Part Two of QRO’s interview with Graham Wright of Tokyo Police Club got even more in-depth. Wright discussed his solo record, Shirts vs. Skins, being compared to Tokyo, his prior Novels project, working at CBC Radio, the recent Conservative victory in his native Canada, touring ‘solo’, remembering how to play festivals, how he sucks at keyboards & guitar, getting a noise compliment from his neighbor, more "yellow" strings, and much, much more…
QRO: Most of the people who pick up the record are going to because they’re Tokyo Police Club fans. Are you at all worried that some of them aren’t going to be into it?
GW: Some people aren’t going to like it. I think there’s a lot there, if you like Tokyo Police Club, for certain reasons, you’d like my stuff. It’s still pop music, it’s still hopefully catchy, it’s still choruses and stuff…
But I don’t think it’s ‘cool’. I don’t know if Tokyo Police Club is still cool or not, but to me, it feels cool. And
I think it’s kinda honest, heart-on-its-sleeve, dorky, indie-rock. I’m kind of an honest, heart-on-its-sleeve, dorky, indie-dude, so it makes sense. But some people are going to be disappointed, not what they expect.
But maybe there will be people who like my music who don’t like Tokyo.
QRO: For touring, do you ever think about you opening for Tokyo Police Club?
GW: No, I really would not want to do that.
For a few reasons. A) Both shows would suffer. I wouldn’t play well – where would I give all my attention to? So I would just half-ass both.
Also… I don’t know… I mean, I understand that I’m going to ride on the coattails of that name. I’m not naïve – I get that the reason anyone gives a shit right now is because I’m in Tokyo Police Club. But, at the same time, I do want to separate myself. I do want to make my own thing, make my own way, and I feel like opening for myself would be a step in the wrong way.
QRO: What about just fitting a Shirts song into a Tokyo Police Club set? Andrew Whiteman has fit in Apostle of Hustle’s "National Anthem of Nowhere" into Broken Social Scene (QRO spotlight on) sets…
GW: I think it would be more likely for me to do a Tokyo Police Club song in my set.
I mean, maybe if I get super-famous and successful, and everyone loves it, then we’ll throw something in there for fun, but I can’t really see that.
QRO: When you do the solo show, will you be playing Alberta songs?
GW: I’ll probably do one.
I did a tour a year ago, opening for Said, the Whale – who actually just toured with Tokyo. That was a stripped-down version of The Good Times Band, which is myself, Will Currie on drums, my friend Spencer [MacEachern] on bass.
QRO: Are those the two lefties?
GW: No, the other lefty is my friend Joe [Mazzioni], who’s gonna play drums and guitar; Will’s gonna play drums and piano.
We just did "Canmore Hotel", I think. We redid it – it’s way better now. Will has this whole crazy drum thing he does.
QRO: For that tour, did you do Shirts vs. Skins material?
QRO: What does touring ‘solo’, as the opener, vs. Tokyo Police Club, as the headliner?
GW: It’s kind of fun to go back – I mean, it’s always fun to go back, to drive the van, not have as many instruments, and be hungry. At the same time, it’s nice when you afford hotel rooms, and gas, and food…
QRO: You still have to drive the van, even though it’s "Graham Wright and The Good Times Band"?
GW: Yeah, well, I wasn’t paying my band. So I felt that the least I could do would be to drive.
I would always drive the shows, but Will would drive to the hotel after, so I could drink. That was the arrangement. Gotta relax, after the show…
QRO: Right now, Tokyo Police Club only has some festivals lined up for this summer – will that be part of a larger tour, more festivals, etc.?
GW: No. We just finished a tour, and I think we’ve kind of toured everywhere now. It’s gonna be a while before – we have nothing planned. We’ll start writing. I think we’ll take it easy for a bit.
QRO: And maybe fit in some dates of your own?
GW: I hope so.
QRO: But the record isn’t out until late June…
GW: At that point, in July, we’ll start writing, so if I tour, it’s kinda going have to be in June.
QRO: Do you do anything differently when you play an outdoor festival?
GW: Yeah, it’s a different skill set. I think we kind of lost it a bit.
We just played Bamboozle, and I don’t think we did… I mean, we flew in, so it wasn’t our gear. It was one of those shows where everything broke at once. The circumstances were working against us, but I also don’t think we did a really good job. We played through it, you know – probably if you asked people in the crowd, they’d be like, "Yeah, it was fine." We played well, but we didn’t do a good job connecting with a crowd full of people who weren’t necessarily familiar with our band.
