Enter The Secret Brotherhood of Tokyo Police Club
Scott Wood Talks With the Guys About Touring Intimacy, Battle Scars, Chatting Up Females and the Inevitable Backlash
As I clicked on my recorder, someone from the band burped. I looked up quickly to see if I could catch the culprit. Everyone gazed back at me completely innocent. But it’s ok. I caught it on tape.
When I sat down to chat with Tokyo Police Club’s Graham Wright (keyboards) and Greg Alsop (drums), it was an interesting time for the band. They had just released their major Canadian label debut Elephant Shell, so they were no longer an indie band, and time would tell if there would be a significant backlash, or if they would fall flat on their faces.
We talked in a very noisy Subeez cafe in downtown Vancouver and things quickly got a little insane. The band was exhausted after a long day at CBC Radio 3, but their label rep had just fed the guys a very tasty meal. With full stomachs, they were ready to chat about all things Tokyo Police Club and beyond!Graham's band battle scar: It's not a scar, but I can show you my calluses. I have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 1/2 calluses on my right hand. They are all yellow and disgustingly ugly and that's from playing the tambourine. So, taking one for the team!
Scott Wood: “Citizens of Tomorrow” is your one and only song about robots, but now you guys seem inexorably linked to them. When you wrote that song, did you think that people liked robots so much?
Graham Wright: No. To us, at the time, it just seemed like a funny thing to write songs. But it turned out that “robots” is one of those things like pirates and dinosaurs that sort of everyone has latched onto as this cool thing to like. So, it sort of gave this weird cache as “the robot band,” which we never intended or really wanted.
Greg Alsop: It was an ironic trend and we started the bandwagon and then other people latched on to it.
Graham Wright: As usual.
Greg Alsop: Yeah, yeah. That’s it: we’re trendsetters.
Scott Wood: I was reading an interview with Greg and he was talking about “letting your inhibitions down” while on tour as an indie band. When you guys are out on the road, who is the spooner and who is the spoonee?
Greg Alsop: I *love* being spooned. I just lay in a foetal position just about every moment I can and just hope that someone will cuddle up next to me. Dave gets really cozy after he has had a couple of drinks. So usually when we retire back to the hotel room, he’ll just pass out with his arm around me.
Graham Wright: Josh and I... Well now we all have our own beds. We have expanded to that. But when we did share beds, Josh and I had very clearly defined sides and we stuck to them. There was no contact.
Scott Wood: Now that you are a little more established, do you miss the intimacy of everyone sharing one blanket?
Graham Wright: Greg might.
Greg Alsop: Uhm, no. We’ve learned to adapt. We push the beds together, actually. Yeah. It’s not like Lucy and Ricky in our bedroom, I’ll tell you that much.
Scott Wood: You are safely past those times, but if you look back, what other personal boundaries have you crossed?And as soon as I read that, I was like, "Well, ok. That's the death sentence." 'Cuz you know, if we did make the exact same thing as the EP, we'd be criticized for making the same thing and not evolving. But if you move on, you're never going to move on in the direction that people want.
Greg Alsop: I dunno any personal boundaries. I mean we had already crossed everything we could, being friends for years before this.
Graham Wright: Yeah.
Greg Alsop: You learn to know everyone’s quirks before you head on the road, so there aren’t too many surprises.
Graham Wright: I think because we have been friends for so long, we have sort of developed a healthy respect for everyone’s personal boundaries. Just because you hang out together so much when you are on the road, you sort of have to give everyone their space or it’s just gonna be bad news, probably.
Scott Wood: This is true. However, you can have known someone for a very long time, and then go on a road trip with them and find out unexpected things.
Greg Alsop: Yeah, that’s true. Uhm... Dave... Uh... I dunno, if I wanna bring this up... But I am going to.
Graham Wright: He can’t hear you. And he’ll probably never hear this. He doesn’t listen to Vancouver radio.
Greg Alsop: He does this weird thing where... It’s kind of embarrassing for him... and me in sharing a room with him. But he just ends up punching sometimes in the middle of the night and it’s this weird violent outburst—and he doesn’t realize that he is doing it. And so I have to cover up the day afterwards, just in long sleeves and sweaters. And it’s strange because they’re like, “Oh, where did you get that”—
Graham Wright: You told me you fell down the stairs!
Greg Alsop: And yeah, I don’t want let him know that. So hopefully he will never hear this interview because it would kind of put this strange dynamic in our relationship.
Graham Wright: Cuz there isn’t one already apparently.
Greg Alsop: Yeah, yeah.
Scott Wood: You’ve never thought of waking him up and saying, “Hey man. What’s going on?”I just think it would be great if Pitchfork could forget about that clout they hold and the influence that they supposedly have over the independent music scene and focus on the music instead of like whatever cultural impacts that a disc may have on said scene.
Greg Alsop: No, no. Cuz I don’t want to ruin what we do have within that. I mean we just care about each other so much. If he knew he was doing that I know it would just like shatter his world. So... [He makes a deep exaggerated sigh.]
Scott Wood: Since you guys are so close, I have a scenario for you. Say each of you is into a girl but too shy to chat her up, so you send the other guy in to talk to her and make the shy one look good. What would you say about the other guy?
They both laugh at this one.
Graham Wright: Actually all day today, Greg has been making me laugh—repeatedly. So I think I would chat up Greg’s sense of humour because I am a big fan of it.
Greg Alsop: Graham is super loyal. If you give him a cookie, he’ll stick by you through and through. He’s like a golden retriever that way.
Graham Wright: Dog-like obedience.
Greg Alsop: Yeah...
Graham Wright: That’s the best you could come up with? I’m glad I already have a girlfriend.
Greg Alsop: No Graham will—and I know this for a fact—because I have proofread several volumes. He is a very eloquent speaker and that transfers to his writing. And if you get a love letter from Graham, you know it’ll just be stuffed with the most beautiful prose that you may ever hear. Just lovely. He really knows how to use poetic devices to the nth degree. So yeah... He’ll melt your heart.
Graham Wright: You just edit everything before that out. And we’ll just use that. Thank you!
Scott Wood: I read you guys hurt yourself every show, so can you show me a scar and tell me a story?
Graham Wright: It’s not a scar, but I can show you my calluses. I have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and ½ calluses on my right hand. They are all yellow and disgustingly ugly and that’s from playing the tambourine. So, taking one for the team!
Greg Alsop: Uhm... None of you can see this in radio land out there, but, uhm, I have a bit of scar tissue on my right index finger—which does look like a little nick, but it’s a nick that has been reopened time and time again. Every couple weeks. And it would just become a larger gash every time. It would be mostly from hitting it on the rim of a tarm or drum. I remember after some shows, I would just come off stage and I wouldn’t even realize that I had done it, but people would be like, “Oh, what happened to your hand?” I’d look down and there was just this bloody mass, just seeping from there.
Graham Wright: It always looked really gory.
Greg Alsop: Yeah, and I was like, “It doesn’t really hurt that much. I’m sure its fine.” It’s like, “You maybe should just wash that out a bit. Get some rubbing alcohol.” But, yeah. I think I have that for life. So, that’s my battle scar.
Scott Wood: Ok, A Lesson In Crime, your first record, you guys said it was “an album for a party” and now on your website, it says that your next release, Elephant Shell, is an album to listen to while “driving around at night, wondering whether or not she likes you.” That last quote makes you sound very sentimental, Graham.
Graham Wright: I wrote that. I didn’t consult with anyone else before I posted that blog. I feel that not everyone may agree with that... [He waits a moment for dissent. There is none.] That’s how it feels to me. You can still dance to it. It’s still a rock record, obviously. It’s still fast-paced; it’s still short. It’s not like we totally went sad sack. I just feel that there is an element to the songs of wistfulness and nostalgia.
I don’t know. It just really resonates with me. It really makes me feel of a specific time in my life, which is great because that’s the time in my life all the music I love now, I was just getting into. And to me, if this was a record coming out form another band, at that time in my life, it could have been really important to me. So, I am pretty happy with that.
Scott Wood: What’s your reaction?
Greg Alsop: I think he nailed it. I don’t think anything else needs to be said about that quote. I think he got it right. In fact, you can erase everything that I am saying right now.
Graham Wright: Just loop what I’ve said over and over and over.
Greg Alsop: It’s perfect.
Scott Wood: I was reading that Pitchfork only gave Elephant Shell a 6.3 (out of 10). Before that, you guys enjoyed a lot of hype—and justifiably, I would say. How did you adjust to such a sudden change in support?
Graham Wright: Uh, I won about $40.
Greg Alsop: [laughing] Yeah!
Graham Wright: We had a Pitchfork pool. Everyone pretty much knew from the get go. I remember the last of line of Pitchfork’s review of the EP was “who knows where they’re going to go next, but let’s hope they stick to their garage rock roots.” And as soon as I read that, I was like, “Well, ok. That’s the death sentence.” ‘Cuz you know, if we did make the exact same thing as the EP, we’d be criticized for making the same thing and not evolving. But if you move on, you’re never going to move on in the direction that people want. So we were pretty much expecting them—and not just Pitchfork—but there’s all sorts of people who liked us before and are going to be disappointed now. But I think there’s hopefully just as many, if not more, people that liked us before, that are thrilled by what we did now—including ourselves, which is the most important part.
Greg Alsop: I just think it would be great if Pitchfork could forget about that clout they hold and the influence that they supposedly have over the independent music scene and focus on the music instead of like whatever cultural impacts that a disc may have on said scene. I mean it’s just weird in that way when you know people may throw a disc on and listen to it once and go, “Well, they did this, this and this, but I mean they signed to a different label now, and so I am sure that has an influence on their sound and their reaching this broader audience and so that’s gonna effect their sound as well.” They’re just focusing on all these other things that apparently contribute to our music, than what is already there. And so it would be great to just throw the disc on, take it for face value, instead of what they do do.
Graham Wright: In terms of criticism, for that sake, I kind of wish we could release every record under a different band name or something. The problem is, the thing you will always have to deal with, is you are never going to be judged on the merits of the one thing alone. So, the more you release, the more what you make is gonna be judged on your previous work—just because that’s the nature of it.
People listen to you, they build expectations and I know now when I listen to records by bands that I’m a fan of it will take me a few listens to get into it because I’ve built up expectations of that band. It’s weird to get used to there being new different music in that cannon that you were so unfamiliar with otherswise. And that’s just the way she goes.
There’s plenty of people who listened to the EP and thought, “I love how these songs are minimal energetic and kind of sloppy and raw sort of whatever it is” and the new album moves away from that slightly and those people are always going to be disappointed from that. But at the same time, there people who if we’d made a raw record would be disappointed that we didn’t take a different direction.
So, basically all you can do is please yourselves. That’s what it comes down to basically. And that’s all we ever try to do.
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