Tokyo Police Club's Dave Monks and Graham Wright Dissect Each Other's Solo Albums
"Dave has this astonishing ability to get every single fact of a story wrong, but in a way that somehow captures the essence of the story better than my fancy pants accuracy ever could"
Published Oct 22, 2021Within the past month, Tokyo Police Club members Dave Monks and Graham Wright have both released solo albums, presenting an intriguing point of contrast with the two longtime collaborators.
The former's I've Always Wanted to Be Me is a wildly eclectic pop exploration that explores stream-of-consciousness folk ("Love"), slow-burning rock balladry ("Set Yourself on Fire"), autotuned electropop ("Wild Like Me") and tropical bubblegum ("Change Your Mind") — and that's just within the first four tracks of this unpredictable 14-song collection. There's even a guest rap verse from Shad on the electro-rock banger "Don't Get Pushed Around."
The latter's The Cost of Doing Business, on the other hand, is a streamlined set of 11 garage pop songs, placing the focus on Wright's plaintive voice and highly observational, detail-rich lyrics. Stand-out "Bridget" sets a lovesick narrative against a giddy guitar groove, while the fuzz-drenched "Sub Pop" describes TPC's near miss with indie rock coolness, and acoustic opener "First Song" grapples with the existential self-doubt releasing music into the void.
To mark the occasion, we got Monks and Wright to weigh in on one another's albums — their favourite songs, the other's strengths as a songwriter, and what would have happened if they brought these solo songs to Tokyo Police Club band practice. They even shared some ideas about how these solo albums might play into the next TPC record.
What's your favourite song on your bandmate's album?
Dave Monks: It's hard for me to pick — I feel like Graham really hit his stride on this record. But I'm gonna go for the title track-ish song "A Bargain at Twice the Price." Graham at the bar — and I imagine it's me sitting there blabbing about something on my mind. He says it all so naturally, but it feels like an extremely profound definition of friendship. It's something that doesn't get written about enough, and I hope everyone has a friend like the bar owner in this song.
Graham Wright: I kept changing my mind, but the one I keep coming back to is, ironically, "Change Your Mind." It's just such a bop, and it bounces along so lightly — it's the mark of a really powerful rock 'n' roll songwriter when the songs feel like they're defying gravity, getting huge air on every jump like Neil Armstrong, and having been present for every step of Dave's development as a writer, it's a big thrill for me to see him flying so high.
What's your favourite thing about the other as a songwriter, and how does this album illustrate that?
DM: My favourite thing about Graham's songwriting is that he's always playing it casual but bringing you somewhere profound. This all comes together for me in "Hot Damn." It feels like an announcement that he has arrived at a certain sense of ease, and his songwriting is firing on all cylinders to prove it to you. Even though it isn't telling a narrative story, it has a sense of character growth and learning in it when he switches from "I saw a really cool band" to "I saw a really good band" in the last verse. It's like he is going from getting intimidated and envious at another band's show — been there! — dismissing them as trendy, to finally acknowledging that they were very good and maybe better. We're on a pretty wild journey with TPC, and it sounds like the guy in the song is very at peace with it all. Knowing that he's been able to make that journey gives me hope that I'll be able to step back more often and say, hey, it's only rock 'n' roll.
GW: I never even noticed that about the "cool"/"good" switch in there! I try so hard to be clever, only for the cleverest thing on the record to happen by accident. I guess that means the machinery is working!
Anyway! Having been band brothers for so long, Dave and I have a lot of the same stories, but over the years it's become clear we have very different storytelling styles. I go for documentary accuracy in every detail, whereas Dave has this astonishing ability to get every single fact of a story wrong, but in a way that somehow captures the essence of the story better than my fancy pants accuracy ever could. I think his songwriting powers flow from this same spring. He has an intuitive sense of each song as a container for some essential feeling, which I would annoyingly call its "soul." And because he's zeroed in on that, he doesn't have to be precious with the container. He knows who's boss! So his songs tend to roam broadly and take unexpected melodic turns and lyrical detours, looking at their central thesis from all kinds of canted angles and through all manner of weird prisms. My own instinct is to defer to a song, and probably the number one thing I've learned from working with Dave is that it's perfectly acceptable, and indeed frequently necessary, to bull-ride a song and see where it can take you.
Which song do you wish the other could have brought to TPC practice?
DM: I'm so happy that these aren't Tokyo songs because I get to be in the audience this way. That being said — I think "Tiny" would be the coolest for TPC. The melody is kinda set in a way that feels pretty TPC, and I think Josh would do something crazy with the ending outro. Also, there are lots of old TPC songs on Elephant Shell about childhood and family. I'm looking at you, "Listen to the Math"!
GW: Yeah, I mean, an inescapable part of the appeal of any Dave solo record for me is that I get to listen to some tunes without being compelled to do any creative work on them. It's so freeing and relaxing! Plus, I would say this collection of songs is probably the least TPC-y of any that he's done so far. But I think "Oh Boy" would be fun to sink our teeth into — we've been getting better at working with space, and that one has lots of it. Josh would probably do some wild shit in there.
Which song could have never been a TPC song?
DM: I think something like "Hot Damn!" could never be a TPC song because it exists, like, "in the context of" the band. And it's very powerful that it relates Graham's own experience of that, and it's an invitation to all of us to be alive and flexible in how we think of and relate to the band. Strictly musically speaking, it would work as a TPC song. In fact, Graham are you cool if we totally rip off those smash-y hit things that you do for the next TPC record?
GW: I feel like those smash-y hit things (which incidentally are trying to be Wilco rip offs, like what if "Spiders" was on Being There), get to the core of a basic smash-y idea I'm always "coming up with". So I'll almost certainly pitch a similar idea at least three times next record. Oh, and I guess my answer for this one is "Deeper Than You Know." This kind of folky shuffle just never seems to fit TPC very naturally...
Dave, which song sounds like "classic Graham"?
DM: I think "Bridget" is like the classic Graham thing that no one else can do as well. It's like: fictional characters, a believable story and real feelings. It also has the line "Plan B was my Plan A" which is chef's kiss. It harkens back to "Emily's Famous" on Girlfriend Material's Cool Car — if you don't know about this record then the internet hasn't been doing it's job properly. And it takes me even further back to The Lakes of Alberta EP which is the ultimate world-weary love story inhabited by fictional characters and told over several songs. This is on his Bamdcamp — everyone needs to go check it out. A lot of the songs are like the culmination of style he's been brewing up since I knew him in high school.
Graham, which song sounds like "classic Dave"?
GW: A few years back, I got to do a few shows in Dave's first solo band, supporting his beautiful first EP, All Signs Point to Yes, and we played "Can't Put My Fire Out." I thought it had fallen by the wayside, so hearing it on this album in such a perfect version was really satisfying. But to go back to my first answer, I think "Change Your Mind" is maybe the clearest example of where Dave is at right now as a writer, and the most "classic Dave" thing of all is that he's always in the now, never looking backwards or trying to recapture past glories. But, really, this whole new record is a good example of that. He's living up to the album title by going wherever he pleases in the moment, and it makes for a record that manages to be excitingly restless and unexpectedly beguiling — it might feel a little hard to pin down on first listen, but if you spend some time with it, you get to discover this world that's deep, beautiful and uniquely "Dave." How's that for tying a bow on this!