And you have to develop those skills. That’s why I like to do a lot of festivals sort of in row, because you start to figure it out. I can’t even tell you what the different skills are, but there are subtle differences where you need to connect with these people in a different way, on a different level.
QRO: Do you have to relearn it? Because festivals are generally during the summer – kind of like the reverse of when you go back to school…
GW: Yeah, it’s summer, it’s every summer you sort of relearn. And we’d done none – this was the first one we’d done this summer, so we were like, "Oh, crap…"
QRO: And Bamboozle is not exactly your crowd – it’s not Sasquatch! (QRO preview)…
GW: It didn’t help, let me put it that way… I don’t think the people there…
It was an experiment, you know? We weren’t expecting anything – "Let’s give it a shot…"
A) We were worked on the tour to Calgary, and we’d like to go back to the East Coast on an airplane. They paid for it – that way we’d fly to New York.
And maybe it’ll be amazing? Kids like our music, I think we have a lot of fans who are in that age group that are the kids that go to Bamboozle – maybe it’ll go over gangbusters. It didn’t, really, but that’s fine. Not everything does.
QRO: Live in Tokyo Police Club, you often play different instruments. Was it always that way, or did it just happen that you got slotted as the keyboardist?
GW: I wasn’t a ‘keyboardist’ when I started playing in Tokyo Police Club. I didn’t own a keyboard. The only reason it happened was because Josh [Hook, Tokyo Police Club guitarist], Greg, and Dave had started jamming together.
We were all in a band together during high school, and I was the singer, and my friend Will Currie was also the singer – a two-voice band. But it was kind of alt-country, and very piano-poppy. And it was right around the time those guys got into The Strokes (QRO album review), and the music, and stuff. "We want to play punk, rock ‘n’ roll songs…" And so they started jamming, the three of them.
And the high school band came to its natural high school band ending…
QRO: You graduated?
GW: It was actually before we graduated. We just got together one day and were like, "So… is that it? Yep, okay, good." It’s kind of like a high school relationship – had run its course.
Then the three of them were jamming, but Dave wanted to play guitar, so they asked me… I don’t know why they asked me… because Will was the pianist, and he was very good, and I was not. But I did also play piano. I started playing guitar, but then I really liked Radiohead – Jonny Greenwood (QRO solo album review) played piano & guitar, so I thought, "Well, I better learn piano & guitar as well."
Part of what I love about playing guitar and keyboard is putting [the guitar] on the back, that cool Telecaster thing.
They asked me, for whatever reason, to come play – Dave wanted be to play keyboards, because I could play the bass on the keyboards, and Dave could play guitar, and I could also do lead stuff. It panned out that not having bass was not going to work for us, so he started playing bass, and I just was already there, playing keyboard, faking my way –
QRO: That’s why you didn’t want keyboards on Shirts!…
GW: That didn’t help. I suck at guitar, too…
But I think that’s part of the reason that we wrote cool stuff in the beginning, was that I didn’t know what I was doing, so I wasn’t playing ‘parts’, I was playing… "These notes sound…" That riff on "Nature of the Experiment", who the hell would write that? The stupidest in the entire world! The only stupider riff is the one on "Cheer It On" – "Bum, bum, bum…" What kind of idiotic thing is that? But that’s kind of worked about it; it was part of the vibe.
Tokyo Police Club playing "Cheer It On" live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on January 21st, 2011:
QRO: Do you think that playing different instruments for Tokyo Police Club, that made it easier to do it for Shirts vs. Skins?
GW: Maybe… I guess I got used to it.
But I’ve always been that guy. I’ve prided myself on being a ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ I like the idea of it. I like having more things at my disposal to create with. I like that I can grab a saxophone and play a saxophone part, if I want brass with it.
I have a really hard time translating my ideas to other people – that’s what I think most creative people do. Like I was saying, when Mika was doing the violin, we were just like, "I don’t know – make it more yellow…"
QRO: More ‘mellow’ or more ‘yellow’?
GW: Yellow. ‘Mellow’ would have at least make sense. These stupid things you say as a musician, that only make sense to you, and you can never describe what you want.
And so it’s really nice for me, where, if I want a vibraphone part, I can just play it. And if I want a piano part, I can go play that. I can crudely play the drum part I want. It makes it faster, and it makes it easier and less dramatic for me.
QRO: What was doing the Novels project like?
