Interview: Japandroids

Kevin O'Donnell

By Kevin O'Donnell

on 06.05.12 in Interviews

Celebration Rock


It’s the kind of thing music fans pray for every few years: a loud, ass-kicking, needle-in-the-red rock ‘n’ roll record that sounds best when blasting from your crappy, wax-encrusted ear buds. The Clash, Nirvana, the Replacements, No Age — they nailed the formula. And now the Canadian drums-and-guitar duo Japandroids have, too.

The group’s second album is titled Celebration Rock — and over eight monster tracks, guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse deliver just that. Opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” is a thrilling manifesto to 20-something recklessness, while “The House That Heaven Built” packs more whoa-whoa-whoas than a Replacements, Springsteen and Hold Steady record combined.

It’s a mini-miracle the record even happened in the first place. King and Prowse almost broke up before releasing their debut, Post-Nothing in 2009. That same year, King suffered a perforated ulcer, which sidelined the band for a few months.

eMusic caught up with Prowse to talk about King’s harrowing health scare, moving toNashvillefor their new album, and their hectic “nomadic” lifestyles.

Japandroids are finally releasing their second album, but you guys nearly broke up the band before even releasing your first. What happened?

We had basically given up on having a label or booking agent or any of that stuff. We were gonna put it out ourselves. We managed to sneak our way into a few festivals, despite people not knowing what we were. Then it just snowballed, for two years almost.

What took so long to get a second record out?

It wasn’t something that was on our radar because we got swept up with touring. It took a long time to make songs we wanted to play every night to a crowd. We’d been moving for so long and all of a sudden we were fixed to just one city again. It wasn’t like we weren’t working on it and hanging out at the beach.

You may have labored over writing and recording for Celebration Rock, but there’s still a real punk-rock spontaneity to your songs.

I guess we’re masters of illusion [laughs]. It wasn’t bashed out in one or two days. We had really high expectations for ourselves.

What’d you want to improve upon this time around?

Having every song tell a bit more of a story and becoming more confident as singers. We thought we needed a singer and we reluctantly sung because we had to, but as time has gone on, we put less distortion on the vocals. Now they’re quite at the forefront. And there’s a lot more words.

There’s a song on the album called “Nights of Wine and Roses.” Is that an intentional homage to Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses”?

It’s more of an homage to the Dream Syndicate. Yeah, there’s the film with Jack Lemmon that has the song. But the Dream Syndicate song is its own beast. It’s just awesome. We thought about covering it if we can figure out how to do it as well as the original.

How have your lives changed at home in Vancouver? Are you considered hometown heroes now?

I don’t think we get the hometown hero treatment or anything. Which I kind of like. It’s not a giant music town and it’s easy to slip back into normal life when you come back here. It was a bit harder coming back than either of us had anticipated. Certainly for me. I think something we realized is that we, to a large degree, lost our connection toVancouverand we became a bit nomadic.

Brian recently suffered a perforated ulcer. What happened and what’s he doing to change his life?

We had a tour in 2009 and it happened when we were inCalgary, the morning after the first show of the tour. He woke up very early and was in a great deal of pain. Luckily, we were staying at my aunt and uncle’s house and it’s near a big hospital, so I drove him and within a couple of hours, he had emergency surgery.

We went on the road in June again, which was far sooner than the doctors would’ve liked. But Brian’s a stubborn guy and was excited to do this. He’s gotten better in the sense that he hasn’t had to have emergency surgery again. But it’s a health concern he’ll always have to deal with. He could’ve very easily died.

You both relocated to Nashville to record the album. How was that experience?

It was awesome. We rented a house and set up our gear in the living room and just played music every day. We did a poor job of soundproofing. The neighbors started calling the cops all the time so that put a damper on things towards the end. But it was really fun while it lasted.

Were the cops fair to you?

They were actually awesome. I have an inherent distrust of police, but they were the nicest guys in the world. They were super into what we were doing and wanted to talk music with us and our band.

What’s your best experience from your time on the road?

We played Primavera Sound Festival in 2010. It’s the single favorite Japandroids shows I’ve ever played. Big crowd, big stage. We were like, “How the hell can all these people like our band!” And it’s just one of the coolest festivals. It’s right on the water and all the bands stay in this one hotel. Brian and I are pretty big music fan boys so it’s nice to run into your music heroes in the elevator.

Like who?

We rode up the elevator with Stephen Malkmus and down with Frank Black. It was a crazy double whammy.

Do you and Brian get on each other’s nerves while touring? How have you learned to deal with each other?

We’ve known each other for a long time, but nothing can prepare you for being with someone every single day. It’s unnatural for any two people to be together that much. And we get frustrated with each other, for sure.

If you were in the mood to antagonize him, what would you do to set him off?

[Laughs] There are plenty of things I can do to antagonize him. But it’s a losing battle. There’s no point doing that when you’re with him for six months to a year. We know how to piss each other off so we make sure not to do that. That’ll push into play this game of one-upmanship, which escalates into Armageddon.

Any big splurges since achieving a modicum of success?

We don’t define our success in financial terms, and if we did, we wouldn’t be considered successful [laughs]. I can’t buy a car. I’m living in a nice apartment with a roommate, but I’m not living lavishly, that’s for sure.