Interview : Japandroids

14 Apr

Congratulate David Prowse, drummer of Japandroids, on his Juno nomination for best alternative album, and he’ll perk up from his interview-answering disposition and take it in, with an “Oooohh, thank you.”

Follow that up by telling him the nomination is kind of a big deal, and he slumps back into his chair. “Yeah. It’s a big deal in one of those, like, your mom knows what a Juno is kind of thing,” he says.

But he’s far from his mom tonight. The 28-year-old Prowse is in the back room of the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, passing time before the band’s sold-out show in a few hours. Prowse sits in a red-cushioned chair, sandwiched between an American friend watching a Final Four college basketball game on his laptop, and the band’s manager, Melissa, who is shuffling through a large stack of receipts on the couch. The room, slightly larger than the average walk-in closet, smells of the opened bag of tortilla chips and jar of salsa in the corner.

Life’s been quite the fiesta for Prowse and guitarist/lyricist Brian King since their debut album, the youthfully loud and raw Post-Nothing, hit shelves in 2009. The record has been well-received by the likes of Pitchfork and Mark Hoppus (the latter of Blink-182 fame writing for his Spin column, Hopp on Pop, that “Japandroids just sound really different from anything out there”). Japandroids made the long-list for last year’s Polaris Prize, they rocked Jimmy Fallon in January, and they were short-listed for this year’s Galaxie Rising Stars Award at Canadian Music Week.

Japandroids formed in 2006, six years after the garage-rock duo met during their freshman year at the University of Victoria; where Prowse majored in anthropology and King in earth and ocean science. They shared the same group of friends and would attend concerts on a weekly basis with them. Ultimately, Prowse and King were the only two who wanted to make music for themselves. King’s younger brother bestowed upon Prowse his very first drum kit, and Prowse took that as a hint to get his skills together so King could start the band he always wanted.

They released two EPs and were regulars on the Vancouver gigs circuit. On weekends they’d even trek to nonexistent crowds in Edmonton and Calgary. Japandroids received little attention until 2008’s Pop Montreal Festival. That’s when independent Canadian label co-founder of Unfamiliar Records, Greg Ipp, approached Prowse and King after their gig at Friendship Cove and said he would give them complete creative control if they signed with him. Creative control was never an issue, but capital definitely was.

Ipp gained notoriety last summer for writing an open letter to the Canadian music industry, critically venting his frustrations as a small label struggling to obtain grants for its artists while more commercially viable, not-so-struggling acts rake them in. The letter was first published on an online forum, but at the behest of one of the forum’s members, it was republished via The Daily Swarm, an American music-news aggregate whose massive popularity was unbeknownst to Ipp at the time. The comments section imploded with debate. Exclaim! picked up the letter. CanWest wrote a follow-up article with perspectives from Ipp, FACTOR, and Nova Scotian troubadour Joel Plaskett.

“The biggest thing for me is that some people attribute me as saying, ‘my bands deserve all this money,’ but that’s definitely not really what I was saying at all,” said Ipp in a phone interview. “The main thing I wanted people to take from this is to say, ‘Hey look. Look how much you can do on a little bit of money.’”

“That’s one of the points I brought up: that an independent label like mine can put out six releases for the $60,000 that a band gets for a music video,” he said.

After Ipps’ letter, Japandroids became one of the two bands on Unfamiliar Records to receive a grant from FACTOR, a private non-profit Canadian organization that annually allots over $14 million to artists and labels in Canada through a jury review process. Japandroids needed that $10,000 grant for their first U.K. tour last November without going into major debt, since they were only going to be paid about $75 per show as an opening act for A Place to Bury Strangers. Prowse says he can barely make rent most months, and Ipp says his label costs more money than it makes; so organizations like FACTOR are important in fostering the Canadian music scene.

“I’d love to see a nicer or a more flexible granting system so that there’s a tiered system for smaller labels so that they’re able to get money a lot more easily and more education on exactly how it works and how you do it,” says Ipp.

“In general, I’d like a more inclusive feel to things, and when people get popular, to be more inclusive to people outside of their circles. That would be awesome but it’s never going change though. That’s how it is everywhere,” he concludes.

And then there’s the Juno nomination that Japandroids shares with popular acts Metric and Tegan & Sara.

“I really don’t feel like we fit in any way with the types of bands that normally get nominated for Junos, so the Junos are not something I really paid attention to ever,” says Prowse, scratching his beard while he talks. “Whereas with the Polaris, I was interested in who would win the Polaris Prize. That’s the nice way of saying it.”

Don’t let these accolades steer you into thinking their half-hour tardiness to tonight’s sound check is due to diva behaviour. Prowse explains an unanticipated late-night poutine excursion after their Montreal gig is to blame.

Aside from that pull to the power of poutine, very little about what Japandroids does is unanticipated. Everything from their MySpace layout to the exact stage placing of the drums and guitar are meant to reflect a late ‘70s/early ‘80s post-punk aesthetic. To further ensure that, King even designs the album artwork, t-shirts, and often their shows’ posters.

And despite enjoying this consistent visual aesthetic, Japandroids downright refuse to partake in the most quintessential of visuals for bands: the music video. Although their label has passed over five to 10 video treatments from different directors to the band, Prowse explains their music should only be experienced specifically at a show or on a record player.

“That’s kind of the way the music should be experienced, so that’s why we’re not going to be licensing our music for any commercials or any movies or any TV shows or anything like that, and why we’ll never make a music video,” he says.

When it comes to scheduling shows, Prowse admits the band—like rapper Drake and music video cameos—can’t say no. They were slated to start recording their follow-up album in the fall, but because of extended touring, they’ve pushed it back until October at the earliest. Prowse speculates he’ll be responsible for lyrics for one song at most—just like Post-Nothing—and most vocal melodies will be King’s responsibility.

“It’ll be interesting see how it goes recording a new album now that people actually have heard of us and people are actually kind of anticipating this record.”

When Prowse is back in Vancouver, he spends time with his girlfriend of three years and works for a social housing organization in the downtown eastside. In fact, many Vancouver musicians work or have worked in social housing; including two members of You Say Party! We Say Die!, the guitarist/vocalist of Bison B.C., and the drummer of Black Mountain. Prowse is disheartened social work is a booming industry in Vancouver due to poverty levels in the city, but he also finds his role in social work more rewarding than drumming.

Being an altruistic drummer is something to be marveled at, but Prowse instead marvels at the impact of the internet on his band’s success before rushing off to a quick dinner with their U.S. label, Polyvinyl Records, as fans file in for the opening acts.

“It’s an interesting era as a band because we can get reviewed on a website like Pitchfork or Stereogum or whatever, and people in Europe will know who we are in cities where they can’t get our record,” says Prowse. “People in Poland know about our record because of the internet. It’s the weirdest thing. It’s amazing.”

Posted by : Melissa Kim

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2 Responses to “Interview : Japandroids”

  1. Denise Croker April 14, 2010 at 6:41 PM #

    Melissa Kim is one of my favorite writers. Great article.

  2. Noura Ismail April 19, 2010 at 2:14 PM #

    Agreed. MKim’s da-bomb digady.

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