With their much-feted debut Post-Nothing, Vancouver's Japandroids arrive in the wake of a burgeoning noise-pop movement captained by acts like No Age, the Death Set and Wavves. Like those bands, guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse offer a loud, tuneful sound, blending the garage-rock intensity of the Sonics, Hüsker Dü's ringing walls of distortion and the slithery, off-kilter rhythms of Wire.
The twin shouted vocals ply straightforward lyrics that gather force with each repetition, whether affirming that, "some hearts bleed, our heart sweats" or suggesting "we used to dream, now we worry about dying," on the apocryphal, "Young Hearts Spark Fire." It hasn't been an easy journey.
Japandroids formed three years ago after King and Prowse met at University of Victoria. They originally intended to find a lead singer, as neither had ever sung in their prior bands, but their attempts met with little success.
"It's tricky finding a lead singer you can put up with," says Prowse. "They're a strange breed, to be honest. After a while, we were just, 'Let's try this ourselves.' We started out kind of sharing vocal duties. It fits in with the whole way we roll, which is making as much sound between the two of us as possible."
They went at it full force, practicing five to six nights a week. ("We have kind of a sloppy sound, but at the same time we're really tight with each other," he says.) They released a pair of EPs in 2007 and 2008, but got little traction locally or nationally. Though buoyed by witnessing No Age live and noting the success of the L.A. band's 2007 Weirdo Rippers album, they were held back by their locale and lack of a label. King had a job he couldn't easily leave, so long tours were out of the question. Getting across the border as an unknown Canadian band was difficult, and the nearest Canadian city, Calgary, is nearly 12 hours away. If they couldn't break through with Post-Nothing, they might have hung it up.
"We were definitely feeling like we kind of hit a wall," says Prowse. "We were getting pretty frustrated but we were super happy with the record. We were like 'OK, we're going to push this one for a while and see if anything comes from it, but after that we don't really know what else we were going to do.' Just because working to survive and playing music as much as we were playing it, as seriously as we were playing it, we were burning ourselves out."
To make the best of their limited opportunities, they booked trips to Montreal and New York for the Pop Montreal Festival and CMJ, hoping to attract the attention of a label. Fortune smiled as their friend Edo Van Breeman (Brasstronaut) convinced Unfamiliar Records partner Greg Ipp to check out the band in Montreal. Ipp came away impressed, and when he received a copy of Post-Nothing, offered to put it out for them. Backed by the Canadian boutique label (and later Polyvinyl in the U.S.), they got a rave review from Pitchfork and things have been on the upswing ever since.
For the most part.
In April, on the verge of a six-week national tour, there was a near catastrophe when King found out he had a perforated ulcer. Luckily, it happened the morning after a show in Calgary, when they were close to a hospital. If not, it could easily have been fatal (adding a layer of relevance to "Young Hearts Spark Fire"). The tour was canceled and had to be rescheduled for the fall, but they came away with a renewed spirit.
"Everything about the band has changed after what happened," sys Prowse. "It feels like a different chapter. We actually started to take things less seriously. Not like we don't care, but more like we realize that there are other things in life that matter too. We're not taking anything for granted, and we're trying to enjoy everything that comes rather than worry about the next task at hand as much."
Fortunately, that attitude only applies to life offstage. They still go off live like a sonic boom. Reminiscent of the Ramones, there's frequently little pause between tracks.
"There are some songs that just segue right into each other, because we're trying to keep that energy as high as we can during the show," says Prowse. "We want to keep pummeling people. We're not letting anyone take a break."
It's certainly an approach that's worked for them thus far.