found the success they were looking for, but now they're such an important band in the rock canon and bands like us wouldn't exist without them. But there's such a difference between people who saw them now and people who didn't. Time will tell. Every interview I read with you guys, you talk about how the band could break up at any second, and you mentioned that possibility so casually just now. Why are you so obsessed with breaking up?
It's just kind of how we operate. We did break up one time and we decided to get back together when Post Nothing hit the Internet and it sort of picked up. We thought, "Let's get together and see if this is going to work. Let's just get together and do a few more shows. Let's do a tour. Let's make another record." We're only doing things one step at a time, that's as far forward as we look. We didn't even plan to make Celebration Rock until we were done touring on Post Nothing. Right now we have another tour scheduled and we have no plans after that. We operate very short term and it helps preserve the energy of the shows.
It helps us not take it for granted. How can I play an awesome show in a city if I know I'm going to be back here ten times in four or five years. I have to know this might be the last time we're playing this city, so we'd better make it fucking awesome. We're not obsessed. I think other people are obsessed, it's just how we are. I think people find success and assume they'll be together forever. We've been together longer than half of our favorite bands were together. We've been a band as long as the Beatles were together. We're not sure that we're going to do another record, we don't have any obligation contractually. We might decide that we made the best record we could potentially make and it's time to do something else.
Right now, does it seem possible to make a better record than Celebration Rock?
I don't know if it's possible. But after we made Post Nothing and it started getting great reviews and people came to our shows, we weren't sure that we could do something that people would like more. We weren't sure we could write a song better than "Young Hearts Spark Fire." We totally realized how there are so many bands who make an incredible first album and that's the one we always listen to but never listen to any of the others. We don't really know what to do to make a better record, so we can only make a record we think is better.
By the time it actually came time to write and record Celebration Rock, we had so many ideas of how to make the record better. I think by the time we've toured and had time to think about it, we got to see what the band does well and what the band doesn't do well. The type of songs on that record are the kind of songs that I think we make when we're at our best. I don't know if we'd do another record like that, Celebration Rock Part Two.
In all fairness, I do a lot of standing around too, but jumping makes for better photographs. It looks better than when I'm standing there. When I'm at the microphone people stop taking pictures and when I'm done singing people start taking pictures because people want the fucking crazy action shot. If I went to see one of my favorite bands and got a picture of somebody jumping, I'd want to put it on the internet. I do a lot of jumping, I'm not denying it.
Last question: When you played on Fallon with that dude from the Roots -- was he as uncomfortable as he looked? It was just weird because we've played together for so long and we've never played with anyone else. We don't jam or play with anyone else, and it's been just the two of us for so long that when anyone comes into that mix, it's super weird. We're so used to playing for each other, and then any outsider who jumps in to play with us just looks awkward because we're in our groove and they're just trying to find out their role when they don't really have a role at all. And we don't have to play in time as long as we have to play with each other.
But as soon as you play with someone who's a real musician, who can play in 4/4 time, it's weird. We play in Japandroids time, which is slowing down and speeding up and falling apart and coming back together. Playing with someone who's actually good, it's like, "You're speeding up, you're slowing down, what the fuck are you doing?" We don't notice because we're just used to it.