"We really wanted to make a proper studio album, without all of the rules..." - hmv.com talks to Japandroids
As they release their first new album in five years we chat to Brian King, one half of Canadian powerhouse duo Japandroids about making Near To The Wild Heart Of Life...
It’s been five years since Celebration Rock, what have you been up to in the years in between?
"Celebration Rock was released in early 2012, and we spent most of that year and the next year on the road. By the end of 2013, we had played somewhere between 200 and 250 shows in somewhere between 40 and 50 countries, and we were so physically and mentally exhausted that we decided to take a break from the band, the first real break we had taken in five years. We spent the first half of 2014 resting and recovering from tour, turning our attention toward our personal lives."
"By mid-2014, we were ready to start working on a new record. Near To The Wild Heart Of Life was written over the course of the next year in Vancouver, Toronto, New Orleans, and Mexico City. It was recorded in the fall of 2015 in Vancouver and mixed the following spring with Peter Katis in the USA. The whole thing was done by last summer, and that’s when we turned our attention back to touring. This past fall we hit the road, playing our first shows in three years. So, as you can see, it was a very busy and productive few years!"
When did you start working on the songs for Near To The Wild Heart Of Life?
"By the spring of 2014, we had both begun working on new ideas, although now that we lived in different cities, we were (for the first time) doing this totally separate from one another, Dave (Prowse, vocals/drums) was in Vancouver, while I was commuting back and forth between Toronto and Mexico City). That fall, we made plans to meet in New Orleans and begin sifting through all these songs ideas. We rented a house where were able to both stay and play and spent the next five weeks totally immersing ourselves in Japandroids. And that is where this record really started. There is a verse on 'North South East West' specifically about this time."
How did you want this album to move on from what you’ve done before?
"Our first two albums were essentially live albums. Our goal was to try and recreate the reckless abandon of a Japandroids concert on record. Both Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock were recorded very quickly, with emphasis on energetic performances, and mixed to sound as raw and direct as possible."
So how did you want that to change?
"For this album, we really wanted to make a proper studio album, without all of the self-imposed rules we had previously followed in our quest to make the songs feel as live and wild as possible. We wanted to experiment with different sounds, different instruments, and different kinds of production – just do whatever we thought might serve the songs and not worry about anything else."
What was the song on the album that took the longest to get right?
"'Arc Of Bar' – this is by far the most ambitious song on the record, and therefore it probably comes as no surprise that it was the longest and most arduous to complete. I wrote the lyrics in the summer of 2014, and we began working on the music that fall, but the song really wasn’t ‘done’ until we had almost finished mixing the record in the spring of 2016."
"It is probably the only Japandroids song you could claim that we worked on for two years. Most of that time was simply trial and error – trying to find exactly the right music for the lyrics. And we were still experimenting right up until the very end. It wasn’t until Peter Katis played us the final, final, final mix that we really knew just what we had been working on that whole time."
And which came together most quickly?
"'No Known Drink Or Drug' – this song was written almost entirely in the studio. It was a last ditch effort to re-write another song which we had decided to scrap at the last minute. I wrote all the lyrics upstairs (in the studio) while Dave was recording drums downstairs. We came up with the arrangement very spontaneously and tracked it immediately afterward. It is a very rare example of a Japandroids song coming together relatively quickly and easily."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Does it have a common theme?
"Well, it is certainly a lyrically dense album, at least, for us. I think there are twice as many lyrics on this record than there are on Celebration Rock and about 10 times as many as there are on Post-Nothing. And that was a very conscious choice. With each record, I’ve become more and more confident with my own lyricism, and on this album, I was particularly interested in expanding both the depth and scope of the songs lyrically. I think the most common theme on the album is simply movement."
When did you settle on the title of Near To The Wild Heart Of Life? And why?
"The title comes from a passage in the novel A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce: "He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life." This passage was the inspiration for the first song on the record, which had the working title ‘Near To The Wild Heart Of Life’ for many months. While I always intended to rename the song, maybe based on something from lyrics, we just got so used to the title that we ended up keeping it."
"Partly that was as a nod to a source of inspiration, but also because it seemed to summarize the spirit of the song better than any particular phrase from the actual lyrics). Over time, we began to realize that Near To The Wild Heart Of Life also seemed to summarize the spirit of the whole record. Our only hang-up in naming the album the same thing was that we had planned for the song Near To The Wild Heart Of Life to be the first song on the record, and we questioned the optics of naming a record after its first song. But in the end, we just said f**k it!"
Were there any other titles in contention?
"None that we considered seriously – only a handful of joke titles that we used to refer to the album during the recording and mixing phases, like OK iPhone..."
What are your plans to take the record out live?
"We’re going to be touring this album for most of 2017 and most likely into 2018 as well. We’ve got a North American tour coming up in February/March, followed by a UK and European tour in April and May, and then we’re back touring Europe again in June for Primavera Sound. The rest of the year is still in the works, but we’ll be playing shows everywhere..."