ARTICLE BY PAULA GONZALEZ
The night belonged to the beats of clapping hands. But that same night also belonged to the pre- and post-pubescent boys, to the end of spring break, to teenage acne, to young couples sucking face, to the cornered off 21-and-over drinking section, to rebel fashion and to the girls whose bubbly dreamy dreams were all coming true. It was the perfect set up for Tokyo Police Club’s performance at Studio A in Miami.
For these four young hipsters, playing in a band and conquering the music scene happened in a matter of minutes. The band’s 16-minute A Lesson in Crime EP became an instant hit, and they hadn’t even turned 21. You’d think this success might go to their heads. On the contrary, these boys are nowhere near that point. TPC barely made it to the Miami show after a grueling 12-hour bus trip from Tallahassee, and they didn’t even have time for sound check before the show. Yet they still managed to pack the venue full of kids, who exploded in excitement and sang through every single song with an energy that can be compared to prom night.
The Scenestar had a chance to chat with keyboardist Graham Wright about new album Elephant Shell and the challenges involved in making their highly anticipated full-length album.
The Scenestar: Alright Graham, you’re the blogger, you’re basically the one who writes up all the info on TPC. Do you designate a title for yourself?
Graham Wright: Public relations. Head of public relations.
SS: Ha. How did your recent gigs go in Los Angeles?
GW: It was great. We did two nights there, and I think it was the first time we did two nights anywhere. And they were both really good. Usually the first or the second doesn’t go the way you want it to, and you’re always disappointed, especially in a place like L.A. I always get my hopes up. It’s L.A. Friends are there, and we always get a good crowd there. We sold out two nights. The same thing happened to us last time we were in New York. First night went really great, second night we bombed. The crowd seemed into it, but we were just not happy about it.
SS: Speaking of New York, you have a shitload of shows coming up that are sold out.
GW: Three yeah, not sure which ones. I hope we can repeat our double success in L.A. and make it a triple success in New York.
SS: Let’s talk about Elephant Shell. The second release is always hard since you don’t want to look like a one trick pony.
GW: Obviously the pressure is there, and you try to ignore it. But it’s always in the back of your mind. But I think more the problem is that … as they say, it’s a cliché: “You have your whole life to write your first record and you have two years to write your second.” It’s hard to do. It was especially tough for us since we’re on the road so much. We’re so busy, we never had time to get together and write songs.
SS: Interesting you say it takes your whole life to write your first record. Do you consider A Life in Crime your first record?
GW: Yeah we do. First of all, I consider it a short record; we toured off it like it was a record. We spent two years touring on that. And at the same time, we released the Smith EP and “Your English is Good” single. I think we had an album’s worth of material that was all thrown into one massive pot of music.
SS: Working on Elephant Shell, how much harder was it than A Lesson in Crime?
GW: Our first record, it was doing it all for fun, getting together in a basement having a good time … a lot of it, it sort of would happen without us even knowing it. When we knew it, the song was over. And with the new record, it was kind of a big adjustment to not have that happening, to get together and find out that we have to work hard on making the songs, working on stuff like that.
SS: Considering that this is a short album.
GW: Yeah, that is two solid years worth of work without a single song left out.
SS: But when you think about it, maybe that’s the way you wanted it to come out.
GW: Yeah, I’m thrilled with the record. I’m really happy with the way it turned out. So I guess whatever weird path we had to take to get to it was the right one. I just hope it’s easier the next time.
SS: Being at your age, not that it completely matters, are you at a certain point that you don’t really care about the criticism?
GW: We always tried not to care too much about the criticism, and you cannot not care about it. We are really working very hard on this music, we’re putting it out there, and what people think about it is always going to matter to us regardless. The important thing to learn is not to get caught up with it. It’s great when we get good reviews. I am always thrilled when we get them, and at the same time, as easily as you can get a good review, you can get a bad review. I’m sure with the new record there’s going to be plenty of them, like the blog backlash and all that stuff. As long as you don’t use the reviews to legitimatize yourself. I mean, they are a nice bonus, but that is not how we count our success. It’s based on if we’re happy with the songs and kids are coming out to the shows. There are plenty of bands out there that are not liked by the blogs that go out and play great shows and have tons of fans, and what the hell does it matter what reviews say.
SS: You just released a new video, “Tessellate.”
GW: It really wasn’t going to have us in it at all. It was just going to be the school stuff with the kid. That was the treatment we originally got, and I guess when the video came through, the consensus was we should be in it a bit.
SS: You’ve already hit many of the important points that many bands would want to reach, but what else does Tokyo Police Club need to achieve?
GW: Achieve as a band, always more; [we’re] never satisfied. I’m happy when we reach milestones, but we want more. More fans, write better songs, more records. I think when you grow up daydreaming in your bedroom about being a rockstar, you don’t daydream about playing a 500-person club for a cult following. I dream about playing giant stadiums and arenas and having scores of adoring fans. That is sort of part of the dream.
SS: What would you like to say about Elephant Shell?
GW: I think for people that are familiar with our band and with the EP, it’s going to be a grower. As [with] any band, a lot of bands’ second albums are—if you’re familiar with them—you know, it doesn’t sound like what you expect. It’s different. I don’t think [Elephant Shell] is that different, but in some key ways it is. And I think that’s going to throw people at first; it probably will alienate some people … I don’t know. I think it’s something that people are going to need to give a little more of a chance, to listen to it a few more times and let the more subtle parts speak out. I hope that’s how it is. I love second records that are growers. And at the same time, for people that are not familiar with us before, I don’t think it’s that dense of a record. I think it will be immediate for those who are hearing us for the first time. I really think it’s awesome when you can listen to a record you’ve never heard of before, and it can be a blank slate and you sort of can project your own things on it. You’re not worried about the influences or what it sounds like or what it’s about. That’s why we picked the title Elephant Shell, which is the question that everyone asks. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s nothing. It enables you to listen to the record and get out of it whatever you get out of it. And that is really important for us, that’s what we want to give people.
By the time sophomore albums come around, new bands are used to the late nights, traveling, good and bad venues, promotions, groupies, tours and critics—all that there is to learn in the name of music. And that’s a difference you can see with Canadian band Tokyo Police Club. As I was searching for their recent performance on the Late Night Show With David Letterman, I came across the band’s first performance of “Nature of the Experiment” back in April 2007. They looked younger, teenage-like, almost afraid to look straight at the camera. They had a smaller drum set and a smaller keyboard.
A year later, they’re taller, with grungier hair, a bigger drum set and an extra keyboard. And although some habits haven’t changed, like the way David Monks picks up his left leg or Graham gets a little too close to his keyboard, either way, these four cuties haven’t allowed success to get to their heads. For them, it’s about the kids having fun.