Interview: Tokyo Police Club

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Tokyo Police Club are releasing their third LP, entitled Forcefield, on March 25th. We caught up with TPC keyboardist Graham Wright to talk about the modern album release process, growing up in Newmarket, HAIM, and more!

It’s been almost four years since Champ came out. How has the band, and Forcefield, evolved over this period?

How have we evolved? Hugely, I suspect. It took all that time; we’ve never spent more minutes making anything and I shudder to think how much of our lives it would add up to. But I think it was necessary. It felt like we made a couple records in the time period; no one will ever hear them, but we made them. Usually when you’re making a record you start working on a bunch of songs, they start to coalesce, the vision comes into focus, you start chasing this vision, a group of songs come together, and then you record it and you’re done. We got up to that point where we thought things were starting to come into focus two or three times before backing up and focusing on a different idea. It was a very long process but it really enabled us to get a lot of stuff out of our system, ideas that weren’t the best for us but that we needed to chase for a while. There are different styles of songs and there are different approaches that we took and each one was a little better than the last, but every time we thought it was the best, we’d come up with something better still. I think the result is that if you lay all our albums out ten years from now the progression between Champ and Forcefield is more than one album’s worth.


I like what you said about the different styles, because even the two songs you’ve released so far from this album were very different from each other. I recently saw you perform at Laurier and was wondering if you approach university shows the same way you approach a regular venue where the age of the crowd is a bit more diverse.

I think we approach them pretty similarly. I don’t know how it’s worked out this way but repeatedly the university run is the first run we do with a whole batch of new songs, so we’re testing a lot of new stuff out at these shows. We’re not sure what songs are going to work in what order.


Yeah, well at the Laurier show you played “Hot Tonight” a couple of days before it was released and I thought it went great. It seemed that everyone knew the lyrics before the song was finished.

Well that’s what you want! So it is a little different [on the university run] since two years from then you have the set list and know how to play the songs, but that’s not a matter of approach; that’s just a matter of where we’re at.


The lyric video for “Hot Tonight” came out about a week ago and you fan-sourced all the video clips for it. I’ve also read that you have a contest set up where if you pre-order the album you can win a meal with the band.

Yeah that’s right. The landscape for being a professional band these days is so insane that all you can do is try as much stuff as you can. You can’t just release a record anymore; you have to release a record with nineteen bells and whistles floating around it if you want anyone to notice it. There are times when that’s frustrating because you spend three years pouring your heart and soul into these nine songs and you’re so proud of it, and then they want you to think of twenty more ideas to promote it. There’s a part of you that just thinks ‘oh my god, isn’t this good enough on its own?’ but the answer is no, tough luck, that’s the way the world works now. It is an opportunity to be creative in other ways. Dave [Monks] came up with the idea to do the lyric video that way, and it’s a cool idea, which is just as much a valid creative idea as writing a song. It’s a challenge to keep your brain engaged and think up different ways to make people interested and give them added value without also being cheesy and annoying. The trick is to say, we’re going to do this thing – it’s not a Kickstarter but it kind of looks like one. So many bands do that and it blows. It’s cheesy and it makes my skin crawl. So, it’s a creative challenge in itself to make a version of that that is still fun, good, and true to our personality while also being worth people’s money. I hope we did that.


I think you guys did. What you’re saying about the promotion cycle, especially in the last year…you have Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Kanye, etc. doing all these crazy things, it must be really hard to stand out.

Yeah, and those bands are huge! You just named like the three biggest bands to release records in the last two years and they have to do all that crap, so you can imagine what little old Tokyo Police Club have to come up with.


Yeah, but I think what you’ve done works with the feel of the band. The lyric video in particular, it’s a very joyous thing and you can tell that it’s a community coming together in that video.

I think that perfectly encapsulates the opportunity you have when you reach out to your fans to create since you’re collaborating in a weird way. You’re right, there’s that joy in it that’s also inherent in our music.


For Forcefield you worked with Doug Boehm who produced the last Girls album: The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. What did he bring to the making of this album?

Oh, a lot. Doug was exactly what we needed and when he walked into the rehearsal studio it was at the exact moment that we needed it.


avatars-000066180734-1lu73h-t500x500When did he join the process?

