Live Wire: Japandroids: more human than Japanese

By Alita rickards  /  Contributing Reporter

Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - Page 11

Here’s an early heads-up for the live music crowd: Japandroids are on tour to promote a riotously good second album, Celebration Rock, and they are coming to Taipei on Jan. 24 for a gig at the Wall.

The Canadian duo’s newest offering is filled with anthemic, epic songs created in the alchemy of experiences on their last tour, fired by the audience reaction worldwide, and seasoned by the confidence they gained while promoting the band’s debut album Vancouver-centric, west coast influenced Post-Nothing (2009), which was nominated for the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year.

In an interview with the Taipei Times earlier this week, guitarist and vocalist Brian King said: “Most bands consider themselves singer songwriters — artists — more than performers or entertainers, so creating songs and recording is the primary thing, touring is a secondary thing. But we really enjoy that experience — the travel element. We still have the same excitement from when we first started, the fantasy that someday you could travel around the world and play these songs for a roomful of people waiting — this dream scenario. It’s the way we tour and we’ve never lost that.”

King and drummer and vocalist Dave Prowse both recently turned 30, but in their 20s they started off the hard way: booking venues, making posters, and handing out fliers to try to get people to come to their shows. Japandroids are no overnight sensation but a group whose hard work paid off. They were “discovered” just as they were thinking of throwing in the towel, by Greg Ipp of Toronto’s Unfamiliar Records, when they were playing at another band’s gig.

“When we recorded our first album we weren’t very confident in writing lyrics or singing,” said King. “Dave wanted to play drums and I wanted to play guitar. Neither of us wanted to be the singer. If you listen to the first album the vocals are really low in the mix and distorted, we were hiding the vocals somewhat. But when it came time to do this record, this was an area we could work on, an area to expand, we thought: ‘There could be better vocals.’”

While only one song off the first album is lyric heavy, the hit Young Hearts Spark Fire, chosen by Pitchfork Media as a Best New Track designation, most are very sparse with words. The lyrics to a personal favorite, Crazy/Forever in their entirety are: “We’ll stick together forever/Stay sick together/ Be crazy forever” — and it’s enough, though he has been known to adlib more lyrics at live shows.

King’s voice has a low-fi sincerity, and a passionate intensity that wraps itself up in the music. With an engaging, high energy live show, they could have easily worked as an instrumental band. That said, the lyrical work that has been done on the new album does pay off, with a depth of meaning and a struggle between good and evil that infuses the entire album.

“Touring so much is where the confidence came — when we played Young Hearts Spark Fire and saw people singing along, going crazy, we were aiming to have that relationship with the audience on every song,” said King.

It’s difficult to believe the fullness of the sound comes from only two guys, especially as they don’t use a lot of overdubbing or extra tracks even when recording.

“There’s no specific tips or tricks, the music itself is very busy,” said King.

“A standard five person band with a bass, drums, two guitars, a vocalist, maybe keyboards — when you don’t have that, we compensate by making ours busier. Dave plays enough drum beats for five songs in one song. I’m trying to play two different guitar parts on one guitar. Our sound guy Lewis [Lovely] mixes it all. What I’m attempting is to play all three frequencies: the lows of the bass, the chords of a rhythm guitar, and the highs of a lead guitar all on one guitar (laughs).”

Because they are a duo with a minimal crew, it’s easier to move around the world. “We love the traveling, meeting new people. When you come home you need to rest but you’re just waiting to go again,” King said.

■ Japandroids, 8pm Thursday Jan. 24 at The Wall (這牆), B1, 200, Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1). Admission is NT$1,200 at the door and NT$1,000 in advance.

On the road this weekend is electro-house-soul group Kid Millionaire, heading down to Kaohsiung to play with electro-rockers Squids for the latter’s last show before drummer Angus Cruikshank departs for travels of his own. The two live electro acts lit up Underworld last weekend as partygoers jostled for space on the dance floor.

■ 11pm Saturday at Rocks, B1, 219 Juguang St, Kaohsiung (高雄市莒光街段219號B1). Admission is NT$300 with one drink, NT$200 with student ID.