'We smelled the most sickening, pungent odor in the world coming from somewhere inside our van,' describes Tokyo Police Club frontman Graham Wright.
While trying to pick up an equipment trailer-five hours in the opposite direction of their show at the Ottawa BrewFest-the Canadian indie rockers' van became a steaming kettle overflowing with battery acid. It happened just a few weeks ago, but Wright feels like it transported him back a few years.
'My dad was so pissed,' he says. 'He had to drive his little minivan out to get us, pack all of our gear inside and scramble back to the show, stupidly late.'
Even buzz bands still need dad's minivan. No matter the hype or the tours or the feeling that they're getting somewhere, Tokyo Police Club still has moments like these that remind them just how much further they have to go.
At least they're used to it. Two years ago, these kids-each just a few years out of high school-were getting the same treatment from both family and Ontarians alike. Moms would bake cupcakes for their shows; friends would carry gear and supply practice space. It was this kind of small-town support group that let them develop the quickstep, catchy rock that's garnered the kind of attention most kids their age only blog about.
'Sure, we're young, but we're not a young band,' Wright insists.
True. By the time they released their 2006 EP, A Lesson in Crime, the members had been playing together in one form or another for five years.
'We started off trying to sound like Radiohead or Wilco-keyboards, pianos, three guitars-but ended up just sounding like a crappy alt-country band.'
Wright admits that comparisons are sometimes necessary. For Tokyo, it's often to the grimy swagger of The Strokes or the clean, synthesized side of defunct indie-pop band The Unicorns. Like all young musicians, he hopes they'll reach the sort of success that rids them of comparisons. Ultimately, bands want to be the one that other bands are compared to. To that end, things so far have been so good.
From the minute Ontario's prestigious Paper Bag Records threw the boys a deal, they've been all over the world-to play festivals like Coachella, Sasquatch and Glastonbury, plus an extensive run through the U.K., which they just completed. NME called them 'brilliant,' and even cranky old Pitchfork admits they have a youthful and fresh 'latent talent.'
Yet real success comes slow these days. Instead of sitting in a comfy tour bus with all the XBOX and porn their little, dirty hearts could desire, they spend most days staring at the blank countryside from the cramped confines of a rented Chevy van. Each night, as they prep for shows-like recent sold-out gigs at The Troubador in L.A. and The Independent in San Francisco-they're lucky to find clean socks.
But road fatigue either hasn't yet set in or they hide it well, because their live performances are what Tokyo Police Club's praised for the most. Their shows are often a short, concentrated blast, the band cranking out 17 songs in 45 minutes, with energy to spare.
When done, they don't partake in the time-honored ritual of blowing their club guarantee or merch sales at the bar, or in a back alley. Mostly, Wright says, they just take a seat, towel off and drink some water to replenish what they left on stage. Wright sends a lot of his paycheck back home to his girlfriend, who keeps him honest by making him pay half the rent and utilities for the apartment they share.
'I guess it's fair,' he says, 'but, man, we're not rich yet.'
With hundreds of 'new, undiscovered!' bands busting out of towns and 'portals' each day, who knows if Tokyo Police Club will break through. It's hard to tell if they'll reach that sublime spot where their music alone pays for a pretty good life-even if the odds are leaning in their favor. If not, at least they'll have some glory stories and dad's trusty family wagon when they finally get stranded.
Tokyo Police Club plays with Dappled Cities at Beauty Bar on July 26. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $10. www.myspace.com/tokyopoliceclub.