Dustin Lothspeich

Japandroids' Change of Heart

Japandroids talk their big return, new album -- and renewed sense of purpose

"It's not like we made 'OK Computer' or something, you know what I mean?"

Japandroids drummer David Prowse and I are chatting about the band's new album over the phone early one morning recently. If music critics are to be believed, "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" is a bit of a departure from their beloved 2009 "Post-Nothing" debut and "Celebration Rock" followup -- both chock full of massively huge Springsteen-meets-Ramones rock anthems about unbridled love, reckless youth and an unconquered world. However, to Prowse, it all feels a little overblown.

"Because we've had this very similar sound for so long, people are like 'Holy s---, there's an acoustic guitar!' It's not that crazy. [laughs] It's all relative, you know?"

Even before the record had been properly released, reviews came flooding in claiming the band had lost its snarl, its raucousness, its grit. Where were all the two-minute, PBR-fueled party tunes?

"We wanted to write different kinds of songs," Prowse continued. "We wanted a wider variety of tempos and a wider variety of moods than we've done previously. The idea that we're gonna want to make the same record on repeat -- that works for some bands and I do love some bands that do that ... But I think for us, it was much more interesting to move beyond that and see what we're capable of."

Pitchfork may have been the first to clue folks in to what kind of Japandroids we could expect to hear on the new album: Last November, a headline read "Synths! Ballads! Acoustic Guitars! Welcome to Japandroids 2.0.” While yes, all of those things are featured at one point or another on "Near to the Wild Heart of Life," it's not like the guys have gone off the deep end. After all, it's been four years since we last heard from the proud Vancouver-bred duo and even though it's cliche to say -- people grow up, and sometimes they grow apart. During the band's lengthy hiatus, King moved and currently splits time between his new residence in Toronto and his girlfriend's place in Mexico City. But when the childhood friends eventually reconvened in New Orleans (of all places) to start writing the new record, they didn't plan on going about it in any particular way -- Prowse explained that different kinds of songs just poured out of them this time around.

"It's not like we chose one new direction to go down on this record -- we sort of spread outward from this kind of idea of what Japandroids are supposed to sound like. We're not gonna do a different record for the sake of doing a different record but when we did explore sonic ideas and songs like 'Arc of Bar' or 'I'm Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner),' when it felt like we were going in a different direction, those were the songs that were most exciting. They were challenging but really exciting to work on because we really didn't know where we were going with them."

If there's one thing listeners can rely on when it comes to Japandroids -- it's passion. Known for throwing themselves into each show with immeasurable energy atop a crushing wall of sound, they'd rather hang it up than fade out even slightly. For a group that's seemingly always had one foot toward the door (they had actually broken up before their first album even came out, and their latest hiatus sparked rumors of another demise), Prowse and King have always maintained the purest of intentions: Either be into it 100 percent, or get the hell out of dodge.

"I think for a long time, the horizon for the future was about six months for this band," Prowse said. "We weren't really thinking far ahead of what we're doing or years down the line. It was more like 'Let's do this next tour and the next tour and maybe when we finish touring, we'll make another record.' More recently, we started thinking a bit more long-term like, 'Where do we want to go from here and how do we do this in a way that keeps us inspired?' [We had a conversation] that if there's any point that our hearts aren't in this, we need to pull the plug as soon as possible because what a tragic way for a band to go, you know? It'd be so much better if a band just ends when they're still fully committed to what they're doing and still believe in what they're doing instead of slowly fizzling out and playing a string of lackluster shows and putting out a string of lackluster albums ... I can't really make promises that we'll be playing music in 20 years, but if we are, it'll be music that we feel passionate about."

If anything, that's the spirit "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" embodies. Critics and some dissatisfied fans might lament that Japandroids have lost their edge, become more mainstream, etc. -- but at its core, the new album is unapologetically about freedom.

"I think it would've been really easy for us to put a bunch of songs together that sounded very 'Celebration Rock'-esque but that wasn't that exciting to us. I mean, it's exciting to challenge yourself. It's exciting to surprise yourself. This feels very much like a new chapter for this band -- it feels very open and very free. And I think that's a really good place to be."

Japandroids headline Music Box on Saturday, March 11. Tickets are available here

Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow, plays in Diamond Lakes, and runs the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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