Just after the release of their new EP, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness, Part 1 (QRO review), and at the start of their tour, Josh Hook and Graham Wright of Tokyo Police Club sat down with QRO. In the conversation, the guitarist and keyboardist from north of the border talked about the tour, The Infinite Radness, further Parts, covers, American politics, Canadian politics, and more…
QRO: How is this tour going?
Graham Wright: Good. We did two small club warm-ups in Hamilton [Ontario], but then the tour proper, with other bands, started in Boston. The first two days, it’s always a little… ‘fraught’. We had a van thing and we got delayed.
Josh Hook: You can rehearse as much as you want, but it isn’t until the first couple of days of tour are behind you that you’re like, ‘Alright – now we’re touring…’
GW: So the tour has been going well, but it feels like it’s really kicking into gear now…
QRO: You’ve got a few festival appearances scheduled, but you guys usually seem to do a bunch – are there more yet to be announced?
GW: Probably not any of the big ones this year, because they book really far in advance.
We kind of learned our lesson about doing festivals first. Because what we used to do in the past was book festivals when we thought the album would come out, and generally what would happen is the album doesn’t come out so soon as you were expecting.
I remember playing Coachella the last time we played it, in 2010, right before Champ (QRO review) came out. Really plum Main Stage slot, really great, but the album wasn’t out yet. We hadn’t done press for it yet; we had only done the songs a handful of times… The show was good, but you don’t really want to be hitting these big festivals in that mode, so I think we transferred to sort of like, ‘We’ll look and see next summer…’
Also, we’ve done Coachella a couple times, we’ve done Lolla[palooza] – these people don’t necessarily wanna keep bringing back the same bands over & over. It’s not a sure thing; which I used to think it was. I used to think that every other year, you would get to play them, once you’re in, but it turns out, no man – there’s a lot of other bands. Everyone waits their turn…
JH: We’re still sorta feeling it out, too, with the EP releases. I don’t know if people are standing off a little bit, ‘Well, it’s not a full album…’ Whatever…
GW: Festivals are great, but they sort of loom, sometimes, in the middle of a tour. [This] night, is our third night in a row, with the bands we’re with, on stages this size – we’re getting into the swing of it. If tomorrow, suddenly we go to a big field and play at one in the afternoon, it’s a whole different vibe, and it can be whiplash, a little bit.
QRO: Oh, and what’s it like playing America during the election season?
GW: Oh, man! I haven’t noticed anything yet. I’m deep in podcasts and shit – I’ve been following it for a while.
The thing is, you’re in a vacuum. You’re at the van, where I’m on Twitter, where I’m already on Twitter at home. You’re at the venue, nothing happens about the primary, and then you’re in the van again. I hope that at some point, we’ll run across some more…
So far, nothing to report, but I’m very excited. I know a lot; I’ve been happy to have some people to talk to about it, because I have a lot of time on my hands when we’re on tour – I have so much to say about the primaries; I listen to eight podcasts…
JH: I’ve been on the receiving end of it…
QRO: For you Toronto boys, is it a little like if I was in Canada if [former mayor] Rob Ford was running for Prime Minister?…
GW: Yeah, it’s a lot like that.
JH: Yep, pretty much exactly like that.
GW: This is getting a little bit off-topic, but I think a), there’s a real smugness that Canadians have towards America, that’s in high gear right now, because we just elected a hot young Liberal Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau], and you guys, who knows what’s going to happen?
But, in Toronto, you can see what happens when an ideologue populists their way to success, and we’re like, “Yo – it can happen!” No one thought that Rob Ford was gonna be mayor; everyone sort of treated it the way that people are treating [Donald] Trump, at first the primary is joke, now the general’s a joke. It can happen, and it’s bad.
QRO: I did an interview with you, Graham, right after [former Conservative Prime Minister] Stephen Harper got the majority, while we had Obama…
GW: We weren’t quite so smug in those days…
QRO: What does the set list look like? How much of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness is in there?
GW: Three tunes, which is a solid 60%. I think three or four off everything else.
JH: It covers all the bases.
[Wright does a sweeping, rainbow-esque motion with his hands]
GW: It encapsulates everything.
QRO: How was making the EP?
JH: It was cool, because it was unlike any way we’ve worked before. It was really song-by-song, maybe a couple songs at a time. When we had time around shows, ‘cause we’re all so spread out now. Greg & David would work on beds in L.A., and then Dave would do a bit in New York, come up to Toronto and we’d throw some more stuff on.
GW: It was in every way the opposite of Forcefield (QRO review), which was hard work – and rewarding work, and worthwhile work, but certainly you were aware of every day you spent. We got there in the morning, we worked all day, and we thought about everything, we lived it, we breathed it.
This, it kind of caught me off-guard when we were finished. I was waiting for the work to begin, you know? And it just didn’t, in the same way.
JH: And doing them one-at-a-time, it kind of builds up in the back. You look back, and are like, ‘OK – these five…’
GW: I think we learned a lot from Forcefield. I think we learned a lot more from Forcefield than we even knew. The ease with which we were able to do things this time around that were always really difficult before, was encouraging.
