Interview: The Heart of it all: Japandroids

The Heart of it all: Japandroids

After three years of silence, Vancouver’s favourite noise-rock duo Japandroids are back with a rock ‘n’ roll record for the ages.

“It’s not like we made ‘Kid A’,” starts Japandroids’ Brian King, speaking during a brief spell of downtime on their recent European tour. “We’re not trying to drastically change. One of the fundamental reasons people listen to rock ‘n’ roll is because of its sense of freedom and escapism. Great rock music has the ability to make people feel things they don’t feel in their day-to-day lives. I certainly know it does that for me.” 

Japandroids are back, and, after spending the best part of three years completely off the radar, they’re picking up exactly where they left off. The Canadian duo’s follow-up to 2012’s ‘Celebration Rock’ is just around the corner, and the band are already raring to go. “We’ve been working on [new album ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’] in secret for a long time,” he says. “We’re both very eager to share it with the world.” 

Failing to update Facebook pages or Twitter profiles is often internet suicide – yet the fact that no one’s heard a peep out of Japandroids for the last three years, has only made the prospect of a new record that much more exciting. “That was 100% our decision – we were quite secretive publicly,” he admits. “People who knew us were aware of what was going on, but in terms of the outside world we wanted to have the freedom to work on the album without any sense of expectation.”

“For us it felt much easier to focus on the writing and recording and to give ourselves enough time to fully explore each idea we had,” he goes on. “We didn’t want any outside pressure – the danger of telling the world you’re working on a new album is that people assume it’ll be out the next month. We’ve learnt in the past that sometimes these things can take a while.” 

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“We didn’t want any outside pressure.”

Brian King

Rewind back to 2013 and Japandroids had pretty much been on tour for four years straight, visiting 44 countries and playing a ridiculous, but stellar, 500 shows in the process. The time off they then took soon became integral to their next step. Brian explains that “without the break we wouldn’t have made a very good record – it could have been a disaster for us. We wanted to make the best record we could and the only way to do that was to take a bit of time off.” 

“There was certainly some pressure when things were going well to keep things rolling. We didn’t plan on touring as much we did [for ‘Celebration Rock’],” he admits. “We kept on getting all these invites to tour all over the world and it was very hard to say no.” Their decision to take some time out wasn’t without concern. “We were worried on some level that people might not remember who we were, but we had to do what was best for the band. It’s been a very nice welcome after disappearing from the public eye for so long – we basically had radio silence for three years. Luckily people seem to really care about our band.”

And, thanks to their time away from the spotlight, drummer David Prowse is confident that with ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’, they’ve made a rock ‘n’ roll record for the ages. “The best rock ‘n’ roll albums are eight tracks long – look at Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘IV’,” he laughs. “The traditional record comes from music being pressed on vinyl in the sixties and seventies, and the way bands used to build an album was by having four tracks on each side, with each side was built as its own ‘mini-record’. That’s the way we’ve always gone about making our records and we’re both really happy with how it’s turned out.”

“I think fundamentally a lot of the best rock ‘n’ roll is romantic.”

Brian King

While the crashing drums, addictive guitar lines and blistering choruses that made ‘Celebration Rock’ so special are just as prominent on ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’, there’s a real personal touch to Brian King’s lyrics this time around. Smiling at the suggestion that he’s a romantic under the rock ‘n’ roll exterior, he has a witty reply ready. “I think fundamentally a lot of the best rock ‘n’ roll is romantic. When I think of romantic I think of a lot of different things – from your typical boy-meets-girl to the romance of being young or the idea of travelling and the open road. That’s when rock ‘n’ roll is very romantic because it’s at its most inspiring and powerful. There are people who can make really great, sad rock ‘n’ roll records but for me the most important ones are those ones that have a sense of reckless abandon.”

The album draws to a conclusion with the epic ‘In The Body Like A Grave’, a grandiose track that sees Brian delivering a litany of broad, life-affirming lyrics. As it turns out, it holds a special place on the record. “That song feels unique on that album because typically I write lyrics about my own experiences,” he explains. “You’re trying to do it in a way that people can identify with – but it comes from a personal place. With ‘In The Body Like A Grave’, I tried to write a song where I was representing a larger body of people. Those kind of songs are very hard to write without coming across as pretentious or preachy. I tried very hard to sum up what I thought was a very common life experience that everyone goes through.” In turn, it feels like an apt conclusion to a record that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Japandroids’ new album ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ is out now. 

Photos: Emma Swann / DIY