Two years ago, Japandroids came to Seattle to play second out of four bands at a scarcely attended "local music showcase" organized by Rainy Dawg Radio at the University of Washington. The duo had driven 141 miles to play to a near-empty cafeteria, but despite the anemic crowd, they gave it their all, screeching, shimmying, and sweating their way through a breakneck set of pop-flecked garage rawk.
Jump ahead to the Sasquatch! Music Festival 2010, where guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, battling jet lag and forced to use borrowed gear, defied overcast skies with amp-straining ferocity. Their set drew the Yeti Stage's largest crowd of the entire weekend and stirred up a frenzied mosh pit that out-gnarled No Age's by a wide margin; it was a highlight of the festival's third and final day.
In the intervening time, Japandroids had dropped their Polyvinyl debut, Post-Nothing, a brisk eight-track LP whose "fuck it all" brio and blistering momentum sent it ricocheting around the blogosphere. Favorable comparisons to Hüsker Dü and the Replacements—not to mention a coveted "Best New Music" accreditation from the tastemakers at Pitchfork media—catapulted King and Prowse to international notoriety. Hence their ascendance from campus eateries and Vancouver, BC, bars to festival stages, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and prime slots opening for heavyweights like A Place to Bury Strangers and the Walkmen.
"To a lot of people, we appear like an overnight success, but I still feel like we paid our dues in a big fucking way," says King. "We're not one of those bands from Brooklyn that starts, and then three months after you're a band and you've never even played a live show, you're already on all these blogs and you've got national press.
"If you look at our band history," he continues, "it's this slow climb for a few years, and then in 2009 it's just this giant spike up."
In the band's nascent years, while they struggled to gain a foothold in Vancouver's cliquish spectrum of what King refers to as "pocket scenes," theirs was a truly DIY operation, with Prowse and King booking all their own gigs, and King handling the design of their merch, records, posters, and web presence (King's a keen aesthete—back in 2008, the band's MySpace background was a still of neon provocateur Bruce Nauman's awe-inspiring 100 Live and Die).
They self-released a pair of EPs, 2007's All Lies and 2008's Lullaby Death Jams, both of which were recently rereleased by Polyvinyl as the album No Singles, which comes stuffed with a pot-sweetening 36-page booklet of old photos and band mementos, designed by King. The collection includes some terrific standouts (the gain-soaked slow/fast churn of "Press Corps" and the deliriously spazzy "Couture Suicide"), despite the self-effacing choice of name.
A new record—about which King would say little—is planned for 2011, and the band has kept busy this year with a series of five 7-inch singles (two of which are already on store shelves). The band could probably afford to take a sec, catch their breath, and bathe in the afterglow of Post-Nothing's warm reception. A record fashioned from the best aspects of near-dormant genres ("alternative," "emo"), Post-Nothing is an album that feels life-affirming in its raucousness and restlessness.
"You know those records that you just always come back to? If you have a really shitty day or a really shitty week, it will come down to one or two albums that have the power to change the way you feel. That was our goal, to be that kind of band for some people and make that kind of music," says King. "The fact that it wasn't super cutting-edge or innovative didn't matter.
"There's always going to be a place for pretty simple, straightforward, raw, emotional, and honest rock. There's an expression that we've used in the band for a long time: 'You will always return to rock music.'"
One constant of the band's appeal, from their leaner years on, is their commitment to putting full-stop, balls-out effort into every single performance.
"In the early days, we started playing really hard, really energetic sets, start to finish," King reminisces. "Now when we play our own shows, we're playing for an hour or an hour and a half at a time, [and] we try to play that way the entire time. That style of playing is just such a part of the band and the band's history. We almost don't know any better."