As Tokyo Police Club Take One Last Victory Lap, They Get to Be Their Own Band’s Biggest Fans

"It would sure be sick if, somewhere in there, I could have made $5 million and bought a house. But so what? I got to be in Tokyo Police Club!"

Photo: Calm Elliott-Armstrong

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished Jun 14, 2024

On January 23 of this year, Tokyo Police Club announced that they were breaking up — news that was met with both nostalgia and a renewed sense of respect for the band. It didn't go unnoticed by the aughts indie rock veterans.

"It's been really cool to see, on Instagram and in comments, people tagging and seeming to reconnect with college friends or people that they've fallen out of touch with," points out keyboardist Graham Wright. "We all get older, we see people less often, and music can hold so much memory. And if people get together with old pals and have a beautiful reunion at the [final] Tokyo Police Club shows, that would really warm my heart."

The response was so overwhelming that the first History show sold out in minutes. Another was added. Then another. All told, they sold out four shows at the venue, and the "big bash" turned into something much bigger, a celebration worthy of a much beloved Canadian band, something the band certainly wasn't anticipating or expecting.

"We've been around for a while," bass player and lead vocalist Dave Monks reminds us. "And the music has been existing in people's lives for so long. You don't know what its reach has become, you don't know how many car CD players [2010's] Champ is living in and whose kids are growing up listening to that. It sort of just keeps echoing on. And we put it out there and we thought maybe some people would care — and, in terms of the shows, and the tickets sold, it was very, very surprising. We were all thoroughly surprised. It was nice."

Two decades as a band — as a predominantly independent band, no less — is more than commendable. During this time, TPC released four full-length albums, a covers album, two live albums, and five EPs: a veritable treasure trove of catchy, urgent, and wholly unique indie rock. The band's final shows promise to be triumphant, tear-filled events for everyone involved, and TPC don't take that responsibility — of showing up and delivering — lightly.

"I think we're all big Tokyo Police Club fans, too," Monks admits. "So, in a way, seeing the tickets sell, we're like, 'Yeah! This band is awesome, thank you!'" He laughs. "Which I think is funny, because we're a high school band! And the only way you get off the ground in high school is by having your head in the clouds and being like, 'We're a big deal!' It's a nice feeling for us to all be in. I'm like, "Yeah! That's what I'm talking about! This band is cool!"

Even before Champ became a certain mainstay in many a car CD player, the start of TPC's career was equally as unexpected as the recent response — and equally as meteoric: they formed in 2005, and by the end of April 2006, they'd already put out the insta-classic A Lesson in Crime EP on Paper Bag Records. The EP was so good, so immediately acclaimed, that they were invited to perform on Letterman on the strength of those 17 minutes. They played "Nature of the Experiment" with the entire CBS Orchestra accompanying them on tambourine. Not bad for four guys barely out of high school.

"And I mean, we were fresh out of high school," Wright points out. "So our heads were still in the clouds. And for my part, I look back with astonishment. I always thought that [it] would happen, and then it did happen, and I wish in retrospect that I'd been a little more bowled over by it, and that I'd spent a little more time savouring how amazing it was. But I think a lot of people might say that about when they were 20."

Monks adds, "That's pretty much like being 20. We had no reference point. And not in an egotistical way, we just had no reference point. We were like, well, 'Yeah, people just want to hear the tunes!'"

As Wright recalls, "At the time, the internet was being talked about as this new, unusual factor in bands breaking. But I think, since then, we've seen that that's not a factor, that's the meta in which it all happens. That's the material through which the 'word of mouth' spreads, and in which our efforts and hustle paid off. It's the communication method of all things! And we certainly got talked about as a 'Myspace band,' because that was the social media platform that happened to be going when we started. It was the new manual, the game Cube from ReBoot that came down on top of the music industry."

While the band was conscious of referencing bands, artists, and songs they loved throughout their career — particularly the bands of the post-punk revival, the multi-piece rock collectives, and Radiohead — it was also necessary for them to carve their own niche in an already oversaturated indie market.

"I remember referencing music more directly when we were starting back then than we do nowadays, or as time went on," Wright says. "But I remember being pretty aware of the fact that we were referencing different kinds of music. We were really into the Strokes and Interpol, and bands of that ilk. And then also we were into Broken Social Scene and the sort of big exuberant combos at the time. And I remember being aware that metabolising all of those influences through the four of us with the instruments we had was leading to something that didn't quite sound like any of those influences. And I remember feeling excited about that."

Monks recalls, "My granddad was a traditional Irish musician. And he was always like, 'From the heart, you got to sing it from the heart.' And for me, in songwriting, it's always just been from the heart, which simplifies things, but it also leaves it all out there. People think a lot about being original, but you're going to be original if you are authentic about it. Then it doesn't matter what you're referencing. And we never talked about this stuff! It was just like: 'That's cool, that's cool, let's do this.' And I think for a lot of us, too, I was performing at the limit of my musical ability constantly! These are the notes I can sing, this is what I can do. You're making some calls, and we definitely made some calls like, 'Let's not have acoustic guitars,' or whatever. I remember doing 'The Harrowing Adventures Of...' [from Elephant Shell] and thinking, oh shit, there's a cello on this song!"

As Wright contests, "I'm really grateful that I had those limitations, that compelled me to move in a more considered direction."

With the breakup announcement, there also came the promise of two final songs. When "Just a Scratch" and "Catch Me If You Can" were finally released two months later on March 12, Wright wrote, "I hear all the music we ever loved and all the music we ever made — and most importantly, I hear US, the four of us, the hivemind that is TPC, with all its ideas and enthusiasm."