GW: My song ["No Hard Feelings"] from Novels is actually on the record.
I can’t even begin to describe how awesome doing that was. Honestly, it’s the best, purest, creative thing I’ve ever been a part of.
Will & I had this sort of cockamamie idea – we were like, "Let’s just do it – it’ll be fun…" And so we went in and did it – and it worked even better than we thought it would. Everyone came with perfect songs, and nailed it… the collaboration was so… We’d never worked together before.
Inevitably, in a creative grouping, any kind of collaboration, you fall into roles; there’s certain shorthand that happens. And that can be good – I think that’s part of being a band, developing [that]. But, at the same time, there’s a dark side of that as well – people get territorial, there’s egos… That’s just how it works.
But this was just collaboration without any of that. Because we’d never worked together before. There wasn’t any… I didn’t resent it when Luke [Lalonde, of Born Ruffians – QRO live review] said to do something, because, ‘he’s always telling me to do stuff!’ Of course I’ll try that, I’ll try this – whatever we wanted. It was so much fun, non-stop…
QRO: Had you always planned on releasing it?
GW: We always planned on releasing it. Unless it sucked – if it’d sucked, we wouldn’t have done anything. But we loved it. We’d always planned to do what we did with it – just put it on the internet, and hand it out for free.
Because it was so special, and good, and pure, everyone, and especially me, was really hesitant to plug it into the machine, in any way. It’s a necessary evil, in a lot of ways. I didn’t want to have a ‘bio’ about it, I didn’t want it to necessarily get reviewed, get a press release and all that.
I like doing that stuff, mostly – I think it’s fun doing it now; I’m into it. But for that, I think that it would sort of ‘cheapen’ the honesty for it. I just wanted it to be, ‘Here it is. This is it.’ That’s why we haven’t done it since.
Also we’re never in the same place at the same time… [laughs]
QRO: For that and Alberta, you didn’t do the standard ‘release a physical record for people to buy, etc…’
GW: With Lakes of Alberta, I did the press by just e-mailing ‘info@pitchfork’, "Hey, I made this record – you should write about it…" And people did! I did my own press…
QRO: You didn’t ask the people who do press for Tokyo Police Club [to handle it]…
GW: No, I cause I didn’t want to. I just wanted people to hear it. That’s all, at the end of the day, I care about. I just wanted people to know it exists, so they can listen to it.
QRO: So does that put extra pressure on Shirts, since you’re doing the press, it’s a physical, pay-to-buy release?…
GW: No, I think… I also worked a lot harder on this one. Lakes of Alberta was a similar thing to Novels. In a way, it was kind of the genesis of the Novels idea, is that I went into the Chemical Studio again, before I really knew the guys at all, "Can I come in and record for free?" And we did it in an afternoon. We recorded five songs between noon and nine. Again, it happened really quickly.
But this one, I spent a lot of time on it, a lot of time mixing it, fixing it – I had list of things I wanted to change. So I feel like it’s all operating on a slightly more advanced level.
QRO: Those were for free, whereas this one, people will file-share…
GW: Yeah, it’ll be available for free on the internet – I just didn’t do it myself, this time…
QRO: You also are a host on CBC Radio 3. Do you ever play your own stuff?
GW: No, I don’t.
QRO: They have a rule about it?
GW: I don’t know that they have a rule about it – I just think it’s crass. And I think that there’s certain – not that I’m a ‘journalist’ – but I think, you know, there’s certain standards of broadcasting integrity that you have to uphold, and I think it’s cheap to play your own music.
QRO: Do you get other people at the radio to play your own music?
GW: Yeah, they play it all the time.
That’s why I’m not allowed to host the countdown show. They have a countdown show, but we’re on it a lot, and so ‘you can’t be part of it…’
QRO: What about material from bands that you’ve toured with, friends of yours?
GW: Oh, definitely.
Although, honestly, to be perfectly honest, the ‘playing the music’ part of radio isn’t what interests me about it. I mean, I like to play music, I guess, and at the beginning, I was, "Oh, can we play this, and this, and this?…" And now, I just don’t even bother – "Send me the playlist. I just like to talk." As you may have realized…
QRO: CBC Radio is public broadcasting. Speaking of state financing, did you get it from the Canadian government for Shirts?
GW: I did not… I was turned down. I applied for it, but we were turned down…
It was very…
So I don’t know if it was the application, or what, but they turned me down.
