In The Middle with Japandroids

Japandroids are a Canadian rock band who formed in 2006. Likened to Bruce Springsteen and Husker Du, the band’s new album Near to the Wild Heart of Life follows the critically acclaimed Celebration Rock. Their current world tour is their first in three years after taking an extended break away from the spotlight. They are known for raucous live performances, and we caught up with them before they returned to Leeds to play Stylus on May 1st. Near to the Wild Heart of Life is out now.

Was there pressure to put out a more experimental release after such a seminal album, for fear of essentially writing a Celebration Rock sequel?

To be honest I think there was more pressure on us to give people more of the same. A lot of people really loved Celebration Rock, and it brought us a lot of success, so on some level your instinct would be to keep giving people what they want. We pushed ourselves in a different direction for many reasons. We weren’t particularly interested in writing Celebration Rock Part 2, and we decided to explore what we could do in the studio and pushed ourselves to move beyond our old definition of what a Japandroids song could be. At the end of the day, the new record isn’t all that crazy or experimental: it’s still a rock record. But there is a wider variety of tempos, moods, and arrangements, and I think we feel like we have a lot more freedom as a band because we’ve pushed our sound in a few new directions and have lots of different options for where to go from here.

Having been a band for over a decade now, how intense is a life of touring when you now play relatively large venues around the world, and is the lifestyle much more luxurious now than it was when you started touring?

I guess the difference is everything seems so much more “professional” these days. It definitely is more luxurious – the venues and crowds are bigger, we have a big crew of people helping us, we get a dressing room, we’re often in a tour bus. Every year the scale of the shows gets a little bigger and we see a little more of the world. I think our standards for a good show are much higher now, and our sets are a good deal longer then they used to be. But at the end of the day, our approach hasn’t ever radically changed. We just keep pushing to get a little better every show and hopefully play to a few more people every time we come back somewhere, and things just keep rolling along. It’s an intense way to live, I suppose, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Traveling all over the world and playing music every day is the best job I could ever dream of having.

As a band known for your live performances, how much is your new writing still influenced by crowd reception, considering this new record is a more self-reflective body-of-work?

This is definitely a more personal album, lyrically, and it is much more of a studio creation. This was the first time we focused on the album and didn’t worry about the live show at all and didn’t play any shows while writing and recording. I think naturally there is something about the way a song feels and sounds that just seems right, and a lot of that is about having a certain amount of interaction between Brian and I. So even if we didn’t focus on making an album built for the stage, we can’t avoid making something that sounds like us and is built around the interaction between Brian and I. Some songs translate very easily to the stage, whereas others are a bit more of a challenge. It’s been fun trying to figure it out.

How much material nearly made it on to the LP but fell through during the editing process? And are there any songs you would consider releasing in the future?

There are a few things on the cutting room floor, but for the most part we abandon song ideas pretty early on if it feels like they won’t be making it onto the record. That said, there are a couple of songs that got finished but never found a home. I’m not really sure what we will do with those. It’s hard to say whether we would release them as is, or maybe re-work them a bit, or maybe they just disappear into the ether.

Do you think Nearer To The Wild Heart of Life will mark a transition of style for Japandroids? Will slower elements of the new album come to define the sound of future Japandroids material?

The thing I really love about this new record is that it feels more like an expansion outward in multiple directions, rather than some sort of turn in one specific direction. After this record we feel really free to go in whatever direction we want. Maybe slower. Maybe faster. Maybe more loops and synths. Maybe all of the above. Maybe some other direction we haven’t even thought of yet. It’s an exciting time for us.

As you’ve played all over the world, how does a British audience compare to those in Europe, Asia or the Americas? Is there anywhere in the UK that you look forward to visiting again whenever you come here?

One of the amazing things about playing music is how it unifies people. We travel all over the world and no matter where we are, for 90 minutes during our shows we get to feel this really intense connection to a room full of people. It’s an incredible feeling.  One thing I will say about the UK specifically is that our London show in October was the wildest show of that entire tour. So we’re excited to be coming back to that part of the world. It’s always fun hitting the UK and seeing old friends there.

Sam Dillon

(Image: DIY)

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