An Interview with Graham Wright of Tokyo Police Club!
Tokyo Police Club are proudly one of my favourite Canadian bands. Their music has the ability to consistantly make a listener want to shout lyrics and dance around. Keyboardist Graham Wright took the time to chat with me over the phone for a while about if TPC were a heavy metal band, Ten Songs, Ten Years, Ten Days their bromance with Hollerado and way more! So everybody, when you’re standing near (read this interview with) Tokyo Police Club!
AMBY: It’s been awhile since your latest album, so when will we see a new Tokyo Police Club record appear?
GW: I don’t know. I mean we’re working on it, I feel like I’ve said a bunch of things over the past few years and how we’ll be working on a record. And I’ve set a bunch of goals but we’ve passed them all, so at this point I’m just going to not say anything until we are finished, yeah! I mean, it will be next year I just have no idea when.
AMBY: Well we’re looking forward to hearing it! How do you think the band’s progressed over the last year?
GW: Like, a lot. I mean, no one’s heard anything but within the internal Tokyo Police Club thing, it’s super progressive. We’ve been working really hard and challenging ourselves and it seems to me if though we’ve made some pretty big leaps.
AMBY: I see! Now, what three songs would you say are the quintessential Tokyo Police Club tracks that everyone must know?
GW: We’ve been talking about that a lot actually in terms of what’s our- because while we’re writing songs we’re just experimenting a bunch and changing stuff around and are trying all different kinds of stuff. There comes a point where you sort of have to create everything into making sense for your band. So we had to figure out what is our thing? What are we doing? I think we always keep coming back to our song Be Good which is off our first EP and I really feel like that song… There’s something fundamental about it that’s better than anything else we’ve done that really describes what we do. It feels in some important and elemental way which was good.
AMBY: And I hear you’re playing a gig with Hollerado in Toronto soon, are there are other tour plans coming up?
GW: Oh yeah, in December. No, for the most part we’re not going to really tour until we have a record. It doesn’t make sense to just go out and play those songs when people have heard them all. We did some Christmas shows in Toronto last year and it was a really awesome fun time so we thought, why don’t we do it again?
AMBY: Make it a tradition!
GW: Yeah, exactly! The timing made sense and Hollerado was around so yeah.
AMBY: Since we have brought Hollerado up, you have to tell me about the bands bromance that’s going on! I’m sure we’re not the only ones who notice it!
GW: Yeah, I don’t know! I don’t remember how we met those guys originally. Actually, I do remember how I met those guys originally! I’d say it was maybe three years ago, and it was at CMW and I went to get my pass and there was also a festival so there was all kinds of stuff going on in different rooms and venders and people trying to hand out earplugs and demos and it’s just chaotic. And I found my way into this room and my friend Jeff Leake who works for The Verge, the satellite radio station was there. He was doing some kind of live broadcast I think and Hollerado was playing an acoustic set, and I’d heard of them I guess but never met them, I don’t think I’ve ever heard their music. But anyway! We ended up meeting and introducing ourselves very briefly. They did that acoustic set and it was just awful- it was super bad! And I was like, “man, okay!? That’s cool I guess.” And then later that week I saw them playing a show at The Horseshoe and it was the night before the JUNOs or something and was at three in the morning or something and it was awful again! They were all wasted and super sloppy and I’d just never seen them before so I had no context of what the songs sounded like other than bad. So I was like, “man, this band is bad, this is a bad band.” So fast-forward like a year or two later and I still had never met them and our agent started working with them and we ended up doing a lot of shows with them in Ontario and I was like, “I don’t know man, I’ve seen them!” So we went out though and played in Kingston for the first time and I went ahead to watch them and it was amazing! Immediately was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen and the songs were so tight and they were spitting beer all choreographed and the songs were amazing! By the end of the day we were in love with their music and had this really good rapport. They then moved to Toronto and we started hanging more and more until it got to the point where we’re like, “we’re friends with you guys now!”
AMBY: Wow, come a long way!
