No Fun City Rockers
"If we could get a hot girl to sing up front there would be nothing to stop us." Over an order of Bloody Caesars, Japandroids guitarist and co-vocalist Brian King is explaining where he and drummer/co-vocalist David Prowse (no, not the dude in the Darth Vader suit) first went wrong. "We were actually looking for a girl, like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs kind of set-up, because we thought we were really good at rocking out and playing together. But over time we got really tight. We just gave up on trying to find someone - we had to start singing ourselves, somewhat reluctantly." Did their plan fall through because they couldn't find any hot girls? "We were very half-assed about it," Dave answers. Brian self-effacingly adds, "There are hot girls [in Vancouver], but they didn't want to spend any time with us."
Being a duo may not have been the initial plan for Vancouver's Japandroids. They settled on their name as a compromise between Prowse's idea (Japanese Scream) and King's (Pleasure Droids), and also often spell it without vowels: JPNDRDS. Forming in 2006 after first meeting at the University of Victoria in 2000, King and Prowse settled on the band's minimal membership once they nailed down the singing, which didn't come easily. "Neither one of us really wanted to be the lead singer, so we tried to think of how we could do things 50/50 - just sing back and forth at each other, instead of trying to be a lead singer," King explains. "But we didn't really know anything about writing lyrics or writing melodies. We were really good at rocking out, but that was about it."
They hadn't even really settled the singing issue when they made their first recording, the All Lies EP. "That's why there's a cover of a Mclusky song on there," King admits. "It was the first thing we recorded because we didn't know how to sing our own songs we'd written. When you're rocking out as hard as you possibly can, it's really difficult to sing, let alone sing well. The night before we recorded that EP, we were writing stuff down, like 'you sing this part, I'll sing this part.' And the next day we..."
"....got ourselves some peppermint schnapps," adds Prowse. And Japandroids made a record.
In the two years since those first fateful notes were captured, Japandroids wrote and recorded increasingly confident music: the Lullaby Death Jams EP and their just-released debut full-length, Post-Nothing. But two years of work - playing as many gigs as possible, holding down day jobs, doing the DIY thing - had resulted in very little for the Vancouver duo.
"We kind of decided at the end of 2008 that we would put out this record ourselves and if nothing really happened, then that was it," says King. "I don't think we were asking ourselves 'Do we just really suck?' - more like 'How much longer can we expect to keep doing this and not get anywhere?' It was like 'we're now on our third record that we've self-released in two years, we're exhausted, we're broke and we've barely had an email from anyone in that time who was interested in us."
One thing the duo had not done a lot of - for mostly financial reasons - is tour outside the West coast. (In fact, the handful of shows played around CMW 2009 marked their Toronto debut.) So when they got invited to Pop Montreal and CMJ in New York last fall, it seemed an appropriate bookend for what had, to date, been a non-starter music career. "We were flying out to Montreal and playing a few shows, then flying out to New York for a bunch of shows. As far as we were concerned, we got to go to Montreal and New York and if we were gonna call it quits, that was a great way to end it. It's much more than a lot of Vancouver bands get to accomplish. Putting out this record and going to those places would have been ending on a high note. If we decided to call it quits, our last show would have been in New York - how great is that?"
At Pop Montreal, Japandroids met Greg Ipp, the man behind a vinyl-loving label called Unfamiliar. Ipp loved the band and wanted to put out Post-Nothing; its recent release on vinyl and by digital download is skipping the CD section altogether. "One show changed our lives," King says. "We play countless shows [in Vancouver] for two years and it's one show in Montreal that changes things for us. That now becomes the best advice you can give to bands in Vancouver: go to Montreal!"
Serendipity reached its hand down and blessed their two heads, but good luck is meaningless without good tunes behind them. Recorded at Vancouver studio institution the Hive, Post-Nothing is a boisterous eight-song set of readymade sing-along anthems built on muscular grooves, fuzzbox jolts and (french kissing french) girls, (sunshine) girls and (quitting) girls. It's powerful enough to suggest that more than two people were involved, but like fellow two-man thrashing crew No Age, King and Prowse work every overdriven power chord, frenzied drum fill and dual howl as if they're compensating for three missing members.
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