Interview: Noise-rockers Japandroids

Ashley Cooke talks Formula 1, alcohol and Guns ‘n’ Roses with Japandroids’ Brian King

Back in 2009, Japandroids provided the Pitchfork reader’s summer anthem. ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire,’ with its insanely catchy refrain and fuzzy guitar, spawned fan sing-a-longs lamenting their, and the band’s, fading youth. Post-Nothing, the album from which the single came, was long-listed for the Polaris Prize, nominated for a Juno, and featured in numerous end of year lists. This success was entirely unexpected. The band had been planning to call it quits shortly before they received some label interest and a physical release. Three years on, with a sophomore album under their belt and a loyal fanbase, it seems crazy that their music almost never made it into the public domain. I caught up with Brian King, the guitarist and lead vocalist for the two-man band, to talk about their latest album Celebration Rock, released earlier this year (and given glowing praise by yours truly in this very paper.) But don’t just take my word for it. King tells me, “I prefer Celebration Rock because I think it is the best record we’ve done yet.”

Japandroids are a duo. “We met at university and decided to start a band for kicks after we graduated. Initially, we wanted to have a dedicated vocalist, as neither one of us was interested in singing. Due to a variety of circumstances, that didn’t exactly pan out and we settled on the band as a duo.” Not that this has held them back in any way.  King tells me it was Guns ‘n’ Roses that got him into music, and Japandroids certainly display some of that ferocity. When I asked him to describe his music in one word, he gave me two: Celebration Rock. Then, once again working in an album title, he informs me “We are a rock ‘n’ roll band — we are post-nothing.”

Now, I thought Celebration Rock was about the hedonistic excesses and pleasures of youth. On ‘The Nights of Wine and Roses’, the band sing “Don’t we have anything to live for/ Well, of course we do, but until it comes true we’re drinking,” whilst on ‘Younger Us’ King shouts, “Gimme that night you were already in bed, said fuck it, got up to drink with me instead.” He even tells me they would be called ‘Hot Gods’ if they weren’t Japandroids, so you can forgive my assumption. In fact, King explains, “I was trying to boil the battle between good and evil that is existence down into 35 minutes of punk rock. At least, that is what I was trying to do…” Well, it’s subjective right? La mort de l’auteur, but I accept my mistake and move on.

Where Post-Nothing laments a passing youth, Celebration Rock describes one still playing out. The first two inspirations for the album were alcohol and women, King tells me, alongside love/lust and close friends, and the result is a very intimate record, especially when seen live. Whether they’re playing festivals or London basements, they perform with a ferocity quite remarkable for a duo. “At club shows, the heat, the sweat, and the proximity to the audience combine to create an intensity that simply cannot be replicated in a festival setting,” King tells me. And at festivals they play with the same fervour. “There is a certain energy that can only exist with such large numbers. That, combined with the immediacy of shorter festival sets, the shear volume, etc., creates a different kind of intensity that cannot be replicated in a club setting.”

Touring a new album is also difficult, when fans have come to love your older tracks, but Japandroids haven’t found this to be a problem. “As the year progresses, it is becoming more and more obvious that our new songs are replacing those from Post-Nothing as the most popular, which is a strange, yet exciting feeling.” And how do they write such songs I wonder? “Honestly, I don’t know how we actually do it. There is absolutely no method to the madness.”

King tells me their shows are quite exhausting, and so playing in Vancouver is their favourite gig as it marks the end of the tour and a chance to get home. Fed up of each other by then he admits, he does “very little unrelated to my cat” once at home. Still, they love being Japandroids, and there are few other careers they would prefer. “The best job in the world is Formula 1 race car driver, hands down… While certainly not ‘the best,’ being a musician is a very good job, and I am very lucky to have it. I get to travel around the world, playing music for people — what could be better then that? Well, being a Formula 1 race car driver obviously, but you know what I mean…”

And before you ask, they have been to Japan. “We went to Japan for the first time this past summer for Fuji Rock Festival, and we are already planning on going back at the start of 2013.”