After more than two years of quiet anticipation since their last release, Tokyo Police Club makes a triumphant return with the release of TPC, a collection of 12 songs that confidently carve a new direction for the band by shedding expectations and returning to their musical roots. Drummer Greg Alsop joined the griff for an over-the phone interview with Milo Knauer to discuss the new album, their current tour, and what they’ve got brewing for fans.
Milo Knauer: On Oct. 24, you will be rolling through Edmonton in support of your new album TPC and playing at the Starlite Room with FLEECE, the band who gained worldwide fame for recording a video of themselves eating rice cakes in a beige room while doing an impressive Alt-J imitation. The two of you will be sharing a stage for the next month of tour, how did this brilliant pairing come about?
Greg Alsop: Through our mutual friends, Born Ruffians. They did some touring together around the end of last year and I believe the beginning of this year? When we were looking to see what bands would available for the dates coming up, their name came up. Graham (Wright, Tokyo Police Club keyboardist) saw them play with Born Ruffians while the two were on tour. He said they were great guys, make great music, have great stage presence, and would be great people to have with on the road. I mean, that’s what you really look for in a band, a bit of everything. You want to tour with people who can be your friends and are easy to hang out on and off stage. I haven’t got to meet them yet, but I’m really looking forward to it! I’ve heard nothing but good things.
MK: So you are telling me that you haven’t watched the video?
GA: Not yet! But that is literally the first thing I’m going to ask them about.
MK: Watch it. It’s hilarious. After creating music for more than a decade, releasing four solid gold albums and a handful of EPs — from what I’ve read, the future of Tokyo Police Club has been uncertain over the last couple years and this latest album, TPC almost wasn’t made. What lead to this situation and dynamically how is the band feeling now since the release?
GA: I think what lead to it was the realization that we’ve been a band for such a long time. At the beginning of 2016, we kinda started wondering about what else really could be out there. At that point, Tokyo Police Club had been our full-time job for more than 10 years. We started the band when were in our teens and started touring when we were in our early 20s, so all of our 20s were spent doing this as our job and as our life really. I think it came down to us trying to reconsider how we could fit this into our adult lives and into our 30s. There definitely was a lot of talk between us as to what the band could look like in years to come and what role we wanted it to have in our lives. We were also trying to analyze what did and did not work about the band. A lot of aspects of the band were still working, we were still great friends and really enjoyed playing together on stage, but we started to develop a moulding of what the band should look like without even knowing it. Expectations started to build up organically, both positives and negatives. We spent a couple years deconstructing what we wanted Tokyo Police Club to look like and then we tried to build it back up with the pieces that fit. Once we felt like everything was working again, we tried to add new pieces that made the process of making music exciting for all of us again and like we weren’t just doing the same thing over again.
We are in a really good headspace right now and everyone is really excited to be back on the road. It’s been a while since we’ve had a real tour. I believe our last one was the 10th anniversary tour for A Lesson in Crime in 2017, but even that was just like a few weeks down to cities like New York, and Boston, and back up to Montreal. So we can’t wait to get back out there and play the new songs, the old ones, and just see some faces and places that we haven’t seen or been to in a while.
MK: How long is this upcoming tour?
GA: We have a couple of shows this weekend and then I guess it officially starts in Winnipeg on (Oct.) 18 at The Good Will. It will be about six weeks from beginning to end, a solid month and half out on the road. It’s a long time. I think the ideal tour length for us is about four weeks. By the second week, you’re really in the thick of it, by the third everything still feels amazing, and by the fourth, you’re like, “Ahh we’ve been out here for a while,” so this is just a little bit longer than that.
You can think of it in terms of each week being a drink. Your first is like, “Yeah! This feels good.” After the second, you are like, “Alright, keep em’ coming.” On to the fifth which could potentially get a little messy. We’ll see.
MK: I distinctly remember seeing you guys play for the first time on The Tonight Show with David Letterman, which now feels like forever ago. One of my favourite songs off of TPC is the f-bomb-fuelled Ready To Win, where Dave says the word more times than I can count and addresses messing up on Letterman, among other things. I could be wrong, but I feel like thematically this album could be about coming to terms with everything that came before and confidently embracing change as it comes. Am I wrong?
GA: I think you nailed it. That’s definitely a strong theme thats runs throughout the album. It’s kind of like what we were talking about before, things just start happening to you as a musician, especially when you’ve been at it for a long time. You kind of just grow to accept that “This is the kind of band that we are, we are these kind of musicians, and these are the types of songs that we write.” Things can start to feel like they little bit out of your control. I think that making this latest record and going back to the lyrics of Ready To Win, the song is about realizing that you can make an active decision and change things if you want to, that you can decide what kind of band you do or don’t want to be anymore. You can’t change the past — not that I regret anything — but you can learn from it and move forward. You can decide that you want to be better, different, or simply stay the same. I feel like this record is about taking back control of our lives and making real decisions about how we want to be defined as a band.