TPC always sounded unique, their minimalist approach to composition punctuated and defined by Wright's dialed-in keyboard sounds; Monks's singular, idiosyncratic voice; Greg Alsop's crisp, articulate drumming; Josh Hooks spidery riffs; the sparse but tight production. Some songs are recognizable within milliseconds. Those 10 bass notes at the beginning of "Nature of the Experiment" will never not be perfect.

And yet, writing, recording, and releasing these songs was not necessarily a conscious decision. It just came naturally to the four members. As Monks notes, "At the core, we're actively creative people. And yes, we're choosing this moment to 'close the story' or whatever. But, are we just not going to do anything with these [songs]? And you listen to them, and there's something in here. We don't put out music thinking, 'Yes, this is our statement on blah, blah, blah.' It's almost like you can't really even hear it until you're hearing it in the world through other people's ears. And then you think, 'Wow, this is so fitting for this moment!' And maybe there's something for each of us to reflect on in those songs. But it feels good! It's about just allowing what's been made to flow out and allowing everybody to find something in [them] that resonates. And also, we're a good band! They're cool!"

There is an unmistakable melancholy, even self-resignation, to "Just a Scratch" and "Catch Me If You Can," the former featuring a poignant and and brutally honest spoken-word section that's endlessly interpretable yet contextually pointed: knowing what we know now about the band, the significance of some of those lines becomes almost unbearable.

And yet, in true TPC fashion, both songs are danceable, filled with hooks, and concert-ready, just like all their best work. They are immediate, but still indebted to their history as a band. In fact, the single's artwork features a handmade T-shirt with a duck and the band's name crudely scrawled on the plain white surface, an item recently uncovered by a friend of the band after almost two decades. With TPC, the new is the old, and vice versa, even if the new is a little more mature, more engaged, more aware.

As Wright notes, "Looking back and seeing the Tokyo Police Club catalogue as a complete entity, I'm so proud that, every time we released music, there were new ideas in it. That was always important to us: we always wanted to be excited by and engaged by what we were doing. And I really feel like these [new] songs deserve the spot in the set that they're going to take. I'm really excited to play 'Just a Scratch' because I think it has a real, dare I say, big-venue anthemic quality. And in a way, that's kind of unique among the Tokyo Police Club catalogue. And I think they're going to be highlights. I'm really excited to go stand at the front of the stage [and play them]. I think it's gonna be amazing."

Monks adds, "There's a lot to feel and process. But then also, people are saying, 'Four nights at History, that's crazy!' But we're just doing our own thing right now, and, personally, I feel like I've primed myself to enjoy and feel this experience that's coming, because it feels like an important moment. It's just interesting because it is the end of Tokyo Police Club, or this part of Tokyo Police Club, because the music's out there, it's doing its thing, and there's just more to be discovered in that, which is kind of surprising. I just want to leave space for all that when it does come time."

Laughing, Wright says, "I'm trying to be very careful that I don't step into this tour like, 'And now I get a redo on being 20, and this time, I'm gonna do it right.' But in some ways, it is an opportunity, now knowing everything I've learned over the years, to go on the Big Tour with the big response, and try and be a little more present, and try and savour it a little more — all the parts. You're plotting out drives, and you're like, 'Oh, that's gonna be an early morning, man, that's brutal.' But then I think, is that the last early morning lobby call I'll ever get to be there for? And when I think about it that way, I can't wait for it, even though I'm sure, in the moment, I won't have a smile on my face. And like Dave says, I'm trying to get my brain right to be as present and correct as possible, whatever that ends up meaning."

As a band, the four-piece accomplished a tremendous amount in their almost 20 years together, playing to enormous crowds at some of the biggest festivals in the world, touring said world, playing on TV, having their music featured in shows and movies, collaborating with some exceptional individuals (including Rostam Batmanglij and producer Rob Schnapf), and releasing some truly amazing albums. And are now going out in style.

When asked what they hope people will experience or get out of these final shows, Monks has a surprisingly simple yet generous and humanistic answer: "I hope it's their own. I hope it connects to their story. I hope it's the right ending for their story."

TPC never became a legacy act, never relied solely on their past releases or accomplishments, and never stopped exploring, experimenting and having fun with their music. And Wright recognizes that their legacy and accomplishments run deeper than he ever could have imagined: "I wanted to be Radiohead. I had a very limited reference set. And I was like, 'That seems like the coolest!' [They're] my favourite band; they're really successful; they can do whatever they want. I'll have what they're having, please. And, of course, it's not that simple. And the reality was not that simple. But what we got instead was completely different than that, and so much richer."

Here, he pauses for a moment, but quickly gains momentum: "These kinds of time travel questions are so hard to answer. How can I possibly change a moment of it? There are things that didn't go according to plan, and there are things that didn't go according to what I thought I wanted, and there are things that I still look back on where I'm like, 'Man, I didn't like that.' But ultimately, the band and the music and the work — it is what it is. It's everything. Even the duck! Every part of it, every little hiccup and flaw as well as every meticulously planned element becomes part of the whole. The out of tune note on the record is as much a part of the catalogue as the fucking perfect synth tone that I spent three days dialling in. I'm just humbled by all of it. And I'm so grateful for it. It would sure be sick if, somewhere in there, I could have made $5 million and bought a house. But so what? I got to be in Tokyo Police Club! I consider that a victory."

Tour Dates

Latest Coverage