GW: Yeah, and we had played a show in Burlington I think. And I started talking to Jake, their drummer beforehand and so before the Much Music Awards we were both nominated or something and I was getting dressed and Jake called me and had some question- I don’t remember what but we ended up talking on the phone for fifty minutes just shooting the shit. And I don’t know about you but talking on the phone is not something I’ve done since I was a teenager; the last time I talked on the phone before that for any decent amount of time was with my girlfriend when I had a girlfriend, and I was on tour and I called my girlfriend to talk to her because that’s what you do! And I hung up afterwards and thought, “man, Jake and I are totally bros!” Since then it’s just been a non-stop orgy of friendship.
AMBY: Well we saw you over the summer playing Queen Street together, that was an awesome show.
GW: Oh, yeah, that was super fun. It’s awesome because they’re really awesome band. They’re a great band and they’re a successful band so this December concert was perfect with them. You can’t just take a friend’s band who’s never played before to play for fun because then no one will come. You need to convince people to buy tickets in this day and age. The more big bands you can have in a show is awesome, so it’s great to play with these fun guys also in a successful band because it gives us no excuse to not play sets with them!
AMBY: Makes sense! Now, not only do you perform in Tokyo Police Club, but you also are a producer! What’s it like shifting gears and being behind the music rather than playing it?
GW: Well I should qualify that as saying I wouldn’t consider myself as a producer; I have served in a pressing record capacity a couple of times and primarily with Ola which came out of Jake and I in a bar drunk talking about this band. We were all, “man, we have microphones in this space and we should make something happen!” And then doing it happened. I mean, they didn’t really need a lot of help; there wasn’t a lot of production that needed to get done because the songs were already kind of great. I think I fussed around with the structure of one of the tunes and other than that it was kind of just getting the performances right and showing encouragement when necessary. That being said, I really enjoyed it and it’s something I’d like to do more of. It’s really not that different from being in a band and in some ways it’s easier because- You ever have that thing where you have a problem, any kind of social problem or whatever and someone you know has a really similar problem and then you give them all this really good advice but then don’t take any of that advice yourself? It’s kind of like that. You always know what’s better for other people so when you’re producing someone else’s stuff just go all out, “yeah, you can change this!” and “do that, do that!” Because you don’t really have that much invested in it and as long as you’re working with someone who’s talented then they’ll know when to resist your crappy ideas or when your ideas are really good. If you can get a good collaboration going which we did, then cool stuff can happen and that interests me.
AMBY: Yeah, I’ve been playing those Stella EPs like mad! What was one of your favourite moments recording with them?
GW: Yeah, I only did the first one! The second one I didn’t do. We’re hopefully going to do some more stuff together but everyone’s been so busy. We’ve been talking for around two months about getting together but we just haven’t had the time.
AMBY: I’d love to hear more.
GW: Yeah, well that’s a good question. I think the way we did it was we got together and did all the bed tracks and they just played the songs without singing. And then we tracked the vocals separately and the vocal night was really fun because all of the heavy lifting of getting the songs right and it was tight and got the right performance! Stella Ella Ola is a pretty fun time party band and I think I can say that; they like to have a fun time. A lot of them, other than Nick really had never sung on records before so it’s nervy! Instead of playing in a room and yelling into a microphone, you have headphones on and know everyone in the room can hear you. It’s nerve-racking! Even at home when I record myself in my apartment, it’s only recently that I’m comfortable alone singing into a microphone. So before taking the next take I kind of managed and thought, “hey, before the next take, I think everyone should take a shot.” And I was just kind of managing everyone’s level of intoxication to get the best performance out of them and I thought it worked out great! So at the end of that we recorded hand claps and hit bottles rhythmically and it just gets kind of silly and indulgent, but silly and indulgent is one of the most fun things to do.
AMBY: Agreed on that one. Now, what trend in music do you find bothersome?
