Everything and Nothing: An Interview with Japandroids

Kevin Nguyen talks to the Pitchfork-approved garage-rock duo Japandroids about their debut record Post-Nothing, their hometown of Vancouver, and music blogs.

The music of Vancouver’s Japandroids is straightforward, but that shouldn’t be taken as an insult. The two piece is all power chords and cymbal crashes, the kind of punk-pop ruckus that makes you wish you were in a band.

Post-Nothing, the band’s critically adored debut on Polyvinyl Records, is a rare example of an album that’s as noisy as it is earnest. “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” the band’s most popular song, is a distortion-heavy anthem drunk on wine. The reprise of “Sovereignty” declares that they don’t give a fuck (about what, who knows?). At a moment in music when most bands are so self-conscious — to the point where they make concerted efforts to not appear self-conscious — Japandroids have made a name for themselves with a surprisingly honest record.

I sat down with guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse (who also share vocal duties) before their at Seattle’s Chop Suey on December 1st.

King (left) and Prowse (right) rock out at Chop Suey, Seattle; photo by Jason Tang.

King (left) and Prowse (right) rock out at Chop Suey, Seattle; photo by Jason Tang.

The Bygone Bureau: I’ve noticed there’s a central theme on your record, and it seems to be girls.

David Prowse: Girls are mentioned quite often. I think personally, there’s a few different themes that run throughout the album. Girls and love and everything associated with that, and loving and hating where you’re from, loving and hating growing up and getting older. I can’t get too in-depth on the lyrics because Brian doesn’t ever reveal what he’s talking about in his songs. I don’t even have that knowledge, and I’m sure Brian won’t give it to you. But I think 90% of the songs are about love in some form of an another.

Brian King: I think it’s less about just girls per se and more about everything related to the subject. It’s not an album full of songs about a girl or songs to a girl. It just happens that girls are mentioned in a lot of the songs because they’re a part of all the things that Dave was talking about. If you pick two or three or four songs that mention girls on the record, none of them are really about the same things. They just used the word girls or it’s implied in some kind of context.

That’s funny, because you said the album was about “everything” but it’s called Post-Nothing.

King: Well, I did want to call it Post-Everything for a while. I wanted to. But I thought it would be interpreted in the wrong way. It’d be interpreted as a really pretentious name and not just a funny name. We thought it was kind of sassy and clever, in the same way we thought Post-Nothing was sassy and clever. But Post-Nothing definitely can come off a lot less pretentious than Post-Everything, which could be interpreted like, “You think you’ve re-invented the wheel, do you?”

You said you have a love/hate relationship with Vancouver, and I’ve heard you guys call Vancouver a city that wasn’t “musician friendly.” Could you expand on that?

Prowse: We were talking to the sound guy at this venue, because he was talking about the bars in Vancouver and we were mentioning the ones that have closed down in recent years. One of the big problems is that venues have trouble staying open, especially venues that cater to supporting local music. They just have trouble making enough money to survive, and pay the high rents that exist in Vancouver. It’s a really expensive city to live in; it’s one of the more expensive cities to live in in North America rent-wise.

There are weird issues with the city — noise limits, getting the proper licensing to have live music and to sell liquor. There are all sorts of weird forces conspiring against music being created in Vancouver, even though there’s a ton of awesome people living in Vancouver and making great music. It’s a tricky place because the city itself is not that supportive, and it’s also quite isolated. If you’re from Seattle, you can go play a show in Portland a few hours away or Olympia. With Vancouver, the next major town is at least 10 hours away.

Close up of King's Stratocaster; photo by Jason Tang.

Close up of King’s Stratocaster; photo by Jason Tang.

So you guys are finishing up a pretty epic tour, and just getting back from the UK. Is it different touring in Europe than it is in the States, or even in Canada?

Prowse: It’s awesome. It’s really exciting, even though it’s not that different in that you’re playing the same kinds of bars and venues. It’s very similar in a lot of ways. But there were two things that were exciting for us. First, we got to open to A Place to Bury Strangers on most of that tour, which was awesome because they’re great people and just a great band — really impressive, devastating live act. Also, neither of us had never been to the U.K before, so just going somewhere new and seeing different cities was super exciting. It was a weird form of tourism, almost, for us. We could travel and visit all these cool places. We played quite a few new cities in North America too, but we also played places we’ve visited at some point in our lives or played there before. Getting to go some place where everything was basically brand new was super exciting, really exciting.

