The Future of Japandroids Is Now

The rock duo embraces a path of irresistible uncertainty.

Japandroids. Photo by Leigh Righton

When Japandroids guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse played San Francisco’s Hemlock Tavern nearly 10 years ago, they already had their sights set on the Fillmore.

“The Fillmore is a legendary venue,” King says. “When we were playing the Hemlock all those years ago, at the time, we were thinking that maybe one day we’d get to play there.”

That day came in March 2017, when the Canadian rock duo left their mark on Bill Graham’s most storied hall while touring behind their third album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life. With a famously insatiable appetite for live performances — Japandroids played 200 shows in more than 40 countries in support of their second record — it’s no shock the band returns to San Francisco to once again demonstrate just how loud and raucous two guys with a guitar, drums, and some amps can get.

What is surprising, though, is where they’ll be playing: two nights at the 500-person capacity Independent. For King, the Fillmore may have been a bucket-list venue, but a smaller stage holds an appeal all its own.

“We really love those bigger shows,” he explains, “but at the same time, as the rooms start to get bigger and as the crowd starts to get farther away from the stage, there is definitely a certain urgency that gets lost.”

King refutes the idea that the band’s upcoming tour — which finds them playing intimate venues across North America — is a way to return to the days when their audience consisted mostly of people who’d never heard of them. It isn’t that Japandroids don’t enjoy the challenge of having to prove their worth on stage — it’s just that King feels they never rid themselves of that chip on their collective shoulders.

“I feel like we’ve had that attitude since we started,” he says. “I think that we still go out there every night trying to prove something — not just to ourselves, but to everyone who comes to the show.”

Certainly, you could argue Japandroids have already proven themselves a bona fide rock band several times over: first with their 2009 debut, Post-Nothing, and again with their breakout sophomore release, 2012’s Celebration Rock. In the five-year gap that preceded Near to the Wild Heart of Life, they played every city that would have them — then came back for seconds.

Eventually, however, the fatigue of touring took its toll.

“I think what happened last time,” King explains, “is we made our first record and toured it to death. Then we made our second record and toured that to death. By the end of that cycle, we hadn’t done anything but Japandroids for five years. We were so burned out on the band and the road that we really needed some serious time off to get excited about it again.”

Near to the Wild Heart of Life marked a triumphant return. For a band that King amusedly notes is often labeled in the press as “ramshackle,” their third album is imbued with a polish absent from previous efforts. Where once there was the gleeful clamor of unfiltered garage rock, songs like “Arc of Bar” and “North East South West” found the duo experimenting with overdubs and synthesizers in pursuit of a more refined sound — albeit one with every decibel as rowdy as its predecessors.

What awaits fans on Japandroids’ fourth record remains to be heard, but King is happy to confirm that this time around, they won’t be waiting nearly as long.

“After our last record, we have a desire to make a new record much, much quicker this time. We’re probably going to record a new album this year that will most likely come out next year. That’s the plan right now. We’ve got a bunch of new songs we’ve been writing.”

It seems there simply isn’t much use in trying to map out a blueprint for the band’s career. The truth is they don’t have one. Instead, King believes the only way forward is to continue the journey that started when Japandroids was still just two guys driving from gig to gig in an SUV and playing to 50 people at bars like Hemlock Tavern.

Back then, the goal was simple: Make it through the gig and, if possible, blow the roof off in the process.

“People would come to those shows and see us and think we were a couple of drunk idiots who sort of seemed to know what we were doing,” King recalls. “It was very far from what you’d consider to be a professional touring band. It’s not that interesting to watch someone who has all their shit together. There’s no element of chance or danger. I’d like to think that we’re still a band where, at any time, the train could still just come totally off the tracks.”

Japandroids, Monday and Tuesday, April 30 – May 1, 8 p.m., at the Independent, 628 Divisadero St. $25-$40; 415-771-1421 or theindependentsf.com

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