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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Japandroids: Bottling the Enthusiasm

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Some bands just seem to be having a better time than other ones, and few more so than Japandroids, the ever-stoked Vancouver duo behind last year’s fist-pumping, high-fiving, utterly triumphant rock ’n’ roll record Celebration Rock. That album radiated the kind of gut-level joy that’s almost impossible to fake, and sure enough, guitarist Brian King comes across every bit as enthused in conversation as he does on record. For King, who splits vocals in the band with drummer and best friend David Prowse, being able to travel the world playing music for a living represents the realization of a lifelong fantasy, and he doesn’t take that for granted.

“There’s an element of fantasy that has been part of this band since day one, and it’s totally ongoing,” King says. “If you told us a few years ago that we’d be able to quit our jobs and basically just play in the band and go around the world and play live music, that would have seemed totally insane to us. But every year, as you become a bigger band, new fantasies start to form. I feel like that’s the huge motivating factor in everything we do. It doesn’t get talked about a lot, because I don’t think a lot of bands like to admit that. It’s not a cool thing to talk about, because it has a childish connotation. But for us, anytime we’re in the studio, or on the stage, or doing something as a band, there’s this total element of fantasy at work. Most things still seem pretty fantastical to us.”

That perspective sets Japandroids apart from many musicians who, if they’re also enjoying living out their rock ’n’ roll fantasies, don’t always seem to show it. “We just came back from Coachella, and it was pretty amazing to me, because Dave and I were having the fucking time of our lives, not just as a band, but as music fans,” King explains. “We were like, ‘I can’t believe we’re playing this! I can’t believe we’re going to see all these bands play! This is the greatest thing ever!’ But you wouldn’t believe how many bands looked bummed to have to be there and to have to perform. They didn’t smile or talk to anybody. It just looks like they’re serving a prison sentence or doing community service or something.”

In some ways, though, rock’s pervasive, poker-faced mindset created an opening for a band like Japandroids, who turned their unabashed enthusiasm into their calling card with Celebration Rock. Unlike the group’s 2009 debut Post-Nothing, the band crafted the album to reflect the energy and crowd back-and-forth of their live shows—no small task, King notes, when you’re recording an album in a sterile, empty studio.

“It’s so hard to listen to our first record now,” King says. “When we listen to the songs, they just seem so much less powerful than we remember them being from playing them for people at the shows. Something seemed missing when we would listen to that record after touring on it so long. I cringe when I hear it because I’m so used to hearing the audiences sing back the parts and overtake the band, so when I hear the songs and it’s just Dave and I singing, it sounds so terrible to me. So for Celebration Rock, we were trying to anticipate ahead of time what parts the audience was going to identify with and sing along to. We were trying to mimic that sense of audience participation and put it on the record. We had the luxury of being able to do a tour in 2011, which was during the time we’d taken off to make a new record, and we road-tested some songs. And by playing them live, you get a sense of how people are reacting to the songs, and what parts they respond to. So when you get back to the studio you can say, ‘Oh, during this part they were really reacting. That’s going to be something they’re going to sing along with once they know the song, so we should try to mimic that before they even have the chance to show up.’”

The result is an album that plays like an especially participatory concert, though King is quick to note that it’s not actually a substitute for the band’s performances. He views Japandroids as a live band first and foremost; recording is just something they have to occasionally do in order to tour.

“We like playing live and playing shows, that’s primarily why we’re in a band; that’s why we wanted to be in a band in the first place,” he says. “Part of why we really love performing is we have this symbiotic relationship with the crowd, where it’s like the more energy they put into it, the more we put into it. Our best shows are where we’re basically battling with the audience over who can be bigger maniacs. It’s almost like this battle of attrition between the audience and the band. Those create the best shows, because it just fills the room with this incredible energy that’s really positive.”

Japandroids play Turner Hall Ballroom on Monday, May 27 with A Place to Bury Strangers. Doors open at 7 p.m.