In 2008, Vancouver two-piece Japandroids had a plan all laid out. After several years of playing to small crowds and failing in their attempts to get some buzz going, guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse were going to bring their musical project to a dignified end and move on with their lives. First, they would record and self-release a full-length album of the songs that they had been working on. Then they would part ways, and that would be it. After Post-Nothing, there would be, well, just nothing.
Thankfully for fans of the band and its triumphant style of fuzzy rock 'n' roll, things didn't go according to plan.
"It just kind of snowballed," says King. First, the small Canadian record label Unfamiliar offered to release the record on vinyl, an offer they accepted with some trepidation. "We were like, ‘Yeah, OK, but you should know we're not gonna play any more shows. We're totally done.'"
But things kept growing, much to the surprise — and even mild irritation — of the band. King says that when their song "Young Hearts Spark Fire," made a splash on the Internet, he found the timing to be a bit inopportune. "Oh, finally, after three years of being in a band and [then] breaking up, people are starting to hear about us."
The band's path to success was less a product of embracing newfound success, and more a matter of getting roped into an endless series of opportunities that were previously unimaginable. There wasn't any time to process any thoughts on the band's future.
"It was one thing after another, and then we got out on the road and we were playing shows every day," King says. "It became this thing where we just kept saying yes to everything and not really talking about it."
During this unexpected run of success, and a surprise tour, the band's reputation as one of the most exciting live acts in music grew. The combination of Post-Nothing's inspired, last-hurrah-style anthems and the band's onstage exuberance created a sense of urgency in their shows that had attendees raving.
In 2011, things seemed to wind down again for the band. After more than a year of jumping on every chance they were given, the pair had become beloved at venue after venue for the spirited showmanship and lyrics that could be remembered by even the drunkest of fans. King and Prowse, however, had become burnt out on playing an album they had never intended for live performance in the first place. "We got to the point where we had kind of exhausted everything we could do on Post-Nothing," King says.
Now, the two rockers who had never expected to go on another tour, much less dozens, were finally forced to make a choice: stick with the original plan — to quit — or not?
"The idea of now giving it up and going back to our old jobs seemed insane," says King. For the first time, he and Prowse were forced to acknowledge that they were, in fact, a band, and as such they would have to keep making music.
With this new set of revelations, the pressure set in immediately. Prior to the sudden explosion onto the national music scene, Japandroids hadn't even had a record deal, never mind a fan base — both of which brought a new dimension to their writing process. "We didn't have to worry about a fan base or that our record was gonna get reviewed or that a record label was gonna put it out." King says. "All of these things that you didn't have to think about when you sat down to play guitar in your bedroom, you now had to think about before you even played your first guitar chord."
When they finally sat down to write and record the follow-up, it was their experiences on the road that guided their writing process, specifically the way they saw their music inspire packed crowds. "When we first got on tour and got a taste of what it was like to see people respond to certain kinds of songs," King says, "we just sort of got addicted to it."
That eventually pushed the band toward making an album that took the most uplifting elements of Post-Nothing and pushed them further, creating the fittingly titled sophomore album Celebration Rock.
King admits that, like so much of their path to musical success, Celebration Rock did not turn out as Japandroids had planned. "We were gonna make a record that was 20 songs and they were all two minutes long, and we totally failed. We ended up making another record like Post-Nothing, where there's eight songs and they're all six minutes long," he muses.
In doing so, however, Japandroids succeeded in creating an album that simply built upon all the strengths of their previous work, a move that thrilled fans and critics alike. The album was an oft-mentioned one in discussions of the best albums of 2012, and has only helped to build their reputation.
The real key to the album is the way that it doesn't shy away from morose topics, but manages to find a way to broach them with an infectious positivity that makes these tracks all the more touching, and their live performances unforgettable.
As King puts it: "There's a way to write music where you can write something about a subject matter that's sad, and that people who are going through those kinds of things can identify with — and the songs or the album can be triumphant and bring them up from the place."