He was kind of part of it the whole time. He worked on Champ too and we had a good time with him. We felt that he got us and we got along. So the whole time we were sharing demos with him, calling him, getting his advice. But then it was one of those things where we thought maybe we wanted some hotshot producer, or some weird electronic artist to produce the record. Then there came a certain point where we looked at each other and realized Doug’s already doing this. He’s giving us his advice as a friend and someone whose opinion we trust; maybe we should trust our instinct with this and see how it goes. It went great. The great thing about Doug is that he doesn’t have a particular thing, he’s not the ‘blank’ guy, and he doesn’t put his stamp on everything in the exact same way. He looks at the music and makes it the best version of itself. Ultimately that’s the producer’s job, and Doug does that. He’s no nonsense, no bullshit, and he’s also able to cut through a lot of our bullshit, which we always need. He gets to the heart of what the songs are about, or are trying to be about, in the most efficient and successful way possible.


Linking from that, Dave said in a recent interview that the songs on this album are more direct songs with a focus on energy. Was this planned?

Yeah, very much so. Both in terms of we realized that’s what we all like to listen to, and that it’s what we’ve been trying to do the whole time. The “ooh ooh oohs” in the chorus of “Wait Up” are our attempt at trying to make something really direct. But we also crammed eight notes into such a short piece of space that it’s hard to get it stuck in your head the first time you hear it, whereas the chorus of “Hot Tonight” has less notes…


And it definitely accomplishes the catchy goal.

That’s a big part of the goal, but also it conveys a certain emotion. There’s a stylist way to use notes as a short hand for certain emotions. People are so aware of music nowadays that the tropes and stylistic ticks of certain styles of music put people’s emotions in parts of the song. If you’re careful with that you can be very successful.

What was it like growing up in Newmarket, where I wouldn’t imagine that there’s too much of a local scene? What influenced or interested you, musically, growing up?

What that did for us, for better or for worse, was that we listened to “bigger” music. We never had a scene to get involved in so we listened to bands we knew from the radio, magazines, and websites. Those are bands that tend to have been a little more successful and are maybe a bit more obvious references or influences. That’s what we had available to us.


Do you think that influenced your pop sensibilities? Do you think they might have sprouted from this influence?

I suspect they did. When I was seventeen, I would have told you that I didn’t listen to pop music. But the Strokes are successful because they write amazing pop songs. The Strokes had the trappings of being a ‘bringing rock back band’ at a time where rock wanted bringing back. Everyone thinks that’s why The Strokes are good but it’s not, it’s because they released an album of big and great songs. If you released them in a different time period with a different production style that happened to be the thing of the moment it would have been just as successful. Even though we didn’t know it, that sensibility of writing really good songs was getting funneled into our brains, and as we did our best to rip off those bands we were subconsciously internalizing those lessons. It’s a long process to bring those things out of yourself, but yeah, we had a grounding in the radio. There are no two ways about it, and then [we] belatedly came around to independent music. Once in high school we were all trading mix CDs with girls. By that point, the damage was done.


Speaking of musical influence, if you had to guess, what do you think would be one of the most played songs on your iTunes today?

I’m still really into HAIM. That one’s really been clicking with me for the last couple months. I went through a big thing with the Lorde record, that’s probably up there for most played, I played it like two times a day.


My favourite song by HAIM is “The Wire”.

That song’s a jam. We actually have a song on our record called “Through The Wire”. No relation, but you know that part where the song goes “bah bah da bah dah bah”…



Our song has a very similar bass line! It’s a total coincidence – we’d never heard that song when we wrote ours.


While we’re on “Through The Wire” – and I know this is a long shot – but does it have any relation to the Kanye West song of the same name?

I didn’t actually know Kanye West had a song named “Through The Wire”.


Yeah, it was one of the first songs he released after he got in a car crash and they had to literally put wires in his mouth.

Oh, no shit. No, our song is about the Internet.


Haha, okay. One last question: there’s a lyric in “Favourite Colour” where David asks, “what was the first record you owned?” I was wondering: what was the first record you owned?

I received a Christmas present CD called Contact 2. Contact was a series of CDs that were commonly played in hockey arenas. It was like “Rock n’ Roll Part 2″ by Gary Glitter and “Freeze Frame” by the J. Geils Band, songs of that ilk. I would listen to it in the basement when I played hockey with my brother.


Nice. Well thanks for taking the time to talk with me, and we can’t wait for the record to come out! 

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