Japandroids talk about maturity, James Joyce, and trading in bourbon for mezcal


Everyone grows up eventually, even punk rockers.

For Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids, maturity hit somewhere around age 34, following a three-year hiatus from touring.

The break was long overdue. After releasing their debut full-length Post-Nothing in 2009, the Canadians spent two years on the road, then frantically wrote their 2012 sophomore album Celebration Rock.

“We were trying to capitalize on the momentum that we built from the first record, and we didn’t have very much money, so there was a lot of pressure to get something out and get back on the road again,” King explains. “It really made the process not as fun as it should be, considering you’re writing rock ‘n’ roll songs.”

The next leg of touring resulted in more than 500 live shows worldwide -- and severe burnout.

Hence the extended hiatus. Though they weren’t performing, King and Prowse continued writing, and eventually recorded what became Japandroids’ third album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, released on ANTI- records in January. Using the eight-song standard template for a rock ‘n’ roll record, King and Prowse created a deliberately sequenced album that some critics considered an unfortunate (if only slight) mellowing of the previously off-the-rails duo.

We spoke to King about the new album, how aging affects touring, and his Valentine’s Day plans in anticipation of Japandroids’ First Avenue show on Tuesday.

City Pages: The inspiration for, and the title of, Near to the Wild Heart of Life came from two literary references. Tell me about those.

Brian King: Inspiration kind of comes from anywhere. The biggest source of inspiration – probably not just for us but I’m assuming for most bands – is other music. It can also come from your personal life. I’ve always been influenced by the books that I read, but I think this is the first record where I wasn’t afraid to explore that to its fullest. I was reading Near to the Wild Heart of Life by Clarice Lispector. I was really taken with the book and I loved it and I started working on a song after I read it.

When I found out that she actually took the title of that book from a James Joyce novel [A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man], I read that novel, and that’s where the light bulb just went off. I really loved that expression. I thought it did a better job of summing up the kind of things I wanted to write about in a better way than I could think of. The song itself or the album itself, they don’t have direct influences to any of those books, but that expression was certainly something that kick-started a lot of thoughts and feelings.

CP: The album was written in Vancouver, Toronto, New Orleans, and Mexico City. How did the different locations influence the songs?

BK: Dave lives in Vancouver. I live in Toronto. My girlfriend lives in Mexico City so I spend quite a lot of time down there, and New Orleans is sort of where our American home base is. So we’re rotating around four different homes. It reinvigorated us in the writing process in a way that I think we were staring to lose when we were just in Vancouver doing the same thing every single day, the same place, the same time.

A long time ago, since we started touring, we’ve lived very nomadic lives. You’re just constantly on the move. Never sleeping in the same bed twice, living out of a suitcase, the exhaustion and the lifestyle that comes with that. When you come home from that, and you’re all of a sudden in one place for a long time, it feels very weird. It takes a long time to adjust. It took us a long time to sort of settle in at home. I think this way of writing was us, in a way, trying to find a balance of the best way of being at home.

CP: Do you find that touring gets more strenuous the older you get?

BK: Yes, it does. [Laughs] That’s a very easy question. The lifestyle remains the same but of course you’re older physically but you’re also just older mentally. You care about different things, you have different priorities. When you start touring in your 20s, there’s a certain excitement that comes along with it, a lot of cliché ideas of what touring in a rock ‘n’ roll band is. Once you do it for quite a few years, you find that you’re ready to sort of move on. At a certain age, you’re like, “Yeah, I’ve had enough of this.” You also think and reflect on the process in a different way. If you listen to our last record, there’s songs about that idea of movement and travel and I think those same ideas are represented on this new record, but we’re older and looking at them from a slightly different angle. That’s just growing up, I guess.

CP: What advice would you give to younger people about living the life of a musician?

BK: I’m hardly someone qualified to give advice, especially on being a musician. Playing music for a living is like a dream. There’s nothing that Dave or I would rather be doing than having to have our whole life revolve around playing music. But there is certainly a side of it – and this is a cliché thing you see in every single music documentary -- which is that playing music for a living involves playing very little music. You think about our schedule, our days, our conversations, what we immerse ourselves in, the actual playing of the music is only a very tiny part of it. In reality, you’re a business 90 percent of the time, and a rock band 10 percent of the time.

My advice would be that everybody gets into it for the pure reasons, which are that you love music and you want to play music, but I think you also have to be aware of what it takes the other 23 hours a day to get to play music that one hour a day, and that’s not for everybody. You’ve got to make sure you love that hour enough to put up with the other 23. I’m not complaining. We do actually love it that much, but not everybody does, and they find out the hard way.

CP: Drinking is a recurring theme in your songs. What are your go-to alcoholic beverages?

BK: I can tell you we’re certainly trying to drink less – not just because it’s a good thing but also we just can’t drink like when we were in our 20s. Ever since I’ve been living in Mexico City part-time for the last two years, we really drink a lot of mezcal. That’s one of our favorites, as well as tequila. We used to be very much a beer and bourbon band.

CP: You’re playing First Avenue on February 14. Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans other than that show?

BK: I do not, actually. I knew that was the case when we booked the tour, but until you just reminded me, I totally forgot. My only other plans would be to make sure I don’t get so wrapped up in the show that I forget to call my girlfriend at home. Dave and I might be the only two people in the building without their valentine, but we’re just gonna try and play a great show. It’s our first time playing the big room at First Avenue, so we’re very excited.

With: Craig Finn & The Uptown Controllers
When: 8 p.m. Tues., Feb. 14 
Where: First Avenue, 18+
Tickets: $20; more info here