Because band members live all over the place, the indie rock act Tokyo Police Club has had to record many of its albums piecemeal. For the past couple of records, singer-bassist David Monks would email bits of songs to the other members, who would flesh them out as best they could.
“We relied on Dave [Monks] to come up with the structure and ideas and everything else,” says guitarist John Hook in a recent phone interview. “We wrote by email, but it wasn’t conducive for everyone. It didn’t allow us to make changes until we were in the studio. And at that point, the ship had already sailed, and we’re not made of money, so we couldn’t add another month of studio time.”
All that changed for the band’s latest effort, last year’s TPC
. Written over the course of 2017 in a church in remote rural Ontario, TPC
marks a fresh beginning for the band.
The group’s tour in support of the album comes to the Grog Shop
on Friday, March 22.
] was really great,” says Hook. “We got together for weeks at a time and Dave [Monks] would come in with a kernel of an idea or fully formed song. We would play it over and over again. The church was a great spot for that. The sound of this open airy room had an influence on what we wanted to do. We wanted more simple guitar rock; playing big loud instruments in a big empty room really expanded the songs. We wanted to be a little more simple and a little more open, and the room was key.”
The album shows just how much the band has evolved over the course of its nearly 20-year career. When the group first began, it stuck to tried-and-true indie rock, even though it didn’t quite fit into that scene.
“We grew up in a regular suburb just about 40 minutes north of Toronto,” says Hook. “My parents were really into music. My mom played piano. Going through school, we were all interested in music, but since it was such a small town, we didn’t know anyone who played instruments. In eighth grade, we decided to be in a band. We decided to do that before any of us knew how to play our instruments.”
That band, Suburbia, consisted of the same four guys who are now in Tokyo Police Club.
“Newmarket, like all suburban cities, had a good punk and hardcore scene but not really much else,” says Hook. “There were some coffeehouses that would do singer-songwriter stuff, and we found that we fit in better with that crowd than the full-on punk/hardcore crowd. From there, we started playing shows in [Toronto] because it was more accommodating to our style of music.”
After a shift in musical directions, the band rechristened itself Tokyo Police Club and released its debut EP in 2006. The band has steadily released albums and toured since then. At a recent meeting, however, the guys agreed they wouldn’t be as calculated when it came to deciding what was best for the group.
“We had a moment a couple of years ago when we had a good heart to heart and talked about where everyone was at and we decided to make decisions we were stoked on instead of what made sense,” Hook says when asked about why the group chose to work again with producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith), who had helmed their 2010 album Champ
. “We had fond memories of working with Rob. He’s hands off, but he’s instrumental in shaping songs. We knew he would be the perfect guy to take these raw songs and shape them. We made the decision to work with people we really liked and would even wait if they were busy so that we could get it right the first time.
Hook says Schnapf’s studio proved to be the perfect place to cut the album.
“His studio is a cramped space but in the best way,” he says. “It’s utilitarian. It’s the most insane collection of instruments you’ve ever seen, but it’s not luxurious. It’s just what you need. It was easy to be hands-on in that room because you’re literally working so close together. It was great. You could really zone in. It was very rejuvenating.”
One album highlight, “Hercules,” has a great, Strokes-like feel to it thanks to its snotty vocals and infectious guitar hook.
“I remember Dave coming in and having that main staccato-ish riff,” says Hook when asked about the track. “It came together really easily. The DNA of the song was already there. It wasn’t overthought at all. When we first started playing it, we thought it sounded like a straight-up Strokes song. In the past, we would have shied away from that. Early on, we often got compared to them, and they are one of our favorite bands. In the past, we would have wanted to change it, but we were like, ‘Fuck it. Let’s just keep it as it is.’”
A departure from the band's typical approach, “Simple Dude” starts with a bit of spoken word before emerging into something that sounds like a cross between Smashing Pumpkins and the Dream Syndicate.
“That wasn’t very overthought at all,” Hook says of the tune. “At least structurally when Dave played the first part, we knew it was the intro. With the snare hit and the chorus, it’s like a Sixpence None the Richer song but in the best way. It’s unashamedly a '90s influence. We just wanted to let it be and not wrangle it into something else.”
Just last week, the band raised eyebrows with the music video for “Ready to Win.”
“Anne Douris directed it,” says Hook. “She’s done props for a bunch of videos. Her and Dave were talking. Because the song is about how we’re not perfect people, we thought it would be cool to open it up to other people and have them submit their fuck-ups. We thought it would be good to open it up to other people. We were on a label maker kick. Anne animated it and did so much work on it. We really had fun reading the things people submitted.”
Hook says he’s particularly excited about the current tour. Last year, the band played the West Coast and most of Canada. This time around, it’s hitting the U.S. cities it missed.
“Instead of doing larger venues, we’re doing smaller rooms and doing multiple nights in some places,” says Hook, who admits he's particularly fond of the Grog Shop. “We want to enjoy ourselves more. We’re not young any more. When you get to spend two days in a city, it provides more of a breather. In the smaller rooms, the songs have gone over really well. We often joke that we got older and more comfortable playing songs that are more conventional in structure and then we go back and play the old stuff and it doesn’t make any sense and has such a weird structure. It’s been fun, and it’s great to see fans respond to the new stuff. On this tour, we’re going to try to work in more material from Elephant Shell
since it’s the ten-year anniversary of that album.”
Tokyo Police Club, 9 p.m. Friday, March 22, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $16 ADV, $18 DOS, grogshop.gs.