Canadian two-man rock duo Japandroids are definitely one of my favorite groups these days. I caught them at Primavera in Barcelona about three years ago and, despite having no idea who they were at the time, absolutely loved their set. Since then, their second album, Celebration Rock, took off, turning them into one of the hottest groups around.
I missed Japandroids on their first trip to Korea, earlier this year, but was very happy to see them on the bill of this weekend’s City Break festival, over in Jamsil Sports Complex. In fact, Sunday’s line-up at City Break looks pretty amazing, imho. It starts out with two of my favorite Korean indie groups, Juck Juck Grunzie and Apollo 18, then has Japandroids, followed by two of the most important Korean rockers of the 1970s, Kim Chang Wan and Shin Joong-hyun. So I’ll definitely be there for that show.
Drummer David Prowse of Japandroids was nice enough to answer a few questions over email. I used a couple of his comments in my column about the festival over in the Korea JoongAng Daily today. But I thought Korea Gig Guide readers might be interested in the whole thing:
Q. After coming so close to breaking up at one point a few years ago, did you guys have a “Holy shit, this is actually going to succeed!” moment?
Prowse: When we decided to stop doing the Japandroids thing, we had been a band for a number of years and didn’t really feel like we were any closer to success than we had been when we started. I don’t think we had particularly lofty goals — I just wanted to be a band that was able to tour a little bit and have a label that would put our records. I wasn’t interested in being rich or famous. I just wanted more people to hear our music, and be able to tour without playing empty rooms every night. So I would say that by the time we went on our first tour of the US and Canada, in June 2008, we had already experienced about 10 “Holy Shit” type moments. “Holy Shit – Pitchfork wrote about us!” “Holy Shit – Unfamiliar Records wants to put out Post-Nothing” and so on and so forth. Looking back, that first tour was the real turning point for us where we transitioned from being two guys who love playing music in their spare time to being (I hate this term but can’t think of a better way of putting it) “professional musicians.”
Q. Now that you’ve been promoting this album for more than a year, have you seen many changes in how audiences respond to it? Their favourite songs? Or how you approach the songs?
Some of the first shows we played after we finished recording Celebration Rock was SXSW in March of 2012. It was a scary thing playing those new songs for people initially. We were happy with the songs, but it was so hard to gauge how they would be received, especially considering how attached some people had become to Post-Nothing. It was hard to believe we could make something that people who like as much as that record.
When the new record actually came out, in June of 2012 , it was crystal clear that Celebration Rock was going to be a lot bigger than Post-Nothing. You could see it at the shows pretty much instantaneously – all of a sudden people knew all the words to the new songs, and were just as excited about the new stuff as the old stuff.
At this point, so many more people know Celebration Rock compared to Post-Nothing, let alone anything older than that. I think we both assumed that “Young Hearts Spark Fire” would be our “hit”, or whatever you want to call it, for the duration of our time as Japandroids, and now I would say that there are at least three songs from Celebration Rock that get more of a response from the audience on any given night. It’s been pretty amazing to see this record keep growing as we continue to tour on it…
Q. Anything particularly memorable of your last show in Korea? Or your swing through Asia?
The last Asian tour was incredibly exciting for us. It’s such a surreal experience to travel somewhere as foreign as South Korea, for example, and get to play for several hundred people who actually know your songs. I remember one of the stranger moments of that tour was being in Seoul and seeing the news reports about North Korea’s underground missile tests. We were pretty freaked out by that, but to everybody in Seoul it just seemed like business as usual to hear about the potential threat of nuclear war. People watched the news, talked about it for a little while, and then went on with their day. I suppose there’s not much else you can do, but it was a pretty surreal scene for me to witness.
Q. Two Asian tours in a year? Is this a sign of your getting more popular in this part of the world, or do you see the Asia market in general getting better for tours for groups like yours? Or are you too wrapped up in the day-to-day of touring to get a sense of where your fans are and what’s going on?
It seems like the world is opening up to “indie rock” in a pretty amazing way right now. I think a lot of that has to do with how accessible music has become because of music review websites and digital file sharing. It’s interesting to me how bands are able to share their music so much more easily while at the same time they have a harder and harder time actually being able to sell their music and be able to make a living from record sales. I think we’ve been able to take advantage of this new musical landscape in a lot of really cool ways, because we can tour pretty cheaply since we’re a two piece, and because we enjoy touring and are interested in going to as many places as possible. Before we’ve actually gone and played a show somewhere, it can be very hard to gauge how popular we are in certain countries and certain cities, so the first tour of Asia was just to see if there was any interest in our band. It went really well so we wanted to make sure to come back as soon as possible, and luckily we managed to sneak in one more tour of Asia and Australia before our record cycle was done!
Q. With all these summer shows, have you gotten a chance to check out many local acts in other parts of the world? Have you come across any local music scenes that really impressed you?
For the most part, we usually just tour with one other band for an entire tour, and don’t have local support acts most nights. That touring strategy has some big upsides — for example, it’s really great to get to know a band over the course of a tour and you usually form a pretty lasting bond when you get to play with the same band night after night. Plus you can really streamline the schedule and it just makes touring way easier logistically. The downside, of course, is you miss the chance to randomly see a band who genuinely surprise you and inspire you that you knew nothing about previously. It’s a really amazing thing when that happens. The last time it happened for me actually was when we were in Busan and Genius opened for us. That band just made me really, really happy. They’re great.
Q. And, of course, what’s next for Japandroids? Touring for the next five years? Sick of each other and ready to commit dual homicides? Time to start work on a new album?
Well, we haven’t killed each other yet, so that’s good! But it’s certainly time for us to have break for a while. Once the excitement of touring wears off and we’re home for a minute, I think we’re both going to pass out for a while. Then once we’ve recovered we can figure out what we’re doing next…
Japandroids play at Jamsil Sports Complex on Sunday, August 18 as part of City Break. The show starts at 11 a.m., and Japandroids will perform from 3:30 – 4:10 pm. One-day tickets for City Break are 165,000 won and a two-day pass costs 250,000 won. For more information on buying tickets, visit here.