Photo by Camilo Christen
David Prowse and Brian King
One of the most memorable lyrics from Japandroids’ 2009 debut Post-Nothing seems charmingly antiquated now that the raucous Canadian rock duo has unveiled its strikingly grown-up third album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life.
“We used to dream,” Brian King sings during “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” a five-minute fuzzbomb of youthful bliss and Post-Nothing’s second track. “Now we worry about dying.”
Back then, that line came across as a grown-up sentiment of sorts from Japandroids, who energized late-’00s indie rock with their dizzying collision of cranked-up distortion, crashing cymbals and childlike exuberance. Guitarist/lead singer King and shout-along drummer David Prowse were in their mid- to late-20s when they wrote and recorded Post-Nothing and its likeminded follow-up, 2012’s Celebration Rock.
Today, they’re both 34, and you can practically hear maturity threaded through the highly anticipated Near to the Wild Heart of Life, which finds the duo expanding its sound, both sonically and thematically.
King and Prowse, despite what they sang in the past, are still way too young to worry too much about dying. But they’re old enough to know you can’t be the “six-beers-in loud party band” forever, as Prowse puts it in a telephone interview with CityBeat.
“I think we were feeling a bit boxed in,” he says. “I think there was a bit of a feeling like Japandroids…had been a band that is played at a specific time and evokes a specific feeling and has a specific sound and we definitely wanted to push beyond that.”
On Near to the Wild Heart of Life, King and Prowse walk a tricky line by evolving Japandroids’ sound without rounding off the qualities that made their music appealing in the first place. That evolution can be traced back to the end of the Celebration Rock touring cycle, when King and Prowse took six months off from band activities to stave off burnout.
During that break, King moved from Vancouver to Toronto, and when the guys got back together in May of 2014, they spent more time hanging out as friends, talking about the band’s direction and generally rekindling their excitement about Japandroids than they did writing or jamming, Prowse says.
“We sort of stumbled upon this formula that worked very well for us and we made a couple of records that we’re very proud of and that people really gravitated to,” he says. “So I think on some level there could be some pressure: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But I just don’t think that would’ve been genuine. And I don’t think we would’ve been happy if we’d just made another Celebration Rock. It would’ve felt false in some way and I think our fans would’ve seen right through it.”
To be sure, Near to the Wild Heart of Life kicks off with a powerful shot of pure, uncut Japandroids as fans have always known them. The opening track is also the title track, and it’s an unrelenting blast of wanderlust, machine-gun drums and sugary, serrated guitar riffs.
Shortly thereafter, though, you can hear King and Prowse pushing and pulling on their perceived boundaries. “North East South West” is a droning rocker with a rootsy feel, especially in its slo-mo, Springsteen-like coda. “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will” is a chiming ballad built on a bloodless martial beat. The jangling acoustic guitar and yearning chorus of “Midnight to Morning” recalls mid-period Foo Fighters. And “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” finds King’s lovesick lyrics buried in a snarl of smeared guitars and post-rock swells.
King and Prowse have said there’s a “loose narrative” that runs throughout the album, and recurring themes include blossoming love, the call of the road, homesickness, booze and getting older but not necessarily growing up. The duo didn’t go into the creative process with a story in mind, Prowse said, but the story emerged as songs were completed.
“It’s very autobiographical, a lot of these songs. A lot of the things Brian’s talking about are things that happened to him specifically or to us as a band or as people,” Prowse says. “It’s very easy for a narrative to take shape when you’re talking about your own life.”
With the release of Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids’ catalog is starting to take on its own narrative, too. In the album’s final track, “In a Body Like a Grave,” King grapples with the passage of time. But he’s found a solution: “Love so hard,” he sings, “that time stands still.”
That is, we all may worry less about dying the more we understand what life’s really all about.
“We’re just in a different place, you know?” Prowse says. “We’re older and it’s been a few years ... so I think it’s pretty natural to not be writing from the same perspective. We’re different people.”
Japandroids play March 11 at Music Box