Interview: Tokyo Police Club's Graham Wright Discusses Stress and the Art of Hype Maintenance
Toronto's Tokyo Police Club is an economical bunch. A two-minute song can pack in around a dozen unique hooks, which made 2006's A Lesson In Crime EP more rewarding than most bands' entire discographies. Although its touring schedule is almost as relentless as its epileptic indie-pop tunes, TPC embarked upon an uncharacteristic twelve-month hiatus to create its sophomore full length, Champ. As Tokyo Police Club renews its vows to the open road, keyboardist Graham Wright spoke with A to Z about Champ, the band's current tour with Passion Pit, and the lukewarm critical reception to the band's stellar 2008 record, Elephant Shell. The band's show tonight at the Pageant with Passion Pit and Brahms is sold out.
Chrissy Piper Tokyo Police Club
Ryan Wasoba: How is the opening slot for Passion Pit treating you?
Graham Wright: It's incredible. There are similarities between us and Passion Pit and there are some clear differences. They're a very keyboard-y dancey band and we're a very guitar-y, rock-y band and I was concerned people wouldn't be having it. But people have been supportive and enthusiastic.
Before this you toured with Weezer. Was that your biggest support tour thus far?
Absolutely. We've never played to so many people consistently. Every night we were looking out at thousands of people and it was somewhat intimidating.
I know the Weezer fans can be pretty die-hard.
I wasn't sure what to expect; I never am on support tours. But people seemed open-minded, and I didn't hear anybody heckle. It was an interesting mix of older people who were around when Weezer was starting and a lot of kids too. I suspect the kids were the ones paying attention to our sets.
Tokyo Police Club is always so active. Was it weird to take time off to record Champ?
Sort of, although it's not as though we weren't working. We're generally workaholics, but we can translate that into writing or touring or whatever else we need to do. Elephant Shell was written while we were in the whirlwind after Lesson In Crime. It was this strange thing where we put out the EP and nobody knew who we were, but then it started getting attention. There's a general set way - you make a record and then tour - but we were just grabbing at whatever attention we could get. It was like we couldn't stop touring because people would forget about us, but we couldn't tour forever on a seven-song EP. We'd come back from tour and have a week off where all we wanted to do was see our families and friends but we had to get into the rehearsal space and bang out these songs. By the time we finished Elephant Shell, we'd basically been on tour for four years. Champ was a little bit like a vacation.
Do you think the relaxation reflects on the record?
I think it sounds a lot more exuberant, a lot more free. We were following ideas down different paths that may have been more spontaneous or elaborate. We're really bad about second- and third-guessing ourselves and following our songs into these rabbit holes. With Champ, we had time to explore ideas until the songs weren't recognizable and then figure out it was better the first way. I think some of Elephant Shell was on its second or third guess when we put it to tape. If we had more time, the songs would have progressed more naturally.
It seems weird to me that people ripped on Elephant Shell. I thought it was fantastic and exciting, but reviews made it sound like you made an emo record.
I don't want to sound like I'm too good for criticism or above it, but I've gotten pretty good at ignoring it. It didn't bother me, but it was a little disheartening to sweat over the record and have it dismissed in two paragraphs by some reviewer. But that's a whole other discussion on the validity of criticism. I mean, I get it. We had an unusually successful EP. There wasn't a lot of hate for A Lesson In Crime and that can't last forever. People will either not like you anymore or realize they didn't like you in the first place. I think the negative reviews took some of the pressure off Champ. Now that the hype and critical hoopla has subsided, we can just make a record and it isn't such a big deal.
Since the new record breathes a bit more than its predecessors, is the performance dynamic different? In the past, Tokyo Police Club shows have been very quick and strobe-lighty.
That's definitely what our band was like, we were very strobe-lighty. I think that's something people liked about us. We played ten songs in seventeen minutes and people didn't know what happened. I don't think that's a sustainable way to keep fans, but it's a decent way to get someone's attention. The new songs aren't slower by any means, but there's a nicer cadence to the set with more ups and downs and more time to develop a relationship with the audience and each other.
I don't mean to come off like Champ is such a huge departure for the band. Dave [Monk, TPC singer/bassist]'s lyrical and vocal style is so distinctive, anything you make is going to sound like Tokyo Police Club.
It's starting to be that way. A band has a voice, and a lot of bands I love retain that voice whether they are diverse or not stylistically. We're lucky because Dave writes great songs. But getting a new record by a band is like when a new Harry Potter book comes out or something. You're familiar with the voice and it's the same characters, but it's weird getting used to new words and stories.