O, Canada. It’s a huge place filled with beautiful scenery and majestic wildlife and a couple buzzing underground music scenes that make LA residents and CMJ perennials look twice. Montreal in particular has, since the turn of the millennium, come to be known as one of indie music’s most prolific hotbeds, spitting out artists like Creature, Patrick Watson and the regally-regarded Arcade Fire almost like clockwork, but travel some 330 miles (or, I guess, some 540 kilometers) to the southwest and another area is starting to pull the fringe from Montreal’s coattails.
Ontario is the most populous province in Canada, so it’s not any kind of surprise that the music scene is dense and broad, both in regards to genre and the sheer number of artists who hail from there. There are, however, only a handful of Ontario bands who’ve mounted major US campaigns in the past decade, and even fewer who I have actually enjoyed listening to.
Tokyo Police Club is one of those few. Since the 2006 release of debut EP A Lesson in Crime I’ve been fairly hooked, and the band’s obvious maturation over the past four years has placed me firmly in the unofficial fan club.
Champ is the band’s latest and best record, presenting a more conservative and less bombastic Tokyo Police Club. Where earlier work found singer and bassist Dave Monks really reaching for the gruff extremities of his voice and fuzzed up guitars dragged the low end into the center of the picture, tracks on Champ are sweeter, pluckier and treble-ier, and certainly no less entertaining. I personally happen to love “Favourite Color” and “End of a Spark” if you cared to know.
A couple days before the band got up in front of a packed house at Denver’s Bluebird Theater this past Tuesday, I did a little back-and-forth with the band’s keyboardist Graham Wright and asked him some questions about the new record and, you know, other stuff. Oh, and if you were wondering: the band sounds better live than in the studio.
303 Magazine: Champ is a mature step for Tokyo Police Club. Were there any events or changes in the band’s mantra that led to this evolution?
Graham Wright: The biggest change was that we took a whole bunch of time off from touring to concentrate on writing the songs. We could let the songs do their own thing and guide us to where they wanted to go without worrying about deadlines or a time crush, which really let us “evolve” naturally.
303: I hear influences from The Weakerthans on Champ. Do you look to them, as fellow Canadians, as a band you want to emulate?
GW: I’m a big fan of The Weakerthans, but I can’t say we really consciously looked to them for any inspiration. But I think it’s probably inevitable that bits of the bands you like will always come through in your music, whether you notice it happening or not.
303: You’re playing the Bluebird in Denver, a pretty good mid-sized club. How would you gauge your success on this tour, headlining venues that are generally larger than I’d imagine you’re used to (aside from festivals, the Weezer tour et al.)?
GW: We’ve actually played the Bluebird once before, and we’re really excited to come back. It’s always hard to gauge success on the road, especially when you’ve been away for a little while like we have. We’re always just so thrilled to see people come out and get excited about the shows that we kind of forget to watch how its growing?
303: A lot of thought must go into your lyrical arrangements. What typically comes first when you set out to write a song: the music or the lyrics? [Editor’s note: I’m aware that this is a horribly clichéd question, but I was actually curious about this band’s process in particular.]
GW: Dave writes the songs, so I can’t really speak for him, but it seems like the general way it goes is that both will come about at the same time, and both will get worked on and tweaked over time as the song coalesces.
303: You’re preceded by a handful of successful Ontario artists (i.e. Cartel, Sum 41, Isis, Avril Lavigne, the John Mayer who is not the John Mayer). Do you fancy yourselves ambassadors of the music scene there?
GW: Well, we’re certainly proud to be a part of the Ontario and Canadian music scene, but I don’t know if I’d really call us ambassadors. Though we do try to sing the praises of the motherland whenever possible.
303: With bands like Vampire Weekend, solo projects often lead to an expanded sound for the band as a whole. You recently recorded and released The Lakes of Alberta, the first solo project for anyone in the band. How did that affect your songwriting process and the band’s collective sound?
GW: I don’t know that its really changed how I approach TPC musically, because it’s so different from what I do, but the most important thing that having another project has done for me is make me a lot more relaxed in the band. Since it isn’t my only creative outlet, I’m a lot less precious than I used to be about my parts and stuff. I think it makes me a better collaborator and bandmate. Plus now when I waste money on buying cool instruments, I can justify the purchase with two projects!
303: I imagine Tokyo Police Club’s discography is only beginning to fill out. Where do you see the band going in the future, and what would you like to achieve?
GW: I try not to think too much about where we’ll go in the future musically or creatively; I think its important to let those things unfold naturally, and to let them guide you instead of vice versa. As for what we want to achieve, we want to do everything and go everywhere and keep doing more and more and getting better and better.
Tokyo Police Club is currently on tour with Freelance Whales, but they already came to Denver (I suck at this timing thing). If you’re reading this elsewhere, find out when they’re playing in your town here. Purchase Champ here, and get Graham Wright’s side project The Lakes of Alberta here.
Tokyo Police Club – ‘Wait Up (Boot of Danger)’