Paying no heed to the charts

Japandroids have been too busy touring to fully appreciate the success of their second album, says Ed Power

BRIAN KING has no appetite for talking about Appetite for Destruction. “We have given a bunch of interviews and name-checked a lot of albums as influences,” says the Japandroids singer. “And that’s the one record they always ask about. Always Appetite for Destruction.” That’s because people perceive a gulf between Japandroids’ frenetic, super-sincere, blue-collar rock and Guns’n’Roses kitschy tales of hair-metal excess.

“I can say, with absolutely no irony, that we are influenced by that record,” says King. “Just not in the way you might imagine. We aren’t trying to sound like a hair-metal band. However, if you think about Appetite for Destruction — one of the great things is that practically every song was a hit. So we could aspire to something like that.”

King admires Guns’n’Roses’ mingling of the gritty and the sweet. “Appetite has songs like Mr Brownstone, which is about being strung out on heroin. And it’s got Sweet Child O’ Mine, a super-tender love song. Maybe we are influenced, in that we want to make an album that has a very intense song about heroin on it and, along with that, something really heartfelt,” he says.

King and Japandroids partner, David Prowse, have a massive hit record, which is novel for them. Issued without fanfare several months ago, their second album, Celebration Rock, has blown up in a major way in the US. It’s gone top-ten and basked in five-star reviews. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the summer’s must-listen-to releases. “It’s weird for us, because we’re only vaguely aware of the fuss,” says King. “We tour so much, we don’t get to spend a lot of time on the internet. We hear from people who work with the band that there has been a strong response.

“And, at the shows, you see bigger crowds turning out, which is fantastic, obviously. Ultimately, it’s hard to keep up with how the album is performing. Going out and performing takes up practically all our time.”

King suffered a near-fatal perforated ulcer several years ago. For a while, it was touch-and-go whether he could continue playing music. He regained his health and, though reluctant to talk up his recovery too much, says it has shaped and informed him as an artist.

“I certainly wasn’t thinking, ‘oh, I’m going to turn this experience into an album’,” he says. “On the other hand, it was definitely one of the things that gives you a new-found appreciation for what you are doing. After an experience like that, you don’t look at what you are doing, day to day, in the same light. You are thankful, in a new and profound way, for the opportunities afforded to you.”

Japandroids are from Vancouver, the booming capital of British Columbia. Being Canadian, it isn’t quite as edgy as Seattle, across the border in Washington State. For a mid-sized city on the far side of a continent, there’s still a lot happening, says King.

“We don’t keep up with the local bands. Like I said, we tour all the time now. However, there’s definitely a healthy scene. Vancouver has been overshadowed by Seattle. We’ve never had anything like grunge here. But it’s an exciting place, with a lot of interesting music.”

King and Prowse have been making music together for nearly a decade. Japandroids is the only band either of them have been in. Operating as a duo has advantages. The minimalist aesthetic appeals. Plus, it’s easy to do things in a hurry. Obviously, there are occasional downsides. When it’s only two of them, out there, it can be lonely.

“Starting out, we always wanted to have more people in the group,” King says. “It’s just that we never found them. There are positives and negatives, whatever size of band you are in. I don’t know if it’s better or worse for us. We’ve been at it for so long now, it would be weird to play with other musicians.”

David Prowse was the name of the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy (with voice acting by James Earl Jones). Early on, especially, science fiction fanboys got in a flap over Japandroids. With their science fiction name and ‘famous’ drummer, they assumed a Star Wars connection that wasn’t there.

“We used to hear that a lot,” says King. “I know David was pretty sick of it always being mentioned. It came up all the time. If you want to annoy him, all you have to do is ask him if he’s the dude in Star Wars.”

Japandroids play Workman’s Club, Dublin tonight.


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