“Yeah, maybe we would have taken it a little more seriously if we knew what was going to happen,” says Japandroids’ Brian King a few hours before playing a show in Nijemegen, the oldest city in The Netherlands. “But for a band like us, when you name your band, you’re looking for a name to just put on a flyer to play a show. You’re not thinking that anybody is going to know who you are.”
And nobody probably would have had King’s fuzz-breathing guitar and pal ‘n’ partner John Prowse’s chaotically-simple drumming not sounded so freaking good, so freaking sincere, so freaking who-cares-if-they’re-steering-that-hipster-Japan-punwagon. (Japunwagon). And I probably wouldn’t be so bummed that I forgot they were playing Birmingham last night if it didn’t sound so freaking… college, man. That’s it. That’s all I know about music: they sound like college. They sound like the Malformity House. I said it. And God help me, I was actually thinking of going up for that show, just to hear it again.
With buzz-band speed and talent show humility, the Vancouver-based duo has career-making reviews from all the usual blog ‘n’ print barometers (Pitchfork, Spin, NME) thanks to the no-frill thrills of their 2009 Polyvinyl Records debut LP, which fails only in the intended sarcasm behind the ironically unironic (and still great) title: Post-Nothing.
In an interview last October, King was quoted as saying that “Polyvinyl wasn’t really a label we initially thought matched because we’re a bit of a departure from what they have been doing in the recent past.”
I don’t know anything about Polyvinyl’s recent, recent past… but I know that word got tossed around a lot before shows at Malformity back in the day (Travis and I used to have something close to a joke, and I think the punch line was “Polyvinyl”)… I know a few of their bands pulled their vans up Auburn’s midnight gravelways (Calvin Crime / Sean Na Na – oh, but Paris, Texas was technically at the Glenn House… I think Braid may have even played Ford Court or something), and I know that the content of Post-Nothing – in spirit, and yes, yes, in sound – is totally a post-nothing throwback to that young, backpack, proto-hipster house-show exuberance of the mid-to-late 90s – to college! — that Japandroids-ish bands (Jimmy Eat World, maybe some Nothing Feels Good-era Promise Ring on a few songs, and even, at times, the speak-singy Van Pelt) on labels like Polyvinyl helped define. (Even the early Dischord-ish cover-art kind of gets in on the act.)
And hey, what do you know – King actually kind of agrees.
“Well, I think that’s probably related to something that all those bands have in common,” King says. “It’s that DIY kind of attitude or aesthetic of bands that grew up listening to bands like Fugazi or Sonic Youth… bands into creating our own scene.”
True, when he says “we’re still trying to bring [house show] energy and that style of music and that kind of passion and interaction to every show,” he likely isn’t referring to the video for that 2001 Jimmy Eat World hit “The Middle.” And I’m not really thinking about either. But since that video features kids at a house show in their underwear rocking out to a song almost hummably identical (at least the beginning chord progression or whatever – is that the right word?) to Japandroids’ “The Boys are Leaving Town,” we both might as well be.
“Those bands probably roughly all sound the same to your average listener,” he says to an average listener. “They all have that thing in common.”
Though their MySpace profile lists them as sounding like “2 sweethearts still naive enough to think they’ll never sell out,” I’m obviously above-average enough to know that Japandroids is, of course, far less commercial (for now) than Jimmy Eat World (who also should have given more thought to that first flyer – though zines from back then were filled with those kind of names).
But their just-call-us-garage-rock has connected with enough folks to get them to, you know, Holland, where people don’t care what kind of nostalgia is forced onto it as long as it’s loud, the Japuns don’t even translate, and where King only has to answer for the officially clichéd gimmick of his band’s name when his tour manager hands the phone over for an interview with a writer looking for an angle.
“I think there are a lot of bands that have become quite famous that wish they would have changed their name if they had just realized they would reach that name level,” King says, nicely*, and for the 100th time in less than a year.
“I mean, Radiohead,” he says. “That’s a stupid band name – it’s not cool, it sounds terrible. If those guys had a chance to go back, what would they think? But it’s sort of like the band is bigger than the name now.”
*For the record, I’m all about the Japun bands – I think there should be more: Japantidisestablismentarianism, Japantsuit. Japandora’s Box, Japanda Bear, Japanhandling, Japantheon, Japeterpan…