[Mellon Collie], it kind of caught me off-guard when we were finished. I was waiting for the work to begin, you know?
QRO: It’s “Pt. 1” – I assume that there’s going to be other parts?
GW: [laughs] There will be at least Part 2.
JH: [laughs] Definitely Part 2. Probably August, September, October-ish. Sooner than later.
GW: It’s on its way.
QRO: Are they going to be compiled into a full LP?
GW: I don’t think so, and that’s the trick with putting out EPs: everyone wonders that. You have to try to communicate to people that, ‘This is the thing.’ Just because it’s Part 1, it is the whole thing, it what we’re focusing on right now. There’s not a like a better or complete version of it coming – it is the better or complete version of it. And Part 2 will be a better or complete other version.
We did the same thing with the covers, where we were really hesitant to package them, and they just ended up getting packaged. I found out about that when I went on Rdio, ‘Oh, I suppose they’re an album now…’ Sometimes it’s out of your hands, with the streaming; they just want to classify them.
They’re not intended to be put together. They’re not two halves of a whole; they’re two wholes.
QRO: When you were recording songs, did you know, “This is Part 1, this is Part 2”?
GW: We got eleven songs, more or less, in the can, before we started thinking about which would go where.
The ones on Part 1 are chronologically are the older ones. “PCH” we wrote back in the Forcefield days; “Not My Girl” we wrote back in the Forcefield days. “Please Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ocean” were the first two songs we recorded. We came to New York in October of 2014 and did those two tracks.
Without really knowing exactly what they were for yet. We knew they were for some release, but there was no talk of EPs or albums or singles or anything. Even “Losing You” was quite early in the process, as I recall. It worked out that way, although I don’t think it was on purpose.
QRO: Do you do any of the yet-to-be-released songs live?
GW: Not as yet, no. But who knows? We didn’t do any of these live, really, but that’s only because we didn’t tour much before the EP came out. We will be touring throughout the coming months, leading up to Part 2, so as things get settled, I wouldn’t be surprised if we incorporate them. We haven’t talked about it at all…
JH: It is also a nice test, when you have new songs, to play them live. That’s the final benchmark of what can change, how things feel. It gives you a new perspective, before you commit it to zeros and ones. That’s a really valuable thing to have, going in before you do the final version.
I imagine our shows on the June tour, we might be busting out a few.
You have to try to communicate to people that, ‘This is the thing.’ Just because it’s Part 1, it is the whole thing, it what we’re focusing on right now.
QRO: Why did you decide to do EPs?
GW: I think, after Forcefield, we were like, ‘What does anything mean now?’
It was kind of very apparent how nebulous the whole business is. We worked on that record for so, so long. We put out “Argentina”, we put out that first song, and it made quite a splash, and I really noticed it. And then we put out the album, and it made quite a splash, and I really noticed it, but the splashes were kind of the same size. ‘We just worked for four years on this record, and are we not paying attention to it anymore? Yo, that was five minutes!’ I think in the four years we spent making the record, people’s attention spans got shorter and shorter and shorter.
JH: And also, we had that idea, too, when we wrote “Argentina”. ‘This is kind of ridiculous for us; it’s almost nine minutes long. Let’s just put this out now, as our own thing, get people talking about that.’ Obviously we didn’t do that, but doing EPs and shorter releases kind of give you that a little bit more mobility, to put stuff out when it feels good, as opposed to waiting for four years…
GW: There can be a ‘tyranny of the album cycle.’ The lead-up to it is proscribed, and the release is proscribed, and the way that you tour on it is proscribed, and the amount of time it’s gonna last in the public eye is diminishing, for anything.
And we talk about everything. ‘Do we only put out singles? Do we make a club, singles club, seven-inches, whatever?’ We got way out into left field, and then came all the way back; it was gonna be an album for a while. There was the urge to get out from under it and make a choice.
QRO: Are you going to do a video for anything from Radness?
GW: I just directed a video for “Not My Girl”. I don’t know when it’s gonna come out.
JH: There’s probably gonna be another for one of the songs from the EP.
GW: We’re trying to bring all that stuff in-house. It’s fun to do, so as long as it keeps being fun, we’ll keep making ‘em.
QRO: I really liked the “Hot Tonight” video. It looked like a fun video to make, because you’re hanging around a bar, playing video games…
GW: It sure was, yup!
JH: Early morning, right after the gold metal game in hockey.
Tokyo Police Club’s video for “Hot Tonight”:
QRO: I know it was five years ago, but where did the idea of [covers release] Ten Days Ten Covers Ten Years (QRO review) come from?
GW: It came from the label.
JH: It did, yeah. We had eighteen days off in between two really long tours.
