In part two of his interview, Tokyo Police Club’s Greg Alsop covered even more. Alsop discussed ‘keeping it real’, getting that sweet state – and radio – support, not being huge in Japan, vans vs. buses, the mysterious oldest fans of theirs who aren’t their parents, pushing themselves into America, limping out, and much more…
QRO: You seem to have had a lot of success, and pretty fast, for an indie band. Have you been able to ‘keep it real’, or have you gone all ‘rock star’?
GA: Totally all rock star! I mean, you heard me freak out about the orange juice… [laughs]
[note: Alsop had thrown a massive fit over the orange juice provided backstage being too pulpy - or not pulpy enough...]
We’re all humble guys. It’s easy to remain humble because, sure, we’re in a bus right now, big venues, but we did Kilby Court in that last tour in December, so it’s a very varying range of success.
And I’m glad it’s happened that way. I hope that we can do this for a while, and I hope we haven’t peaked yet, either. So it would be really tough, I think, becoming huge right out of the gate, because then that’s what people know you for. And people will constantly be comparing your new stuff to that one thing that resonated with everybody. And so you will be constantly trying to grow as artists against what everyone else wants. So I like that we have this kind of organic growth.
GA: Yeah, I remember those! We did a couple shows were Vampire Weekend (QRO live review) were the first of three. I mean, we’re still friends with the guys, and so glad they’ve had that success. They deserve it. But it’s definitely strange, looking back at those…
QRO: Do you still get state support from the Canadian government, despite having become much more successful?
GA: Mmm-hmm. Sometimes you need it, for international touring. It helps a lot. It helps just to allow us to keep going – and growing, as well.
Especially in Canada, where we have a bit more success with radio. We have a bit more of a ‘mainstream’ audience – you have to put on more of a ‘mainstream’ show. It’s such a smaller population, so if a lot of people like you, it’s a bigger proportion.
QRO: Same thing happens in England.
GA: Exactly. Like with Two Door – they’re humongous in Europe. They’ve sold like a million records!
QRO: They’ve played like Hong Kong!
GA: Yeah! They’re all over the place.
QRO: Speaking of Asia, have you guys ever played Japan?
GA: Yeah, twice. We did it in 2007 the first time, and then again in 2008 I think we did it. We haven’t been back since – hopefully we’ll be going there this summer, some point.
It’s a very different audience reaction. They are very politely there, but reserved. They don’t make a sound while you’re playing – they’re not a ‘rowdy’ audience at all. But they’re receptive, and they’re paying attention the entire time.
As soon as you’re done, they’ll be clapping, enthusiastic. But as soon as you start playing again, they’re just like ‘rapt’. I hope we get to go back.
QRO: Are you guys huge there, because of the name?
GA: No, we’re not – I wish! I wish we were huge there, could actually do a tour. We’ve only done a couple of shows – we’ve done a festival, an in-store, and a club show.
QRO: Maybe the people in Osaka are offended that it’s not ‘Osaka Police Club’…
GA: [laughs] Maybe! Or maybe it’s just weird. I think if a band called ‘Toronto’ came to Toronto… There was a band called ‘Toronto’, I think. Did they ever play Toronto?
Do you feel pandered to in that way – do people feel pandered to? Is it kind of pandering?
QRO: Have you gotten jokes about that you’re touring with Two Door Cinema Club?
GA: Yeah – we’re calling it the ‘Club Pack Tour’.
QRO: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (QRO photos on this tour) should be ‘Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin Club’…
GA: [laughs] Throw a ‘Club’ in there! I’m gonna write that on their door…
QRO: Is it weird to be the band with the shortest name on this tour?
GA: [laughs] Yeah, it is – it’s kind of bizarre, actually! I hadn’t thought about that – they usually don’t fit our full name on the sign a lot of the time.
QRO: Off the new record, are there any songs you really like to play live?
GA: Yeah. We just started playing "Frankenstein" live, so that one feels really fresh. It’s a fun song; it’s a different pace than most of our other stuff.
I really enjoy "Breakneck Speed", actually. Kind of for the same reason – it’s a different feel for the group than we’ve ever done before. It’s nice to have, especially in rooms like [Terminal 5], because it is kind of an anthemic song. So when you’re playing bigger venues, it kind of ‘hits’ in a different way.
Both of those are definitely favorites.
Tokyo Police Club playing "Frankenstein" live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on January 21st, 2011:
QRO: Are there any songs you can’t play, because of the arrangement, or just don’t like to play anymore?