GW: I’m not going to point any one genre but I think there’s really excellent music everywhere and then crappy music everywhere. But I’m really, really bored of mediocre music. There are just tons and tons of bands that are just not that great. And they’re not bad and we’re in the twenty-first century and there’s the internet, so a band that’s kind of OK can go on tour and fill this fanbase. There’s all those weird bands who almost support themselves and I feel like people have really low standards; these bands are getting success which isn’t getting embraced and I don’t know what it is but- This is a real asshole-y thing to say and if ultimately people can do their thing and people like it, that’s all that matters. Do you remember that article that was in the Calgary paper that was all “Canadian music is boring” and everyone got all up and arms about it? Did you see that thing?
AMBY: No, actually!
GW: They called out a bunch of bands I’m a fan of and it just shit-talked a lot of stuff but the overall implication of the article was that in Canada in particular but also everywhere there’s a system in place which supports bands so effectively that there’s really no one to separate the weak from the chaff. You know what I mean? The Canadian music system has gotten so extremely good at helping bands out that it’s just helping bands out who shouldn’t necessarily be getting help! They should maybe do it on their own. I don’t feel threatened by it but when you asked what’s bothersome to me, that’s bothersome to me. I feel like people should challenge themselves and good enough isn’t good enough. You should shoot to be really good and all the bands I really like are bands that are consistently on the move and consistently trying to better themselves and try new things or better things, and they’re succeeding! So it just bugs me because I know people that work so, so, so hard. Life is just too short to listen to music that’s OK. Music that’s OK bugs me because I feel like my time is being wasted.
AMBY: Got you! Well, I’d like to ask a couple other Tokyo Police Club questions if that’s alright, and one is about the Ten Songs, Ten Years, Ten Days project!
GW: Yeah, of course!
AMBY: If it were titled Twelve Songs, Twelve Years, Twelve Days, what songs would the band have covered for 2011 and 2012?
GW: Oh, good Q! They wanted it to be 16 years by the way, that was what the label wanted us to do. So that’s- yeah. We’re not going to do that, how about we don’t do 16 songs- that’s absurd. That’s tough for me because I don’t really, I’m bad with keeping up to date with music and I’m not 100% of what’s come out in the last two years or what the band has listened to yet alone liked. I feel like it would have been more in the Kelly Clarkson vain, a Rihanna song or something or one of the new Coldplay songs. That’s the kind of music that we all listen to together and reference and get excited about. I’d be like, “let’s cover a Purity Ring song!” but I don’t know if any of the other guys in the band have even heard of Purity Ring so. That was kind of the beautiful thing about the project because it actually spanned all the years of when we were young and excited and open and enthusiastic about new music- before we become bitter, jaded, old men and before being surrounded by music all of the time. It’s hard to actively go and expend energy looking for new music when you’re already spending 90% of your energy making music.
AMBY: Makes perfect sense!
GW: Yeah, and I’m burnt out on music in general when I get home from practice because I just spent eight hours working on music so I’m a lot more likely to listen to a podcast or something. But the pop stuff, that’s what we’re all kind of excited about.
AMBY: Great, now I have a serious question for you Graham- If Tokyo Police Club were a heavy metal band, who would you be?
GW: Hmm… Mastodon seem to be a cool band, are they a heavy metal band?
AMBY: Good question, I think they’d classify!
GW: This is an area I know nothing about. Or like, what’s that band where they’re all wearing armor in the music video? Ever seen that thing? Well I recall that and used to think it was super cool.
AMBY: I have not a clue.
GW: Well, that makes two of us! There was some metal band who did something…
AMBY: At that one time and that one place…
GW: Yeah. That seems cool and we too would like to do something cool at one point so perfect!
AMBY: Fantastic! Well for our last question, tell me something about Tokyo Police Club that nobody knows yet.
GW: Ohhh, we’re such an open book! I don’t know, I honestly don’t. I can’t think of any one good fact… Oh, not even if there’s something interesting! I’ll probably think of it as soon as I hang up the phone, that usually happens!
Listen up all Torontonians! (And anyone who loves rad music…) Tokyo Police Club are to play the Sound Academy this Saturday, December 15th with Hollerado! So join in on the holiday tradition for a night of amazing Canadian music. And of course, thank you so much Graham, for giving me your answers!