Emily Zemler | February 01, 2017
They say if it's not broke, then don’t fix it. But that sort of wisdom is too conventional for Japandroids. The Vancouver duo, comprised of singer/guitarist Brian King and singer/drummer David Prowse, came out of their last album with the need to shake things up, even though nothing was really amiss. After touring on 2012’s highly acclaimed Celebration Rock, the pair started writing new music but, this time, it was different. King had moved to Toronto while Prowse stayed in Vancouver, so they had to pen ideas separately before meeting up for several weeks at a time to go through the possible songs.
“It totally changed it,” King says, calling from Mexico City, where he spends part of his time. “There was no way we were going to be able to work in the way that we used to. But, at the same time, while there was a little bit of uncertainty about how this would work in the beginning, it actually turned out to be a really positive thing for both of us. It totally rejuvenated the band in a way that you wouldn’t think would be possible 10 years later.”
The duo was still trying to plan for their third album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, but they did know what they didn’t want to do again this time around. “All of our early EPs and records were made in the same formula,” King admits. “We knew specifically that e weren’t going to do that. On our last record, we’d nailed it in terms of our original vision when we started the band and we decided, this time, we’re going to throw caution to the wind and attempt to make a real studio record.”
“We wanted the new record to take people on a bit more of a journey,” Prowse adds. “We were both interested in having a wider range of sonic environments—bigger dynamic changes, a wider variation of rhythms and tempos, a wider range of instrumentation, etc. We definitely anted to open some doors that had been somewhat closed before.”
The idea was to remove all the limitations and rules that had been in place on their prior albums while in the studio. The musicians used instruments other than their usual drums and guitar, and they didn’t want to only record live takes of the music. If it sounded cool and they both liked it, then it could be a Japandroids song. “It forced us to broaden our ideas of what a Japandroids song even is,” King says. “It makes us feel like maybe we’re more than this one specific thing that we’ve figured out how to do really well. In some ways, it almost feels like starting a new band and doing your first record.”
Of course, one of the most iconic things about Japandroids, who are now entering their tenth year as a band, is their massively impassioned live show. Onstage, the group offers a singular experience, pouring the energy of a five-piece into the room with just the two of them. So what happens when the band doesn’t make a live album and doesn’t necessarily plan for the live performances in the studio?
“There’s definitely been a lot of trial and error, and the trial and error will continue,” King says. “It reminds me of some of our first shows, getting up in front of people and not really being sure if it’s going to work or not, and going for it and seeing what happens. That’s introduced an element of chaos and uncertainty into the shows that maybe, by the end of touring on our last record, wasn’t really there anymore. We knew what we were doing and we did it every night.”
Now, they can bring something unique to the stage each night, changing the dynamic with every show. There’s no one way the songs on Near to the Wild Heart of Life should be played, which means that each date of the band’s extensive tour this year will be an individual occurrence. “If we spent a lot of time thinking about the live show, this record would have ended up being louder, faster and sounding much more similar to Celebration Rock,” Prowse notes. “And while we are both very proud of that album, we weren’t interested in repeating ourselves.”
“There’s a shift in our songwriting,” King adds. “If you listen to our three albums in order, the second one has twice as many lyrics as the first one, and this one has twice as many lyrics as the second one.” That kind of ongoing metamorphosis seems important a decade down the road. Japandroids’ first EP, All Lies, dropped in 2007, and their first album, Post-Nothing, came out in 2009. The duo credit their longevity to their chemistry, which King promises isn’t perfect. It is, however, more than enough to keep the music flowing.
“We’re in a good place personally and professionally but, in 10 years, there’s been a lot of ups and downs and rocky times,” he says. “There’s by no means a secret to keeping it together and making it a success. There’s been times where it’s felt like it was dangling by a fucking thread, I’ll tell you that. But it’s not like we’re two guys who met on Craigslist. Our friendship goes back almost 20 years. There’s a bond there that’s bigger than the band.”
“The biggest reason why Japandroids is still trucking along is that there is something Brian and I get from playing in this band that we can’t get elsewhere,” Prowse adds. “We both really enjoy playing the music we make and are still inspired by what we’re doing with this band. So as long as we’re still excited about what we’re doing and where we can go from here, I don’t see any reason to stop.”