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Getting chatty with Tokyo Police Club’s Greg Alsop

By Samantha Everts on January 11, 2011

Photo courtesy .melanie on Flickr.

Apartment613’s Samantha Everts recently caught up with drummer Greg Alsop of Toronto indie darlings Tokyo Police Club, who are in town Jan. 13 at the Captial Music Hall.

Tokyo Police Club is no longer the little Toronto indie buzz band that burst onto the music scene back in 2005.  They’ve gone international: as drummer Greg Alsop points out, the guys just got back from Jakarta, Indonesia, where they opened for Slank, one of that country’s biggest bands. “We opened for their Led Zeppelin,” he says about their Indonesian  tour mates’ cult status. “There were hundreds more people than we ever thought would come see us.’

So although TPC might still be an opening act in Asia, in North America, the band is no stranger to the spotlight. They were widely praised for their 2006 EP A Lesson in Crime, and were labeled by Rolling Stone magazine as “the biggest thing out of Canada since Molson.” Last spring, the band released their second full length album, Champ, on Mom & Pop records. Alsop says there was some struggle not to conform to other people’s expectations of what the band was becoming. “When you have buzz, it’s impossible to maintain,” he says. “We’re a lot more confident with our place in the music industry now – we’re not going to disappear.”

Tokyo Police flew out to New York in late 2009 to record Champ with producer Rob Schnapf, the man who first captured the unique sounds of Beck and Elliot Smith. “Rob was great and was really adaptive to what you bring [without overly influencing the sound],” says Alsop, adding that the band’s been thrilled with how both fans and critics have received the album. “People are more hesitant to buy an album [these days],” he says, “so seeing sold out shows is an indicating factor [of our fans’ level of excitement].”

The band’s also popularized their music through the ubiquitous viral video – even if they didn’t necessarily intend it to be that way. Many of TPC’s videos, like “Cheer it On,” “Nature of the Experiment,” and poppy Champ single “Wait Up (Boots of Danger),” have racked up tens of thousands of hits on YouTube. The latter, which features a bunch of dogs frolicking away in a pool, was “the easiest [to create] and most enjoyable,” says Alsop. But he adds the band has never felt pressure to become the next OK Go. “We weren’t even involved in the ‘Nature of the Experiment’ video,” he says. “And with ‘Wait Up,’ our buddy came and presented us the idea. Who wouldn’t want to spend the weekend with dogs at a pool party?”

Like their videos, the band’s lyrics on Champ are whimsical and fun. The new album, Alsop says, was liberating, especially in comparison to previous efforts: “[Singer and bassist] Dave [Monks] writes the lyrics, and with [2008 album] Elephant Shell he was trying to keep narratives with characters. But with [Champ] it’s more working through day-to-day life.” So far, both “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” and “Bambi” have charted on national alternative radio. Alsop says the band’s songwriting process is fairly democratic: “We’ll look at each other in the rehearsal space [and say] ‘Oh, there, we got it,’ just kind of know [that the song’s finished].” Still, some of the songs, Alsop says, took longer than others to complete – in particular, “Favourite Food,” which found the band tossing out the original acoustic intro in favour of a more keyboard-oriented opening. The danceable “Not Sick,” on the other hand, came together fairly quickly. “You knew it [was a good song] before it was done,” says Alsop. “It had a really good groove.”

While the Capital Music Hall show is sold out, you might be able to catch the Tokyo Police Club boys out on the canal practicing their other passion: hockey. “The last time we came to Ottawa, we all brought skates and equipment,” says Alsop. “We’re on our own hockey team, but we don’t have a name yet. We should work on that!”

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