GA: Yeah, we don’t play a lot of our old songs. I don’t think we’ve played "La Ferrassie" probably since releasing Elephant Shell. They’re just songs where it just doesn’t make sense to play them live anymore.
Some songs are kinda complicated. We were doing "Gone" for a while, on the new record, and we just kinda dropped that on the last little bit. It’s a weird song to ‘lock into’.
And a lot of stuff off of Elephant Shell, we haven’t done in a long time. "The Baskervilles", "Nursery, Academy" we haven’t played in ages. But I think you eventually get a list of songs that you can fill up an hour set list with, and you don’t have any that you feel are less captivating for an audience – they know all those songs, and they’re excited about all those songs.
QRO: And any song you want to add, that means taking one away…
GA: Yeah, we don’t have the freedom to play a lot of our older songs.
QRO: Except when Matisyahu shows up!
GA: [laughs] He is the exception…
QRO: Do you feel like you ‘have to’ play "Cheer It On", since it references "Tokyo Police Club" in the lyrics?
GA: It’s one of those weird things where, if we don’t play it, people complain some times. A lot of times, when we do it, we do it as an encore. On this tour, we just started putting it in the middle of the set, because we don’t actually do an encore.
Tokyo Police Club playing "Cheer It On" live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on January 21st, 2011:
QRO: Do you like this kind of ‘co-headlining tour’, where you’re actually always playing last?
GA: It works really well this way. [Two Door Cinema Club] have such an exciting set. It’s really frenetic dance music.
It does feel like a complete show, but each band is doing something really different. It doesn’t feel like ‘too long’ a night of music for the audience.
QRO: Do you prefer a co-headlining tour like this to ‘normal’ headlining tours you did last fall, or main opener at massive places, like you did with Passion Pit last summer (QRO photos on that tour)?
GA: They’re all really different. This is something we’re just kind of getting used to, since it’s our first time ever doing it.
And it’s kind of cool, because it brings a bit of ‘healthy competition’ to the table. You both kind of want to ‘get the audience on your side’ in that way, and kind of ‘top each other’. But it’s nice as well – we’re collaborative, we come out and do a song together at the end the night.
It’s friendly, but you can’t help but want to kinda ‘show them up’, or ‘steal their thunder’ a little bit…
QRO: Do you have any favorite cities or venues? Other than Kilby Court…
GA: [laughs] New York’s always amazing. We’ve had some of our best shows [in New York]. I love playing in Austin – the crowd’s incredible there; that’s such a great place.
Actually, Denver – we’ve had some really, really good shows in Denver. And it’s kind of an unassuming city. You don’t feel compelled to run around and see everything, but if you do, it’s really rewarding. There’s a lot of hidden gems in that town, just restaurant-wise, and some good bars to go to afterwards. The people up there really want you to discover their city. I have kind of a ‘soft spot’ in my heart for Denver.
QRO: This tour started, like you said, in Canada for a few dates before heading to America. Do you notice anything different about the crowds?
GA: Not really. Just that Canadian crowds can sometimes be a little more excited, maybe just because we can do younger shows lot of the times. That factors in, some of the time.
We do have the radio success there, so sometimes it’s a difference in that case. Sometimes in Canada, people tend to know your singles more than the full album tracks. Whereas here, since we don’t have that radio support, people are more in tune to your entire catalog. So if you do throw in more of an obscure album track, they get it.
So there’s little differences like that, but I wouldn’t say that just generally, as far as the divide of the countries go.
QRO: When did you get to switch from vans to buses?
GA: We’ve been doing it since June, since we started touring this one, but we still do van tours. Like the December run across the country was in a van, and we’re going to be doing I think a Canadian run in a van.
It costs a lot, too, to get a bus and rent it out. And we’re not at a point yet where it’s very lucrative. So in order to make money, sometimes you have to do it in a van.
As much as being in a van can be a drag, it also gives you the freedom to do whatever you want to do with that day. And so sometimes you kind of don’t have that camaraderie when you’re on a bus like this. ‘Cause you’re all stuck in a van for a bit, and there’s five more hours, and you see a huge billboard for like, ‘Foot-High Pies!’, and you’re like, "Okay, fuck yeah – we gotta see foot-high pies!" And you don’t get to do that [on a bus].
You’re a bit more locked into a schedule with a bus, but it’s a luxury schedule.
QRO: Before Elephant Shell, you had an EP, singles, and digital releases – do you just prefer the ‘regular’ way of releasing now?