QRO: Did you get it for Champ?
GW: Oh yeah, Tokyo always gets it. I kind of just got spoiled – I assumed, "Where’s my money?…"
QRO: And you had a song called "Canadian Thanksgiving", and one called "[Evening Train From] Kingston Station"…
GW: Yeah – it’s Canadian as hell!
QRO: Maybe "Soviet Race" put them off…
GW: That must have been it. The Cold War’s over guys, c’mon…
QRO: Not to get ‘political’, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government collapsed recently, sending you country back to the polls-
GW: And just came back, stronger than ever – they won a majority government yesterday.
Yeah… That doesn’t bode well for… anything that I participate in: for public broadcasting or for government funding for music.
I’ve been talking to a lot of my record friends – the stakes aren’t as high in a Canadian election. In The States, it’s really, if you’re a liberal person, oh my God, you have to get The Democrats elected, or it’s horrible, and it all goes to hell! It’s so opposite…
And it’s so opposite – our Conservative party is probably more left leaning than [America’s] Democrat party. It’s pretty okay. But there are still certain things…
QRO: But you do have at least more of a financial – they don’t do that kind of [Factor] funding in The States, and working at CBC Radio, you have more of a personal, financial interest…
GW: Yeah, I do, and even more than financial thing – I don’t ‘need’ lots of money; I paid for my record myself. I would have liked to get the money, but it’s fine; it’s okay.
But at the beginning, you needed that money. It’s not a coincidence that so many amazing Canadian bands started just popping up everywhere. ‘Cause it’s expensive tour, and when you’re just starting out, you’re like, "Why would I do this? I’m not making any money. This sucks. I’m gonna work a job." To get that money is such a boon.
And I think public broadcasting is crucial to any country, any culture. So I shudder to think of what will happen.
QRO: Could you apply for touring money, for yourself?
GW: Yeah, if I do a tour, I could apply for money. If I ever do CMJ (QRO festival recap), I could apply for that, music videos you can apply for – they have a lot of grants.
It’s important to Canadians – I think it’s part of our national identity, basically that sort of ‘socialist’ aspect. I know that’s a dirty word in America, but, in Canada, it’s a source of pride… [laughs]
QRO: When is "Canadian Thanksgiving", anyway?
GW: I don’t actually know – I think it’s in October…
QRO: It’s not as big a holiday up there, right?
GW: It makes way more sense, man – it’s too close to Christmas [in America]. We get have to turkey twice – you guys are always sick of turkey by Christmas, have to have lasagna for it…
QRO: Speaking of turkeys, how much is "Leftovers" autobiographical?
GW: It’s exaggerated autobiographical, I guess? No, not even really – I was pretty clean, in my apartment.
QRO: Did you get notes on the door, "I have to work in the morning"?
GW: No, that was totally fake.
The only thing I ever got – I stayed up really late one night, just recording vocal harmonies. So all you hear through the wall is just me singing nonsense, basically, that makes sense on the headphones. It was four in the morning, and I was doing this. And I was like, "If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen tomorrow morning."
And I woke up, and sure enough, there was something on the door. I picked it up and read it, and it said,
I got a noise compliment, which is I think is unprecedented! So I kept it, in case I ever got a complaint – "This person disagrees…"
I kind of hate that I gave up that apartment, because I feel like it’s gonna be hard to find somewhere where the neighbors are that cool. No one knocked on the floor, no one complained once – never had a problem.
One time – they shot a lot of movies around there. Once when they were shooting a movie downstairs, they were like, "Hey, the sound’s getting picked up." I was practicing – I did an acoustic show with my buddy; we were practicing.
So the super came, he was like, "Oh, it’s getting picked up – there’s an empty apartment upstairs; I’ll unlock it. You guys can use it." That’s the kind of super-supportive scene it was.
QRO: How many reviewers do you think will give Shirts "Six points / Out of a possible ten" or "Three stars / Out of a possible five"?
GW: [laughs] Some smart-ass probably will – I didn’t even think of that. Dug my own grave…
Six is not that good – 60%, I wouldn’t be happy with that at all. I mean, whatever…
Funny – ‘Three out of five’ sounds better, but it’s still ‘six out of ten’…
QRO: Are you Shirts, or are you Skins?
GW: I guess Shirts. I didn’t anticipate people would ask me that.
I am Shirts on the cover – I am the shirt in the artwork of the record. I think I’m a ‘shirts’ guy – I don’t look very good naked…