Japandroids are having a great time on stage, and that's usually synonymous to success. Those who've seen them live leave their gig with a big smile on their faces and soaking with sweat. Their brilliant second album, “Celebration Rock”, captures all that energy. We spoke to Dave Prowse, drummer and vocalist, to have a look around the Vancouver duo's universe.
Email interviews are usually a nightmare for journalists. You can't establish personal contact, you don't see the one you're supposed to talk to and vice versa. Also, it usually takes time before you get your answers, and most of the time, artists don't really feel like elaborating too much on their answers. So you tend to get really short and basically lame interviews. Furthermore, you have to be really careful when formulating your questions, because there's no room for rephrasing. So when you receive a mail from a band like Japandroids that’s considered, detailed, without digressions and actually answers the questions clearly, it feels glorious.
Because we chose their sophomore album, “Celebration Rock”, among the best of the first half of this year - and will likely have them in our top ten in December - we sent the Vancouver duo a questionnaire. Dave Prowse, singer and sticksman, told us about how the album came about, their maturity as musicians, their passion for touring (if it were up to him, he'd be on the road for thirty years), of the possible existence of an actual Canadian music scene, and many other things. Here goes.
What are the main differences production-wise between “Post-Nothing” and “Celebration Rock”?
Well both of our records were recorded in the same studio (the Hive) with the same engineer (Jesse Gander), so there isn't a drastic difference sonically between the records. We're less ashamed of our voices, so the vocals are cleaner and higher in the mix, and the whole album sounds a little bigger and clearer to me. Some of that comes from the improvements Brian and I have made as musicians over the past few years, and the fact that we just aren't as sloppy as we once were. But a lot of that comes from Jesse Gander. We've been working with him for a long time now, and he keeps getting better at capturing our sound. Plus we didn't have the same time constraints, so we didn't have to settle for anything, and could take the time to make sure everything sounded as good as it could. Obviously we still don't think the album is perfect, but it's a lot closer to what we wanted than “Post-Nothing” is.
Why did you decide to spend some time in Nashville finishing the album?
Things just weren't happening quickly enough in Vancouver. It wasn't inspiring in the same way it had once been, and it seemed like the record was never going to get finished if we stayed in Vancouver. So we chose to move somewhere new for a little while, specifically somewhere that we found inspiring, and where we didn't know anyone. Nashville is a great place, and we had a lot of fun there. It was exciting to go to a new city, set up your equipment in the living room, explore your surroundings at night and play music every day. I can't exaggerate how important that trip was for us, in terms of getting this record done.
"Our rule is that if the energy of the take is good, that's more important than having it be technically perfect"
You said you don’t consider yourselves songwriters, but the lyrics have improved a lot on this second record. How did you achieve this?
Well I didn't write any of the lyrics on this album, but I would say that knowing your record is going to be heard by a lot of people puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure you are proud of every aspect of the album. I think we always had confidence in ourselves as musicians, but for a long time we weren't as confident in ourselves as lyricists or singers. Brian spent a lot of time working on lyrics for this record, and I think all of that effort is apparent in the finished product.
If someone hasn’t had the chance to see you live, they can figure out listening to your music how your concerts are. How did you manage to translate the live experience to the studio?
In general, our rule is that if the energy of the take is good, that's more important than having it be technically perfect. This time around we tried to have the energy high without having anything sound sloppy. It's hard for us to get that balance, and it took a lot of time and effort to have a take we thought was strong enough to have on the record. Jesse really helped to push us to strive for and capture that feeling that we wanted. He was incredibly important in helping us make this record and shaping its sound.
Although, it doesn’t feel too short, eight songs is quite few for a record. Why did you decide to go for that small number of tracks?
“Post-Nothing” was eight songs as well, so it didn't seem too strange to do that again. Once we had eight songs that we were proud of, that had been recorded and mixed to our liking, we weren't interested in taking more time to write and record some more songs. It felt like a complete album already.
“Continuous Thunder” is more of a mid-tempo love song opposed to most of your energetic songs. How was the process of writing it?
“Continuous Thunder” was a difficult song to write. It's much less familiar territory, and it's hard not to push that song in the same direction as all of our other songs. It was fun to challenge ourselves like that, and it's nice to have something a little different on the record. We knew we wanted a slow song for the record, and we definitely had to make an effort to write a slow song.
"We needed thosefew years of touring constantly and improving as musicians and singers and songwriters to be able to make that album"
What do you find harder: writing visceral or mellow songs?
Mellow songs are infinitely harder for us to write.
You covered The Gun Club here. How did you first discover this band?
I discovered them through Brian. I'm not sure how he discovered them. Good question!
You are often compared with No Age, but I think the main difference between you two is that they introduce an experimental element in their music and you go straight to the point of doing raw and forceful music. Do you see yourselves experimenting more in future releases?
I think everyone who plays in bands wants to continuously keep improving as a musician, as a singer, as a songwriter, etc. We weren't capable of making an album like “Celebration Rock” in 2009. We needed those few years of touring constantly and improving as musicians and singers and songwriters to be able to make that album in 2011. I hope on future releases we keep pushing ourselves and expanding on what we've done before. I wouldn't say that we will be experimenting per se, but hopefully we keep growing as we continue.
The cover-art of your records is quite simple: the two of you posing in casual ways. This makes me think of a bunch of classic punk cover arts. Was that your intention?
How’s the relationship between the two of you?
Well we've known each other for more than twelve years now, and we've played in a band together for six of those twelve years. When you spend that much time in a van together, you either learn to get along or you don't. I think it helps that we knew each other for so long before the band started. It would probably be much more difficult to be thrust into a situation like that with someone you didn't really know.
What inputs does Dave give Brian and vice versa?
Unfortunately for us, it takes a long time to get a song from infancy to completion. So there is a lot of back and forth between us most of the time, and a lot of brainstorming on how the song should progress. Sometimes Brian has a very clear idea of how he wants the song to go, but most of the time we spend a lot of time playing it and slowly developing it into something we like.
"Being in a touring band is pretty much the best job in the world"
You split up before releasing your debut album. What were the circumstances around this and why did you decide to continue?
We split up because the band wasn't going anywhere. We felt we had accomplished a lot for a local band, but things had hit a wall and it didn't really seem like we were going to be able to make that jump into the land of touring. Then all of a sudden, right after we decided to move on, some people started to take interest in our band, so we decided to see where it would lead. That was almost four years ago. We're still curious to see where this is all headed.
You seem to love playing live. How long do you think you could last touring? Three years? Forever?
Being in a touring band is pretty much the best job in the world. It can be tiring, but you never get tired of it, if that makes sense. Obviously some people can do it forever, but I think for myself it will last for as long as I'm genuinely enjoying it. If I start to get to a point where I don't enjoy touring, the shows will start to feel disingenuous and I won't feel right about playing any more. So that could be in three years, or it could be in thirty years. Only one way to find out, I suppose.
"To be honest, I'm pretty fearful of meeting my musical idols"
Do the good parts of touring compensate for all the time being away from home?
Playing live in front of audience is an incredible thing to experience, and I am very lucky to be able to do that every night. It certainly can get hard to be away from home for so long, and it's difficult to maintain relationships with your friends and loved ones back home when you're leading such a nomadic existence. Perhaps at some point a time will come when I will prefer to have roots again and be a bit more sedentary. But for now, I can't imagine giving this up. It's just too much fun.
The record is called “Celebration Rock”. Which rock legends of yours would you invite to a party and why?
To be honest, I'm pretty fearful of meeting my musical idols. I've had the opportunity to talk to some musicians who mean a lot to me, and most times I've chickened out. So I don't think I would invite Neil Young to a party, for example, because I wouldn't have a fucking clue how to talk to him and not seem like a raving lunatic fanboy.
"Most Canadian bands spend the majority of their time trying to break into the US"
You released three singles in 2010. Is it your intention to release a new single record like “No Singles”?
Originally we planned to record more singles and hopefully put out another compilation, but then this new record became more important than that project. If we ended up having enough singles to warrant another compilation, then yes we would definitely do that. We would love to make that happen. We'll see how things go…
Do you think the Canadian music scene has reached a point of creativity and popularity that can now be compared to the American music scene?
I think the Canadian scene is just part of the North American scene, rather than being in competition with an American music scene. Most Canadian bands spend the majority of their time trying to break into the US. Our band plays a ton of shows in the US and Canada every tour, but most of our tours have far more shows in the US than in Canada. There are just so many more places to play down there, and it's just such a powerful cultural force. Obviously there are plenty of talented Canadian musicians out there, and I do feel a kinship with Canadian musicians, but I don't think it can really be seen as some sort of unified national music scene. Growing up in Vancouver, I'm sure I've seen a lot more bands from Seattle than I've seen bands from Edmonton or Halifax or wherever.