Tokyo Police Club – Keep It Simple Dude
Tokyo Police Club is a four-piece indie-rock band from Newmarket, Ontario. They’re returning to Bo’s, October 23rd to support their fourth album, TPC. I’ve been a fan of the band for over a decade, so to prepare for interviewing rhythm guitarist, Graham Wright, I dusted off my prized collection of compact discs. The only CD player I own anymore is in my car, so a timely road trip was the perfect opportunity to revisit my TPC CDs for the first time in at least six years.
Regardless, for the next hour I found myself singing along with teenage-abandon, as if vocalist, Dave Monks’ words had started unspooling from some deep recess in my brain. There’s playfulness in his writing that made an impression in my youth. He combines words into phrases with mouth-feel. His lyrics jump, loop, holler and change when you don’t expect. Their abstract qualities needed to be teased apart and connected with to find their meaning.
Monk’s vocals found their home in the negative-space of those early albums. Wright’s keyboard and Josh Hook’s guitar pierced the edges of songs while Greg Alsop’s drums skittered and stuttered. TPC was defined by this wiry, panicky energy in their early recordings. They sounded like hallmarks for the newness of processing heightened adolescent emotions.
I’d seen Tokyo Police Club three or four times, the last time was at Sasquatch Festival in Washington. Wright remembers that show for the same reason I do, “Oh! Was that when the guy proposed to his girlfriend on-stage? Talk about connection! To want to put your proposal in such a specific and unrelated-to-you element is next-level from even putting your song on a mix CD or playing it at your wedding. To say, ‘I want the memory of my proposal always to be that it was on a stage with this band at this festival at this time.’ You better hope you keep liking the band!”
Admittedly, I stopped attending the club sometime before 2014’s Forcefield. Revisiting those albums and seeing that the connection was still there gave me a hesitant excitement to hear what Tokyo Police Club had up next.
There has been considerable press regarding the story that the band was on the verge of collapse before TPC. “We’re all in our 30’s now so there was sort a moment where everyone had to individually figure out what they wanted to do for the next 10 years. Being in a band is not necessarily a no-brainer… I feel like we all recommitted. Making this album was such a positive process.”
For TPC, the band has streamlined their writing process to keep the creative process natural. For Wright, this meant stepping away from his keyboard, “I felt like I was banging my head against the wall forcing keyboard parts into songs, only to pick up a guitar in frustration and start having fun in the process. What do these songs need from me? They were calling for rhythm.” Live, it’s given him the freedom to roam and interact more with the audience. Admittedly, he’s had to get some new moves in response.
These songs are more straightforward than previous efforts. The structure of the new tracks does not stop and start and have breaks and bridges engineered in arresting contrast. The new philosophy toward rhythm has noticeably changed the complexity of the percussion. Alsop’s skittering, almost drumming was the MVP of the club. Without it, the problem goes from being engineered to feeling formulaic.
Overall, the result is a sound that is less jagged and jarring than it was a decade ago. Wright picks up on my comments about their energy and rhythm: “Any band that finds success early on is always going to deal with the fact that there’s a contingent of people who either secretly or not so secretly wish they would revert back to their original selves… And of course, it’s impossible… We could do a facsimile of that record, stylistically. But it would never be honest because you would never recapture that manic energy in the songs and it would sound like a pale imitation…”
I tell Wright that the four singles they’ve released for TPC more clearly communicate “fun” than their previous work. He is hesitant in his response, “I wonder if you’ll still think that when you hear the record from top to bottom… There’s more weightiness of emotion in the TPC songs than anything else we’ve ever done, albeit, expressed in a different way. As much as I love those early records, emotionally they don’t have a lot of resonance for me because I don’t have emotions like that anymore.”
Emotion runs deep through the new album. Opener “New Blues” bursts out of the gate with Monks hollering “I’ve been low / I’ve been down / and I don’t wanna go there anymore.” It sets the tone of the album early as Monks lyrics to address life’s disappointments (big and small) and trying to learn for the next one. His language is more straightforward this time around too, like age and experience have eroded the desire to hide meaning away, even if that early hiding was playful.
“Ready to Win” brings that sentiment to a boil, rips off the bandaid, and kicks the door open all at once. Monks is not hiding at all as he unloads a lifetime of mistakes. At times it feels like he’s beating you over the head with it, but that only serves to make the more subtle lines cut a little deeper. “The way that you experience and express emotion – especially through song,” Wright relates, “when you’re 18 when we made A Lesson in Crime – or you’re 22 like when we made Champ—It’s pretty different than the way you express emotion in your 30’s.”
Change is growth, but it’s never a process that leaves one completely unrecognizable, and TPC is at it’s best when it sounds like Tokyo Police Club. “I consider us really blessed by how willing people have been to come along on the journey and grow with us, which is a corny way to put it, but anyway…”
Tokyo Police Club is taking the renewed excitement they got writing and recording TPC and are hitting the road! The energy has even been translated into colour coded spreadsheets about driving times and merch. The band last came into town in 2016 with Born Ruffians. When asked about memories of that tour, the conversation obviously centres around the venue. Fortunately, Wright gushes about Bo’s Bar & Grill hospitality and the pleasant surprise of a strip-mall bar taking performances very seriously.
Tokyo Police Club’s new album, TPC, is available now to purchase and stream. You can pick up your copy when they return to Bo’s Bar and Grill, Tuesday October 23rd with Fleece. Tickets are $25, available through Ticketfly. I’ll be there, singing along to every word as they escape my teenage-years memory vault and making meaning with the new songs.