Staking Out the Scene
The life of a touring band has got to be glamorous and decadent. Luxurious buses packed to the gills with liquor, drugs and acquiescent groupies, shuttle you from one glittering city to the next. At each destination, flashing cameras and screaming fans greet you as you make your way to the stage and the roadies load your gear into the venue. You play a flawless show for the adoring public and stumble back to the bus, where a fresh batch of groupies awaits your rock-star bidding.
"It's not glamorous at all," says Greg Alsop, bursting this fantastic bubble. Calling from the men's room of a bar in Frankfurt, Germany, the drummer for indie-rock rising stars Tokyo Police Club is quick to kill the myths of rock stardom. "This is our first time touring on a bus, and there's no shower. That smell is just the worst part of being in this band."
OK, well, maybe the bus isn't that great. But what about jet-setting from one world capital to another?
"I really don't like airports at all," Alsop snaps. "They're just so innocuous and bland. They make no attempt to represent their location."
But Alsop isn't ungrateful. After all, on the strength of a single EP, the Newmarket, Ontario-based quartet has generated enough international buzz to garner this European tour, major TV appearances and remixes by big shots like Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis. That EP, last year's A Lesson in Crime, crams seven hook-filled songs into just more than 16 minutes of danceable garage pop. With a comic-bookish paranoid-android sense of humor, irrepressible enthusiasm and an entirely organic combination of punk rawness, dance-pop poise and unforgettable melodies, the record reads like a mini-manifesto on future rock. David Monks' nasal musings paint bleak, emotive landscapes while Joshua Hook's guitar imitates the Bats as much as Weezer. Meanwhile, Graham Wright's driving psychedelic keyboard lines and Alsop's spastic drumming create a beat that's somewhere between the Monkees and the Arctic Monkeys, with sprinklings of Malkmus and the "Monster Mash." Positively addictive, the record is all the more remarkable for having been recorded in just three days.
"We were on a really strict timeline and budget," Alsop confides. "We just had to go in there, get a few takes and get out of there really quickly. We did 12- to 14-hour days every day, and then we'd sleep wherever we could. The day of mixing was just ridiculous; it was almost a 21-hour day. Jon [Drew, producer] was just amazing. You'd see him kind of slump at the board, and we'd go get him another coffee."
Recording isn't the only thing this energetic foursome does quickly. With every track clocking in at less than three minutes, A Lesson in Crime has earned the band a reputation for attention deficit. Alsop contends that the group's approach is more deliberate than that.
"It all comes from a conscious decision to not want to bore anybody," Alsop explains. "When we listen to music, we all notice a point where the song should have ended. We have this idea of cutting out all the fat. It's almost kind of an insecurity issue with us too. It came out of this other band that we had where we were writing songs that were four or five minutes long and so boring. I listen to those songs and I'm like, 'Why did we do that? Why is there an organ breakdown there? Jesus!'"
That earlier version of the outfit, formed while the four were still in high school, broke up when Alsop and Monks—its vocalist, bassist and principal lyricist—headed off to college. A few years later, Monks had written some new songs and, according to Alsop, "We were the only people he knew who were interested in playing that kind of music. We just got together to have fun and play music again." During that time, the friends rediscovered the pleasure of making music with each other. One of Monks' new songs was the EP's opener, "Cheer It On," which includes the line "When you're standing near/It's Tokyo Police Club." The players agreed that the phrase was just absurd enough to use as a band name.
At the newly christened act's sparsely attended premiere, Alsop claims that cupcakes threatened to outnumber audience members. "It was a way to bribe the audience," the drummer admits sheepishly. "We can't bake, but we had mothers and girlfriends who were sympathetic to our cause." The ploy was successful, as the boys soon found themselves invited to play the prestigious Toronto Pop Festival. After the surprisingly warm response they received from the huge crowd, they decided to jump into Tokyo Police Club full-time.
Shortly after the EP was released, the four young musicians—buoyed by a vociferous blog buzz—hit the road in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and they've hardly stopped since. While that's great news for live shows, it means there's been very little new Club music made in the past nine months. "The album's still a ways off," says Alsop. "We're hoping to record it in September—maybe take a couple of weeks to do it this time—and have it out by February of 2008. At this point, maybe we can just do a one-year anniversary release of the EP," he jokes.
In the meantime, impatient fans can enjoy a couple of singles, including the new "Your English Is Good," released last week on iTunes and 7-inch vinyl, as well as an admirable Daytrotter set and some stellar remixes. The Remix Artist Collective (aka RAC) transported "Be Good" to a glitchy disco, while Trey Told 'Em, the production project of Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis and Frank Musarra of Hearts of Darknesses, hacked up "Cheer It On," spit some samples on top of it, and turned it into a surprisingly groovy dance-floor twitchfest.
Remixes and repackaging aside, Tokyo Police Club's next recorded effort will undoubtedly be met with high expectations. The same positive attention that makes today so good could keep the band in bed with dread tomorrow. Such is the nature of the hype machine. It appears, however, that Alsop and company are keeping their perspective, with heads firmly screwed onto shoulders.
"We can only look as far as creating an album," Alsop concludes, dismissing the specter of high artistic and commercial hopes. "Hopefully, we'll make the album we want to make and an album people want to hear. We're so grateful for every day that we get to do this. None of us expected that anything remotely this good could happen. We're just really happy to be making music together."
Now, if somebody would just install a shower on that tour bus...
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