MK: You guys hunkered down in a rural Ontario church in order to focus and get some songs in motion for the new record and then travelled to L.A. last winter to record with producer Rob Schnapf, whom you also worked with on Champ. Is there is usually a deliberate attempt to buckle down to create an album or how has this process differed from the production of previous releases?
GA: I think that other than our first EP, A Lesson in Crime, which was just us playing in a garage and writing songs until we had enough to record, every other time there has been some kind of conscious effort. We’d be like, “OK, we are ready to record an another album,” and however that process started and finished has been different with every one of them. Elephant Shell was kind of like us figuring out how to make an album for the first time, Champ was like a few different stops and starts and Forcefield felt like a never-ending process where we spent almost two and half years straight of just writing material. Writing and rewriting. For that album, we wrote more than 50 songs trying to perfect it. The last dual EP we released was kind of a direct opposition to Forcefield. We were all living in different places so we couldn’t work on them every day. We would throw ideas around via email and then play them out when we could, and then just end up in a studio and see if we could get some songs out in that time. So this was the first time we decided that we wanted to put aside time just to hang out as friends in the same place again with no distractions and just have fun and make some music together.
So that is where the old church on Lake Huron comes in, which we also found out about from Born Ruffians. They’ve kind of been like the connecting thread in process of making this album.
It was all about just getting out of the city, where we didn’t have regular life obligations that could impede upon the creative process and we could just hang out for like days straight with nothing to do but play music. We would take breaks, cook food, and play cards, and then go back to play more music. It worked really well, and it has been my favourite way of making a record so far. It didn’t have the stress, time constraints or expectations that came along with other records. Knowing that we didn’t have to make this record conform to anything — or even make it at all — helped by enabling us to just get back to our roots and just enjoy the process.
MK: In April, you recently released a video for your single Simple Dude. The video was created using film negatives of photos that were shot during the recording of the new album in L.A. Lyrics and imagery were then scratched into the film negatives to animate your video. Whose brilliant idea was this?
GA: That was Dave (Monks, Tokyo Police Club bassist and vocalist) and Graham’s idea. We were planning to do something different for the Simple Dude video, which involved us going back to that old church on Lake Huron, but unfortunately we found out that the space was all booked up for when we anticipated filming the video. So we had to come up with something else. Dave bought an old Nikon when we were recording in L.A. as something else to do in while in the studio instead of just sitting and re-doing our parts over and over again. It’s cool to just explore new neighbourhoods, just take photos and capture the moment. We had all of these great shots kicking around and we were leaning toward using them in the album artwork, so it just made sense as a natural extension to turn those negatives into our video. It turned out amazing. We got our friend Anne Douris to do all of the animation by scratching into the negatives and put the whole thing together. It turned out so great, she is phenomenal.
MK: This might be too personal of a question, but I often wonder what some of my favourite bands do when they aren’t actively touring. Where do you funnel your creativity and what gives you guys kicks when you aren’t making music?
GA: Honestly we all just make more music. Dave has a new project that he is working on right now that is called Mack, Graham and Josh (Hook, Tokyo Police Club guitarist) have another band called Girlfriend Material, and I have a dance/house project that I am working on right now that is called Delta Underground, which I have been trying to put music out for. We have a lot of other creative outlets other than Tokyo Police Club, but yeah, most of them involve making music.
MK: I know you are still running on the the fumes of releasing TPC, but where do you see the band going in the near future?
GA: I have a daughter coming in the middle of December, so when we finish this upcoming tour I will be flying home and will be on sort of a paternity leave for the next couple months. We are picking things back up in the spring and doing the whole thing over again, this time covering the Eastern half of US and Canada. Right now, it’s just about playing everywhere we can over the next year in support of the new album and beyond that, I don’t know? I think we are itching to get back in the studio and start writing some more new music by hopefully doing more songwriting retreats. I feel like we are re-energized as a band and we just want to keep Tokyo Police Club going as long as we humanly can. We have so much love for it, love for eachother and love for the music that we are making. We are excited for the future. It’s hard to know what it’s going to look like but all signs point to good things.
Tokyo Police Club will be playing the Starlite Room on Oct. 24 with the support of FLEECE. Tickets are available on Ticketfly or at the door. The band’s latest album, TPC, is out now.