By Stewart Wiseman
After three years out of the spotlight, Japandroids made their glorious return in January with Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Recorded in Vancouver and Montreal, the new album finds the British Colombia-based duo experimenting for a first time with studio overdubs and effects, leading to the most expansive Japandroids album yet.
With eight songs of unapologetic blistering rock, Near to the Wild Heart of Life builds off the critical success of Celebration Rock and is sure to translate into a raucous live performance when Japandroids play the Bronson Centre on October 22nd. The concert is sure to be a can’t-miss event for Ottawa rock fans, as Japandroids will be joined by special guests Cloud Nothings.
Apt613 reached drummer/vocalist David Prowse on a busy Tucson, AZ street getting ready to play a co-headlining set with Ty Segall:
Apt613: Brian King (vocals/guitar) has said in interviews that Near to the Wild Heart of Life was the band’s “first attempt at making a proper studio album.” What do you think he meant by that, and what changed in the approach to making this record compared to your previous albums?
David Prowse: The big thing this time was that we didn’t really impose any limitations in terms of what the studio album would sound like. With a lot of bands it’s normal to have a dichotomy between what the album sounds like and what the show sounds like, but in the past those were one and the same for us. It was always a pretty straight forward recording, we would just plug in and do a couple takes of a song in basically the same set up we’d have for a concert.
This time we did a much more “real studio album” where we had lots of time for overdubs, experimented with a lot of sound, played to a click track, and sort of layered things on top of each other instead of just setting up in a room and jamming. In a way this album’s recording was a lot more meticulous, but in other ways there was a lot more room for experimenting. We tried out lots of ideas, and if we didn’t like them we didn’t have to keep them, whereas in the past things were a lot simpler and more straightforward.
I find the album sounds pretty massive and explosive at times. I was wondering how you translate that to a live setting when it’s just the two of you on stage without studio tricks and overdubs at your disposal.
Well some of those things are definitely stuff we can do live that just get amplified in the studio. Like we never got too crazy, we never became Billy Corgan there adding 500 guitar tracks on something, but we did what we could to make certain chords sound bigger or change the dynamic of a third verse compared to a first verse.
One big difference for this tour is that Bryan has a lot more pedals, whereas in the past he just had a relatively simple pedal set up and rigged it to a bunch of amps and we basically just let it rip. With these shows Bryan is now able to change the sound from one song to the next, like he has a very different guitar sound for “True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will” compared to “Midnight to Morning”, so there’s definitely an effort to enhance the dynamic and have some sort of a sonic texture in our performances.
I think the goal for us as a band is to sort of make those dynamic shifts just pop a little more live. It’s tricky because on the record we want there to be energy and everything, but also save some space for contemplative moments, whereas live you want to keep people sucked in the whole time. On stage you don’t necessarily have the ability to lag for long periods of time because you want to keep people grooving and having a good time.
You’re going to be playing this weekend at the Foo Fighters’ Cal Jam festival. What are you most looking forward to?
I think I’m trying to really not get carried away with it, but it’s also crazy to think about. Whenever I meet artists I love who came up around the same time as we did, I don’t find it that strange, but whenever I meet someone who I listened to as a teenager I feel like I’m still reduced to being that age again. I’m 35 now, but I feel that if I meet Dave Grohl I’m going to morph into a thirteen year old boy and just be tongue-tied and racked with nerves. I’m trying to be kind of cool about it, but at the same time it’s a pretty wild lineup. Queens Of The Stone Age, The Kills, Foo Fighters… there are some bands playing that I’ve been listening to for a very long time that to me are like real big shots who kind of taught me about how to be in a rock band. It’s pretty intimidating in a lot of ways.
The first time we played Ottawa we played the Ottawa Bluesfest and, well, it was kind of a disaster.
It’s obviously flattering to be asked to play this, like you’re playing Cal Jam because the Foo Fighters want you to play, so it’s really cool to know that they’re fans. But part of it is kind of terrifying… the idea of being backstage with Joshua Homme strolling by with Dave Grohl and Bob Mould is kind of insane to think about.
You’re coming to Ottawa with Cloud Nothings. What do you like most about Cloud Nothings’ records and what excites you the most about being on tour with them?
We don’t know each other too well, but we’ve crossed paths a bunch of times. Back in 2013 we were playing Coachella and we decided to play a little run of shows around the Coachella dates. Coachella is two weekends, so you have this weird gap where you’re either sitting around or playing some shows, so we did a run with Cloud Nothings basically to Oakland and back.
They’re a killer live band. I think Dylan (Baldi) is a fantastic songwriter, they’re really tight as a band, and the drummer (Jayson Geryczis) is like one of the most interesting drummers right now. He’s really explosive. I was speaking to my friend Josh (Swinney), the drummer in PAWS, and we were talking about how Jayson obviously has a great technical ability, but he also just comes up with really interesting rhythms which aren’t the ones you’d expect him to do.
I remember when we were touring with them they were promoting their Attack on Memory album, and there’s a song called “Fall In” which just sounded crazy live – he played like a weird galloping sort of drum beat. It was such a cool drum pattern, and I never would have thought of it in a million years if I was the drummer of that band. So I love Dylan’s melodies, the songs, and the guitar parts; but as a drummer I really think Jayson’s drumming is at another level. I’m a drummer so I nerd out on drums obviously, but it will be fun to watch them play every night. They’re also really lovely guys, so it should be a lot of fun.
Do you have any specific memories about playing in Ottawa?
I do, but it’s not entirely positive unfortunately. The first time we played Ottawa we played the Ottawa Bluesfest and, well, it was kind of a disaster.
I remember showing up and finding out that we were up against Kiss… and this was our first full real North America tour, so this must have been summer 2009. Kiss was on the main stage and we were playing on this little side stage at the same time. They had their ridiculous pyro and whatever, and between songs you could hear Paul Stanley just wailing and going off. We were like, “well this is the dumbest thing in the world.” We were this small band that just started touring… who was seriously going to watch us instead of Kiss? And to top it off, it was also pouring rain.
It was kind of a miserable experience, we just couldn’t get out of there fast enough. We needed to get out of there. I don’t think we’ve played Ottawa in like seven years though, so I’m looking forward to a better show this time!
Japandroids play the Bronson Centre (211 Bronson Ave) on Sunday October 22 with special guests Cloud Nothings. The venue is wheelchair-accessible. Doors open at 7pm and the show begins at 8pm. Tickets cost $25 online.