The two-piece band: The configuration evokes a number of images, prerequisites, possibilities or lack thereof. It's simple, for one: There's either the purity of the stripped down form or a too-bare sound of a band that has potential but not the manpower to achieve it. More space, for another: Both literally on the stage, turning the usual cramped club performance into an arena of interaction and in a lowered density of sound, allowing an open atmosphere for the music to coalesce and breathe.
Vancouver duo Japandroids defy all of the definitions above, charting a thick wall of distortion between a floor of throbbing drumbeats and curtain of desperate vocals, each word chorusing forward as if it was drawn from a last breath. Traversing the United States on their first major tour, Brian King and David Prowse phoned in at 11:30 AM on a Thursday, out in the "middle of nowhere," also known as Blue Springs, Mo.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: How long have you been Japandroids?
David Prowse: We've been playing in a band together for over two years now. This is our first kind of major tour, but we've been playing shows in and around Vancouver and doing one-off shows elsewhere.
How's the crowd reception been down here, versus in your respective province?
The reception has actually been better than we expected. It's been pretty good crowds throughout, a really warm reception. And we've never been to most of these cities, especially ones to the south. Like, Brian's been to Nashville before, but I haven't. Neither of us have been to Philly, Atlanta, D.C., Chicago. We've both been to New York a bunch of times, which is pretty much the greatest city in the world.
Do you have a set idea of how to play your songs before you go out on the road, or do the songs morph and evolve as you travel?
I guess a little bit of both. We have a pretty strict rehearsal schedule, so we've played all of our songs to death. But the thing about is, it prepares us at any moment to play any of our songs at any time during our set. And we'll sort of tweak things a little, like make mash-ups of songs, or we'll play two or three songs in a row without stopping. But we're not like a jazz-fusion band or anything. We're not going to go off on 20-minute solos or shit like that. But there is some room for addition and doing stuff on the fly.
But are you set list people? Do you have them up on stage?
Umm, yeah, we are set list people, but it's usually drawn out on like a bar napkin or something, two minutes before we go on stage. But when you walk into a place, you sort of get a feeling for what's going to work, and what isn't. But we do get bored of playing the same songs night after night, so we try to switch it up, play a little bit of a different set.
Oh, definitely. For those Japandroids groupies. Do you have people that follow you around like that?
[Laughs.] Uhhh, not really. The only groupie we have is a six-foot, five-inch man who came with us on tour for a couple of days. For a Japandroids groupie, that's about as good as it gets. But we're not far into the tour, so I'm sure there's plenty of time to gather more weird, creepy dudes.
Local 506 has a fine selection of alcoholic beverages. Are you a fan of drinking while you're performing?
Yeah, I do like drinking while I'm playing, for sure. It's a fine balance though, right? You gotta make sure to not get ridiculous but, the thing about being in a two-piece band is that one out of the two is always going to have to drive the truck around. So what usually ends up happening is one of us gets to let loose, while the other guy has to be the responsible one that plays sober, which is a nice balance. You've got one person playing sloppy but crazy and the other person is, you know, actually playing accurately.
Do you plan to remain a two-piece, or do you think you would ever add members if you wanted to diversify your sound?
A long time ago, we were thinking about having more. Particularly, we wanted to have a lead singer. But as far as instrumentation goes, we've always been set on the guitars/ drums thing. We've just been playing for so long we've sort of figured out how to make it sound big, so there's just no need for anybody else. Like, the way Brian plays guitar, he's running through a bunch of amplifiers and a few bass cabs, so it sounds really full with lots of low-end already. And I just basically try to make as much noise as possible. And then we're both singing so, when people hear our stuff and then see us live, they're always surprised that we're just two people. I think that speaks to the fact that two members is enough.
I've heard a lot about the Canadian government funding native musicians through grants and the like. The last time I saw Feist, she rolled up in a giant tour bus. Have you guys been able to take advantage of that system?
We're working on it. It's a really tricky thing, actually. There is funding for Canadian musicians out there, but it's very bureaucratic on who gets dibs on the funding. We've sent in an application before and been denied. The weird part about it is that you need a certain amount of success before you can get access to it.
Seems a little counter-intuitive.
Yeah, exactly. It's like you have to be at a point where you don't need it not nearly as badly as you did before. You need, like, proof that you're a viable artist because a lot of the funding is in the form of loans. And I guess they want to make sure that you could eventually pay it back. Like a year ago, we were an unsigned two-piece band that was playing shows wherever. We sold our own records. That didn't really win over the grant people. But there is money out there for bands, and it's actually crazy how much they end up getting, like tens of thousands of fucking dollars.
It would be nice to at least have a fraction of that for gas.
Oh, it's way cheaper here actually. But at least in the trade-off, we get free health care.
Japandroids plays Monday, July 6, with Mount Weather at Local 506. Tickets for the 9:30 p.m. show are $8.