Japandroids keeps up their intensity and work ethic
When choosing band names, it's hard to end up with something as goofy as Japandroids on purpose.
Then, to have your band suddenly take off ... well, you're sort of stuck with it. If they were, say, an electro band from Osaka, it might work, but Japandroids are actually two dudes from Vancouver — David Prowse (drums, vocals) and Brian King (vocals, guitar) — playing stripped-down, just-the-basics punk rock.
“The band name is part of a long legacy of compromises between us,” Prowse says. “I wanted to call the band Japanese Scream, and he wanted Pleasure Droids. You can't really get a tie-breaker with just two people.”
They also had no idea that the band would soon launch them on a trek all over the world, with massive critical acclaim and album-of-the-year notices for their most-recent record, “Celebration Rock.” They'll be coming through Pittsburgh for a show at Mr. Small's Theatre in Millvale on June 16.
The genre of punk rock, despite forever seeming on the verge of exhaustion, seems to have a startling capacity for renewal. Prioritizing passion and energy over technique and polish, and a do-it-yourself work ethic over “waiting to be discovered,” is a smart strategy for music-makers of all kinds, that doesn't necessarily require buzzing, distorted guitars, yelled vocals and breakneck tempos.
Japandroids have all that, though. With the self-imposed limits of just guitars and drums, punk rock was a natural fit.
On the justly celebrated “Celebration Rock,” the pair just kind of go for it on every song — no opportunity for a hook or shout-along chorus is missed; guitars, drums and vocals are pushed up to (and past) their breaking point. The result is a batch of songs that rip past like the early days of The Clash, but with the more-observational Midwestern fatalism of The Replacements. The album indeed has a celebratory air to it, but also seems desperate and self-aware, as if the moment being celebrated is always fleeting.
“Those types of songs are the ones we love to play,” Prowse says. “It's naturally what comes out. You can't really force yourself to write a certain kind of song. It comes from within.
“I don't know if we listened to The Replacements much growing up. ... Now, I listen to The Replacements probably every day. We also thought about The Sonics — so raw and direct. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first record was another (influence). The original setup of Japandroids was supposed to be a Yeah Yeah Yeahs set up. We wanted a singer with like a Karen O personality. Brian and I had never really sung in bands before, so we weren't that comfortable doing it.”
Now, they both sing.
It's not easy to write intelligent, reflective songs that are supposed to be played top speed and volume. It's even harder to keep the same level of energy throughout songs like “The House Like Heaven Built,” which seem to crescendo and climax constantly.
“There's not a lot of songs where you can take a breather,” Prowse says. “ ‘House' is definitely a challenging song to play, but it's not like there's an easy one. Maybe as we get better as musicians. ... We really pride ourselves on playing with as much energy as we can every night. Luckily, we have some pretty amazing fans who really give us a boost. It's great to have a room full of people, all singing along, at maximum volume.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.