GA: We like it now. The EP idea was we didn’t really have… That was the statement we wanted to make at that point. We didn’t really want to put out an album at that time. But we released the EP and kind of ‘treated it’ like an album. Like, we released an album’s worth of material over the stretch of a year-and-a-half. It gave us the ability to keep touring off the amount of material we had at that time.
And we had never written an album before. It just kind of made sense to do, seven songs in sixteen minutes. Even if we had done it as a full album, I think the album would have clocked in at like twenty minutes.
Tokyo Police Club playing "Your English Is Good" live at Studio at Webster Hall in New York, NY on June 1st, 2010:
QRO: Some of your early songs were pretty short – at Maxwell’s in 2007, you had to play like every single song you had…
GA: We did, we always did, and we only had like twelve songs. It was, at most, a half-hour set, maybe.
We’ve gotten a lot more comfortable writing longer songs. I guess we have more to say.
QRO: You don’t get tired out?…
GA: [laughs] We used to! It took a while to build up the endurance to do an hour-long set. But now it feels good.
QRO: Have you ever noticed fans that are similarly in the same place in the crowd at multiple shows in the same city?
GA: Definitely. We just played Boston, and at every show we’ve ever been there, there’s this older, like middle-aged couple who come out and sits right at the front. It’s like an older guy with a bushy, grey beard, and his wife. And they’re right there, at the same spot of the stage, looking up.
And I’m the only one who noticed them! No one else knows who they are!
QRO: [laughs] That’s weird – you’d think the rest of the band would be the ones to notice, since you’re farther back.
GA: Yeah – it’s really bizarre. I’ve never spoken to them or anything. I should have this time – I’d like to. ‘Cause I think they’re our older fans, other than our parents.
It’s nice to see those reoccurring fans. We’ve definitely gotten to know a lot of them. When we come back to the city, we’ll see them again, talk to them after the show, keep up with them. Maybe on Twitter or Facebook – that’s a good way to keep up with your fans when you keep coming back to the city.
QRO: Who does the Twitter account?
GA: Everyone does it. I was doing it a lot, earlier, but then it stopped working on my phone. So I haven’t done it since the spring of last year.
Spencer [MacEachern], our friend/helper, does a lot of the online stuff; Graham does it because he ‘gets’ it. I don’t know really how to use a lot of online stuff. I never use Facebook…
But it’s fun to do. I enjoy the Twitter; I like the quick, 140-character statement that says something. I like that. It’s good if you just have something to say.
QRO: So I guess you’ve broken your string of bad luck with vans?
GA: I don’t think we’ve had anything go really wrong in a while.
But there was a while – it wasn’t even ‘bad luck’ with vans; it was that we couldn’t afford good vehicles. We just bought a string of terrible, ‘at the end of their life’ vans. So we eventually bought a good one, and that was kind of nightmare just to get into Canada. Because our van died in Tennessee, and we ended up buying a van in Jersey, and not knowing the procedure to import it into Canada. So it sat in an impound lot in Niagara Falls for a good month-and-a-half before we could get it into our country. But ever since then, things have been okay.
Trailers are another story. Our trailer, we lost a fender, just somewhere on the highway from Denver back to Toronto.
I’m glad we’re at a stage where – I mean, it makes for a fun story, but…
QRO: Speaking of stories, do you have a favourite tour story?
GA: I think, one of my favorite ones, it does involve a van.
One of our first trips in America, we had just bought a van and trailer, and the van’s battery had been just dying strangely for a while. I think there was a problem with the alternator, so it wasn’t charging properly.
So we were waiting to cross into your country at the border – there were two cars ahead of us, and a string of cars behind us, because it was a long weekend. And our van just died, and wouldn’t restart. Two cars ‘til the border guard…
At first, they didn’t realize it was happening, but then they saw that we were just like not moving. We didn’t want to get out of our van, because we didn’t want to raise suspicion or anything like that. So we just sat in there.
And then, eventually, the border guard came up and was like, "What are you doing?!? You’ve got to move up!!!"
"I’m sorry, we don’t know what to do… We’re twenty, we don’t know anything about van repair…"
We ended up having to push our van and trailer into America. The border guard there just came out – he wouldn’t push to help us; he was a bigger guy – but he would kind of push us along the way, give us pep talks, "Alright boys, one more big push! Let’s get it in there! Let’s get it into the country!" So we eventually made it in there, and they brought one of their trucks and gave us a jump.
But on that same tour is when our van actually died, and we couldn’t bring the new van across the border. So we had to carry all of our equipment across the bridge, back into Canada that time. So we pushed ourselves into your country, and just limped out…
So it was a successful run…
Tokyo Police Club playing "Tessellate" live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on January 21st, 2011: