Tokyo Police Club
Great Expectations
by Jennifer Farmer

Tokyo Police Club isn’t your typical indie rock band. With their share of quirks, they still have the lofty goal of rising to the ranks of the elite in the music industry. It might sound crazy for a homegrown band from Newmarket, Ontario, but their sheer tenacity has them well on their way to accomplishing just that. They released their first full-length record on the reputable Saddle Creek label last year, finished a tour with Weezer, and appeared in an episode of Desperate Housewives. Clearly, they have a bright future ahead of them. I had the chance to speak with Graham Wright, the band’s keyboardist, over the phone as the band made the drive from New York to Washington, D.C. Amidst the static of the New Jersey back roads (their van took a detour to rescue a bandmate’s stranded keys), he spoke about their fast-paced rise.

So how does it feel to be back on the road—you guys had a bit of a break, correct?

Graham Wright: Uh, it’s actually really great. We’ve been on tour so much for the past two or three years and there’s never a long enough break between to make me feel like I want to go back on tour. It’s sort of always two weeks off and then, oh no, back on the road. This time, we had a full two months off. A few days before we left for this tour, I went to a show and I thought, “Hey, I miss playing! I want to go on tour,” and that’s never happened in our entire career. So that was a really special moment, and now I’m enjoying it more than ever.

Can you talk a bit about your formation? How did you come to be the entity that is Tokyo Police Club?

GW: We don’t really have any crazy stories or anything like that about our early days. I mean, we were all friends in school and then we decided that playing music would be a fun thing to do and didn’t really know any other people that liked the same music as us. After a few years of trying different styles and different people writing the songs and singing and playing whatever instruments, it eventually shifted into the formation that we know and love today.

So did you guys actually know how to play your instruments beforehand, or did you just form the band and hope that would follow?

GW: No, actually we didn’t. We just kind of said, “Hey let’s form a band! Okay, done. Okay, well we need instruments, so we’ll ask for them for Christmas.” Our parents obliged us, and I’m sure they regret that now.

So what were the first songs that you actually wrote as a band?

GW: Good question, let’s see... “Nature of the Experiment,” in a different version. Uh, “Cheer it On” is really old as well. But they all changed and morphed into different versions as we went along, so basically much of the basis of the songs are from our really early musical career.

And those songs can be heard on the EP, A Lesson In Crime, which is what really got you guys noticed by fans and critics alike. Since then, you’ve signed with a label, released a full-length record, and played major music festivals across the world. Was that transition relatively smooth or were there any bumps along the way?

GW: It was actually pretty smooth. It is fast, but it’s difficult for me to really say because I’ve only ever done this one time and I’ve only ever done this one way. So to me, this is perfectly natural. As far as I know, this is how it always works, so it’s hard for me to comment on whether it was crazy fast or bumpy or smooth or whatever. It all seemed to work out with minimal difficulties.

So, have you guys had a “we’ve made it big” moment yet?

GW: I don’t know if there’s any sort of thing as a “we made it big” moment. We’ve definitely had moments where we say, “Oh, this is great, we’ve succeeded.” But it’s never a moment where it’s like, “Oh, great, we’ve made it big. Now we can stop trying.” As soon as you have that moment your goals shift to making it bigger. So it’s sort of a moving target.

So Elephant Shell—what were the main differences recording that versus A Lesson In Crime? Oobviously you were with Saddle Creek this time around, but were there any glaring difficulties in your actual recording routine or process?

GW: Well, when we were recording A Lesson In Crime, we basically thought nobody was going to listen to it ever. We recorded the entire thing in three days, and it was very rushed and fun and crazy. With Elephant Shell, we had a bit more reassurance that people were actually going to be listening to it after it came out, so we had a lot longer studio schedule, and yeah, it was basically 90 days that couldn’t have been more different in pretty much every way imaginable, other than the fact that we were still playing songs and recording. But each record sort of suited what came out of it, and I think it was to our benefit [on A Lesson In Crime] that we had to do it so quickly, Hopefully, because of the rushed process, that record came out sort of energetic and fun.

Both albums were definitely short and sweet. Were you happy with the outcome of Elephant Shell and how fans have responded?

GW: Yeah, I really am. The process we went through making Elephant Shell was pretty much the most ass-backwards process we could have done. We went down so many different bizarre roads, and then at the end, we went back to the simplest and also the best way. It worked for us and we managed to make a good record out of it.

Obviously people enjoyed it because you ended up going on tour with Weezer, which has a huge fan base. How was that experience for you guys and how did that come about?

GW: Um, it came about through utter tenacity on the part of our manager and our agent. We’ve done a lot of tours ourselves and we knew that we wanted to try and get out with a bigger band and play to those larger crowds and those people that wouldn’t get a chance to see us otherwise. Obviously Weezer were at the top of our list because they would be at the top of everyone’s list, I think, and we kind of bugged them until they said, “Fine, come.”

That’s an interesting strategy. Is that the same way you guys got your gig on Desperate Housewives?

GW: That was more of a connection-based thing, I guess. We have a friend who works for the show, and he talked about us, because he’s a nice guy and likes to sing our praises to people, and I guess they were writing the episode and it just so happened that they needed some band to come in. The first name that was on their mind was ours, because of our friend, and so they got us in there to play and thank God it worked out.

You guys seem to pop up in really random places. I saw that you recorded a Rentals cover (“Friends of P”) for the Lupus Foundation and designed a shoe for Converse.

GW: Oh yeah, actually that “Friends of P” thing came about because at one point there was going to be a Rentals tribute album and they were having a bunch of different bands cover all their songs. They heard of us somehow and tapped us to do “Friends of P,” which was obviously a huge honor. I grew up loving that song, and it’s sort of the quintessential Rentals song that people know. They asked us out of all the bands to do it, which was pretty phenomenal. The tribute album ended up getting delayed or something and so we just had this cover of “Friends of P” that we weren’t using and the Lupus Foundation asked us to use it. Of course, we were happy to help out the charity in any way we could. It’s a really great way to get the charity out there and also have people hear the song.

It’s also great how you guys kind of throw songs out there, regardless of what stage of the finishing process they’re in. Not many bands do that, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that it’s really cool to have a glimpse into a band’s songwriting and polishing process. I listened to your Daytrotter session, where you played a really early version of “Graves,” and then there are several acoustic versions of “Tessellate” on YouTube. I have to wonder, though, do you guys do that intentionally?

GW: Yeah, we really did do that with the last record. It was interesting to document the different stages of the songs as we sort of polished them and got them out there, and cool in a way. But it was also very frustrating for us because people—and I’m just as guilty of this with songs I like—tend to have a nasty habit of getting really attached to the early version or the first thing they hear. It is sort of annoying when you work so hard on these songs to make them sound perfect. You’ve finally gotten it the way you wanted it and then everyone goes, “No, I kind of like the acoustic demo better.” So this time around, we’re trying to keep everything to ourselves until we can put out the definitive version so nobody can complain.

So does that mean you guys are testing out new songs on this tour?

GW: Yeah, we’re playing a few of the new ones live, but we’re trying to be sneaky about it. We’re not telling anyone beforehand that they’re new songs, so nobody thinks to pull out the video camera and put them on YouTube. But judging from the videos I’ve already seen on YouTube of this tour, it’s been failing miserably.

Okay, switching gears for a minute. You seem to have a really random array of song subjects and lyrics. What types of things inspire you?

GW: Well, I can’t speak for all of us because, obviously, I’m not the lyricist, but the trick when songwriting is not to be a master of every subject but just to know one or two really cool facts or words. You spin that into a song because you don’t need to fill that much, just two or three verses, and then it sounds like you know a lot about everything, when in fact, you’re just inking your way through.

So cheating the system basically?

GW: Oh, yeah, exactly. I mean, I have learned a few things in this business so far.

I read a quote from an interview you did a long time ago where you talked about how you wished EPs were more accepted in the music industry. Considering it was your EP that got you noticed, could you ever foresee yourselves releasing another one?

GW: I’m not sure if we really want to put out another EP. We don’t really write that many songs and with Elephant Shell, that is literally every single song we wrote in the two year period between the EP and the album, plus an older song that we resurrected and put on there. If we were to put out an EP right now, it would mean we’d have to spend another year and a half writing seven more songs to fill a record. I would love to be able to put out just EPs, but yeah like I said before, they’re bad from a business standpoint. It’s harder to get them in stores and harder to go on tour for. I wish that wasn’t a concern, but we have to pay our bills somehow. I’m really actually a big fan of records. All my favorite musical experiences have been from records. I think they serve our songwriting as well, because we tend to write really short songs and it’s easier for us to be able to do different things and have ups and downs and changes here and there that we might not necessarily fit into one or even four songs. Hopefully, we did that with Elephant Shell and we can do that with our next record and not just sound like we made an EP and tacked five songs on there.

Speaking of the next record, have you guys started to think about that, since it’s been almost a year since the release of Elephant Shell?

GW: Yeah, in sort of loose, unstructured terms we’ve started thinking about it. But the whole thing with making Elephant Shell is that we were still touring the EP and we were still busy and wanted to get it out as soon as we could so that people didn’t forget about us. It was really stressful in a lot of ways making that record. Now though, we’re not in that situation and there’s less stress and less pressure from the outside to get something out there quickly. We’re trying to take it easy and enjoy the fact that we can take our time with it, and it’s a nice change from the last time.