King: There are some pretty big differences inherently. For example, the drives are a lot shorter, especially in the UK. So your travel time is just less, which gives you more time in whatever city you end up.

Prowse: You get to see a place and not just play it.

King: And also that was the first time we’ve ever done a support tour. It was a totally different experience for us, playing before someone else and playing for shorter. We were a lot of the times playing for someone else’s audience. That was different for us too. I think those are the two big differences.

Any horror stories from the road now that the tour is wrapping up?

Prowse: Uh, well, yeah.

King: No true horror stories.

Prowse: The biggest thing was car troubles. The car that we’re driving now [in the U.S.] is ready to explode at any moment, and I’m fearful for my life every second I spend inside of it. And our car in the UK got a flat tire, a key broke off in the lock of it, a piece of the roof got smashed when we were trying to get into a parking lot that had a lower clearance than what we could actually fit in. That kind of crap happened all the time.

But all the shows have been super fun. Nothing horrible has happened. In terms of a tour horror story, I don’t think it could get any worse than in the spring when Brian had to have emergency surgery and was hospitalized.

You had a [perforated] ulcer, right?

King: We have that to keep in context any time something kind of negative happens in the band.

Prowse: Nobody has come close to death on this tour. We’re doing quite well.

King: We never missed any shows, never had to cancel any shows in three months. So even though some of the shows were less spectacular than others — some people in the band may have been over-intoxicated — there was never anything devastating like that at all.

So I guess it’s good that it happened first. You got it out of the way forever.

Prowse: It puts things in perspective.

King: We’d like to believe that. So we’ll see what happens.

I read the other day that Pitchfork called “Young Hearts Spark Fire” one of the best songs of the year, so far. But it wasn’t one of the songs that spoke to me on the album. But I was curious what your favorite songs on the record were.

Prowse: I’d probably say that “Young Hearts” is my favorite song. I mean, I obviously like all the songs on the album — at least you’d hope so. I’ve always loved that song, but it’s even more special to me now that it’s our most well-known song. So playing it live is always a lot of fun because that’s one of the songs people really lose their minds for. And it’s fun to sing along to. It’s always my favorite song when we play because that’s the moment people get really into the show. The thing that makes or breaks a show to me is the audience’s energy, and that song is when the audience’s energy will peak and everybody will be their most crazy.

It’s definitely the song I see posted whenever there’s a blog writeup on you guys. And there seemed to be a lot of talk about Japandroids on the blogs during your tour in England. Do you guys keep up with the stuff on the blogs?

Prowse: I don’t —

King: I do.

Prowse: Brian keeps up real well with it, but I kind of check it out every once in a while.

Do you have any favorite music blogs?

King: Um, well, you have to remember the ones most of the time that mention us. So I have little-to-no control over the ones I end up reading. A lot of times I don’t know if there like one person at home giving their opinion, or a more established, larger site. Sometimes I have no idea. To be honest, except for a handful of ones everybody knows, there are so many, and you may have three of four people write up your show every night when you’ve been on tour for three months, so that’s a lot of blogs to read. It can be a little bit overwhelming to keep, but I try, I do my best.

As far as favorite ones go, I would say big ones that everyone knows and everybody reads — well, I don’t know about “favorite,” but there’s a reason everyone reads them and they’re really popular. They’re not popular because they have bad writing and they don’t know what they’re talking about; usually, everybody loves them because they were the most well-written, well-thought articles about music by music who dedicate themselves entirely to it.

I know most blogs are pretty positive about you guys, but do you ever come across things that are a little more critical? And how do you respond to that?

King: To be honest, I think we’re our own harshest critics. For example, if someone says, “Oh I went and saw Japandroids, and it sucked” and if it did — which occasionally it does — we were probably harder on ourselves than anyone could possibly write about us. I never really read anything that I’m particularly offended by because either I think there’s a bit of truth in it and I acknowledge it or we’re already being really hard on ourselves.

Japandroids will be back in tour in February. Post-Nothing is out now on Polyvinyl Records.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.