Issue 21, Magazine

Japandroids “Just The Two Of Us”

Drew Fortune :: Thursday, September 10th, 2009 5:07 pm

The Japandroids are somewhere outside of Ontario, on a dark, lonely stretch of road, and the bottle rockets are starting to fly. I’m on the phone with guitarist/vocalist Brian King, and I can hear the bottle rockets zinging out the car window and exploding in the night sky. The two-piece garage rock revisionists are on the road following a high-profile gig at the Ottawa Blues Fest and spirits are high. And why shouldn’t they be? Brian King survived a near death experience at the beginning of the year, a perforated ulcer which demanded a six week re-cooperation, resulting in the band postponing their first major tour. 

After meeting at University in Vancouver and releasing two well-reviewed but seldom heard EPs, King and drummer/partner-in-crime David Prowse put everything they had into their first full length, Post-Nothing, late last fall. It was a make or break situation, a planned self-release that perfectly captured the breakneck spirit and intensity of the Japandoids’ live shows. If it fell on deaf ears, Prowse was ready to re-evaluate his life and put the band on hold. Shortly after the release, Pitchfork ran a gushing review of the album, and the band signed to the small but über hip Canadian label Unfamiliar. Suddenly, the two Canadian natives were on the radar, criss-crossing the country in an SUV with trailer in tow, converting the uninitiated at Seattle’s Capital Hill Block Party and the KEXP BBQ.

Japandroids have pulled over to the side of the road, and King attempts to speak with me while simultaneously urinating and firing a bottle rocket at their booking agent, who, in King’s inebriated opinion, has been acting, “a bit too uptight.” Like their music, there is no bullshit in the Japandroids’ world. King and Prowse’s sound is lean and raw, stripped down yet full, raucous but never off the rails. For a two-piece, they make one hell of a noise, recalling the reverb saturation of Jesus and Mary Chain but with a Stooges mindset and penchant for excess and fun. As the SUV starts up again, the driver a nervous wreck, King and Prowse pass the phone back and forth, giggling and speaking with a teenage intensity. Armed with only a guitar, drum kit and a small arsenal of fireworks, they are two guys on the open road, ready to take on the world.

I had no idea how serious a perforated ulcer could be. Was it an “I’ve seen the light” type situation?

Brian King: It was one of those situations where I was extraordinarily lucky to be near a hospital when it happened. After the whole thing was over and I was recovering from surgery, we were explaining to the doctor why we were in Calgary—that we were a band on tour driving from city to city. The day before, we had driven from Vancouver to Calgary, which is a ten-hour drive, and he told us that if my ulcer had happened while we were in the car driving six hours from a major hospital, that there’s no way I would have made it. So it was incredibly lucky that I was ten minutes from a hospital when it happened. Essentially what had happened was that morning my stomach had basically exploded inside my body and acid was eating away my internal organs. Luckily I didn’t know how life threatening it was until after the fact.

Is it good to be back on the road?

BK: It’s been every single rock cliché you can think of. I didn’t really know it would be like this until we actually started the tour. Every night we’re just crossing rock and roll clichés off our list. We’re pretty much drunk every fucking night, and every night it’s a miracle that we even show up and perform a show. For a lot of the tour it’s just been Dave and I on our own. So it’s been two guys zigzagging the continent trying to drive to cities, play shows, sell merch, take care of the logistics and just try and do everything ourselves. It’s been one of those classic first tours that you hear bands talk about long after they’ve made it and they have a whole fucking crew and some big fucking bus, and they get nostalgic for when they were young and it was crazy and they didn’t know what they were doing. We’re directly in that stage where we have no fucking idea what we’re doing.

How are you handling all the recent attention? Is it nerve-wracking?

David Prowse: As far as our surge in popularity goes, it’s been pretty crazy and pretty wonderful to be honest. We were talking about this earlier today actually. It’s pretty amazing that we can now play Omaha, where we’ve never played before, on a Monday night and a whole bunch of people come out. Not only come out, but are into it and singing along and really thankful and warm after we play. We’re really lucky in that respect. It’s also pretty crazy, and we’re really jumping into the deep end, for sure. Like today, playing the Ottawa Blues Fest, we played on this gigantic stage and ridiculous bands like Kiss are playing the same festival. It’s totally surreal. All the club shows have just been awesome as well, and being at small bars in cities we’ve never been to almost feels like playing hometown shows because everybody has been so into it.

Did you know instantly that you worked best as a duo? Did you think about bringing in any extra players?

DP: We thought about maybe having somebody come in and sing, but we have always liked the instrumental dynamic between us. An obvious question would be, Did you guys ever think about having a bassist? And the answer is no. I don’t think that we ever thought there was a need for that. As time has gone on, we’ve really learned how to work with what we’ve got, and the two-piece format works so well for us because we get to create as much sound individually as we want, and we have all the sonic space to work with that we want. And I really feel that we make such a full sound as a two-piece that having a bassist would detract from what we’re doing.

What makes a good Japandroids show and a bad Japandroids show?

BK: Wow, that is an excellent question that we’ve never been asked, and I could go into great lengths about that. Do you want the short or long version?

Expound. Give me what you’ve got.

BK: A great Japandroids show is in a small club full of people who know all the songs and are really into our band, because we just absolutely go crazy when we play in situations like that. The wilder the crowd gets, the wilder we get, and we just feed off each other. If the crowd is into it, Dave and I will just go fucking crazy for them, and we try and give them everything and more that they think our band is.  A bad show is when we have to play for a bunch of people who don’t really know our band or our music and don’t really give us anything back. In those situations, we just do our best to be ourselves and just try and get through it. But even those nights aren’t that bad. What’s really horrible for us are the ones where we’re doing some kind of taped performance, or taped interview. That is where both of us have a really difficult time with performing because it’s so hard to try and manufacture truly passionate rock and roll. Dave and I love performing and playing, and when people are into it we go absolutely crazy and try and give it everything we possibly can. That’s an incredibly long-winded answer, but I feel very passionate about that issue.

In five years, where would you like to find yourself? What is your idea of happiness and success?

BK: Literally every day something new is happening to us as a band that is completely difficult for us to comprehend. If you had asked me that question six months ago, I would have said that there’s no fucking way we’d even be a band in five years.  I wouldn’t have thought that we still would have been a band in two years. But now, it’s kind of blown wide open, so much so that I’m totally unsure about the future. I suspect that we will quit long before we become a shadow of our former selves. People often describe our band as very earnest. There’s no bullshit, it’s just two guys who love to play music getting up there to rock and singing about the things that they know. As long as the band can continue to do that, then we’ll keep doing it. But the second that we can’t do it, then I’m fucking done. Because I don’t believe in anything but that. I want to make sure that every time we make a record and play a show, that we exist in the most pure, real and passionate way possible. And as soon as we can’t do that then we’ll fucking end it. I hope that we can continue to do that in five years, but if there’s any industry in the world that can crush you in less time than that, it’s the fucking music industry. We’ll sacrifice the band long before we become a part of the machine.

One Response to “Japandroids “Just The Two Of Us””
  1. [...] our new faves, Canadian duo Japandroids. You can go out and buy it in print or read it by clicking here you cheap bastard. Anyway, there’s an addition to our video player over there on the [...]

    Posted by: Death + Taxes Magazine September 11th, 2009 at 6:52 pm