GW: Really long…
JH: For whatever reason, the label came to us and said, ‘Hey guys, I noticed you have some time off here. How about filling it with doing this?’ We sort of took the idea and made it into something that made sense. We were like, ‘Okay, that’s not a terrible idea, but ten songs, not eighteen…’
GW: There’s an element of just a content mill, that you feed and be, as bands. The challenge becomes picking through the endless ideas of just ‘things you can do.’ Just anything you can do to keep your name out there, to keep making stuff. But try to find something that’s not just that, that feels fun, and authentic – something you would do, anyway, you know?…
JH: It was super-valuable, too, for songwriting, as well. Just doing the covers, and doing them that quickly, and arranging things that quickly, kind of kept you on your toes, creatively. And so there were a couple things, at least ways of working, that came out of that, that were really beneficial. It was a good experience…
GW: I think the Ten x Ten x Ten, I think of it as just part of the Forcefield writing process. Obviously none of the songs were ever going to be on the album, but we wrote sixty songs, but those ten songs almost feel like they run up to seventy, more stuff we were tracking with.
There’s an element of just a content mill, that you feed and be, as bands. The challenge becomes picking through the endless ideas of just ‘things you can do.’
QRO: Thanks so much for covering Harlem Shakes (QRO spotlight on) – I loved those guys…
GW: We were just talking about them! We were just bemoaning the fact that those guys aren’t still together…
QRO: When I saw you in October, at that Rough Trade NYC show, I was standing next to [former Shakes guitarist] Todd [Goldstein]…
GW: Todd, he kind of did all the putting together of the artwork for the record.
QRO: For which record?
GW: Mellon Collie.
GW: Are we using ‘Radness’?
JH: I don’t know…
GW: I like it…
QRO: Well, there is already a Mellon Collie…
QRO: Eventually, it’ll just be ‘Part 1’…
JH: ‘Radness 1’…
GW: Our friend Chris [Schoonover] took the picture, and then we kinda gave that to Todd, and he got the person to do it all, the text and stuff.
QRO: I was joking with him at that show in October that I wish you’d do the Harlem Shakes cover, and he said, “Yeah, you & me would be psyched; everyone else would be like, ‘What the hell?…’”
GW: We “Since You’ve Been Gone” at Rough Trade. Only one of those we ever did live.
QRO: Do you play any covers live?
GW: That was the last time we played of them, at Rough Trade. Which I forgot we did. I think at soundcheck, that was a last-minute…
That was the day the Jays advanced to the pennant…
JH: And we watched it right before.
GW: So that whole rest of the night is a blur…
Tokyo Police Club playing “Not Sick” live at CMJ 2015 in Brooklyn, NY:
QRO: You guys have been pretty successful for a while now – do you still get funding from the Canadian government?
GW: Various funding sources have various limits on them. Some of them are still are still open to us; others, we tapped out. It’s a more than fair system, as far as how much money they keep doling out.
We kind got out of that, what the point was. It enabled us, early on, to do things we never would have been able to do, otherwise, and now we are reaping the benefits of those things, and we frankly don’t need the government money.
We would keep taking it, if they keep offering it, but I think it’s good that they don’t, because there are bands that need that money. There are bands that can’t get in the van, and go out, and tour, and stay in the black, and that’s who the money should be for.
JH: It’s not always the artists. The label can apply on your behalf, as well.
GW: And it’s not always the government. Because there’s so many Canadian content rules in Canada, ‘You have to play X amount on the radio,’ whatever. The radio stations pool money, and that goes into some other granting thing. Because they have vested interest in having music that doesn’t suck, because they have to play it.
It’s been a huge change. Twenty years ago, it was a bit of a punch line. These filler bands, basically, Nickelback all of the time, any half-decent band out of the country. And now the radio stations, I think they’re voluntarily exceeding their content requirements, because Canadian music is doing so well.
And that’s great – it means it worked. It means the system worked. It’s gratifying…
QRO: With the recent Liberal Party win [in Canada], do you know if arts spending is going to improve?
GW: That’s the story, I think…
I don’t know Tokyo Police Club is first in line. We’re in the back…
The CBC is gonna get a big infusion of cash back. They used to be big boosters of Canadian music, and they had to scale back. They stopped broadcasting concerts, and this and that; it used to be a big thing. They’ll hopefully gonna be able to start doing that again.
QRO: I think (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau looks like he could be a member of Tokyo Police Club, or at least your cool older brother…
GW: Justin Trudeau, years ago – there’s a Canadian senator named Patrick Brazeau, who’s now a convicted felon, I believe – him & Trudeau got into a bit of a war of words, and so they ended up having a charity boxing match. I think Trudeau dropped him, Trodeau won.
It was in Ottawa, where [our friends] Hollerado’s from. Hollerado played the after-party, and Trudeau went up and sang [Chumbawamba’s] “Tubthumping” with Hollerado!
The day of the Jays, American League pennant series that we went to, was the day of the Canadian election, which Trudeau won. So afterwards, a few of us went to my friend’s house, to watch the results roll in. And everyone has selfies with Trudeau, they’ve met Trudeau; he’s kind of been around the scene.
He’s the first prime minster, not quite of our generation, but adjacent to it.
JH: He’s still in that world.
QRO: I think Trudeau looks a little like [drummer] Greg [Alsop]…
GW: He’s got that mane…
Tokyo Police Club playing “Gone” live at House of Vans in Brooklyn, NY on August 18th, 2011: