It’s been 12 years since Ontario, Canada’s Tokyo Police Club blew up the blogosphere with their punchy, pithy debut EP, A Lesson in Crime. Four EPs and four albums later, the band is all grown up, forging ahead by shaking up their modus operandi. The two-part Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness (2016) showcased the band’s blistering energy and spontaneity, revisiting a primitive rawness from their formative years. Now, the band is looking ahead to a bigger, louder, more guitar-centric sound, says Graham Wright, the band’s keyboardist/guitarist.
Here, Wright discusses the band’s forthcoming album, how their dynamic has changed, and what it’s like playing the same song for 12 hours straight.
Nick Caruso: You guys live in different cities now. How has that affected your songwriting?
Graham Wright: Josh and I both live in Toronto, but Dave is in N.Y. and Greg is in LA. At first we thought it didn’t affect it at all. When we were making the EPs [2016’s two-part Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness], we were like, “It’s super easy to write songs. Greg will do the drums out there, Dave can email us shit, it’s fine.” Afterwards we were like, “I think that was a little too easy.” We were almost painting by numbers. It didn’t feel challenging at all.
We realized that after 10 years, it required a different approach. Instead of rehearsing in scuzzy rehearsal rooms in cities, what if we got out of town? Our friends in Born Ruffians found this old converted church three hours outside of Toronto. There’s no one else there, there’s no distractions. You play and then you take a break. We’d make dinner together and have some beers. We’d be feeling good, and we’d want to play. We’d be like, “Let’s grab a guitar! Let’s fucking do it!” We play enough shows in and around Toronto that we basically build around that. If they’re flying in for something, afterwards we book three or four days in the church, drive out there, come back. We just did our last round of that before we go make a new record, and it’s done, it worked!
How does your new writing process differ from how you worked before?
It used to be that we would get together in a room, we would write the songs, learn them in depth, getting down to the drum fills and every little bit so we could go in and track them. But then we got good at that, so then Dave would send Greg the demo, who would record the drums in LA. Dave would fly to Toronto and put the bass on it there. By the time Josh and I got to it, the song was extremely done, and it was like, “Where is there room for me to play a keyboard riff?” Generally there wasn’t so it became much more guitar-heavy. We weren’t quite emailing back and forth; we wrote “Please Don’t Let Me Down” in a room together in N.Y., and “Not My Girl” was from the Forcefield sessions. We were just pulling songs out of wherever we got them, which was exciting, it felt like we were moving really fast.
That was not a good business decision, which is a blood-soaked way to put it, but it wasn’t. People don’t know what EPs are. They don’t buy them, and they don’t promote them or care about them. They just wait for the record. If you go to our Spotify page, the EP is at the bottom with the singles. Even though we put something out [in 2016], until we bundled them together and made it a pretend record, it looked like our newest thing was [2014’s] Forcefield. It sucks that that’s how you make decisions, but that’s the world we’re working in. We had a weirdly successful EP at first [2006’s A Lesson in Crime], but if you make an EP no one wants to sell it, so we’re back to albums.
The name Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness is fucking awesome. How did you guys land on that?
We were in a meeting with management and one of the points of business was to name the EP. Dave had this picture his friend had taken of a smashed watermelon and someone was like, “That should be the cover.” Someone else said, “What if it was called Melon Collie?” and Greg said, “…and the Infinite Radness.” We all laughed and we crossed that item off. It’s fun to be in that place where you’re just cruising. Naming Forcefield and Champ were huge productions, and I suspect naming the new one will be a big production as well because we really care. I’m happy that people think it’s funny. That’s the point.
It’s been almost 12 years since A Lesson in Crime! What has changed the most for you guys since then?
The biggest change for me is that I finally learned to appreciate it. I was 19 when that record came out and started to succeed. By the time we were 23, we were like, “Have we plateaued?” It took a long time for me to reconcile the initial expectations that I had gotten from that sort of very steep rise with the reality of what a career in music actually means. There’s no such thing as a rise that keeps going up like that unless you’re Vampire Weekend. When you start comparing yourself to Vampire Weekend, you’re in trouble.
I went through some personal minor crises—Is this what I want to be doing? Where is this going? What’s happening? Unexpectedly, but happily, I came out the other end more in love with it than I had ever been. Everything makes me really excited and I feel like my only regret is that I wasn’t more attuned to how cool it all is earlier, but I also don’t really think that’s possible when you’re that young. You can’t stop and look around, you shouldn’t be stopping and looking around. You’re 19. You should just be sprinting.
What are your favorite tracks to play live?
I like playing “Not My Girl.” It feels like the song that perfectly encapsulates our whole thing. It’s got the keyboards, the guitars, the big chorus, the cool lyrics…it’s fun and peppy. It’s just fun to play, and I get to jump around and play guitar.
“Argentina” is really fun. When you see it coming up on the setlist, it can be kind of daunting, like, “Fuck, it’s eight minutes long. Alright, we got this!” I think so far, it’s probably our best. It’s the thing I’m the most proud of.
Speaking of “daunting,” you played “PCH” for 12-hours straight for charity. I can barely listen to a track more than twice in my car without going crazy. How was that experience?
It sounds cynical to say—and I don’t mean it to be—but part of the music industry is that you kind of need to stand out, so you need gimmicks, for lack of a better word. I did radio for a while and I’d have to talk about all these bands, but there was never anything to say. That’s so awful for bands because they worked really hard, they busted their asses, wrote songs, and made a record. Now they’re going on tour and well, that’s boring. I can’t just be like, “This is their new record, here it is…” That’s bad radio. So as much as it sucks, I get the value of giving people anything to talk about and this was our attempt to do that.
We had a lot of guests and fans come play, so while no one in the band was up there for 12 hours straight, the song never stopped. It was hotter than hell. It was in a gallery space that was not designed to have that level of energy in it, so we were just dripping. I’ve never run a marathon…this was not that hard, but I suspect it’s the closest I’ll come to feeling like I had. The pure catharsis of the last run-through of the song was really something. You find levels of new energy that you didn’t know you contained.
So when will the new record be out?
Probably not until fall . We’re making it in January and February, but then it’s mixing, mastering, titling, art, making sure you have a good runway for it. The songs are awesome. We’re so psyched about it that we want to do this right to make sure we get people’s ears on it.
Musically, how does it compare?
It’s looser, bigger. It’s all guitars. I haven’t touched a keyboard so far in the process and I hope to avoid that. I feel like it’s really a band record. It’s a guitar-rock record. That’s the vaguest thing I could say! [laughs] I think it will ring true…I think when you hear the record you’ll be like, “Yeah, it is a Guitar-Rock record—with a capital G and R.”
You guys going Arena Rock or what?
I fuckin’ hope so!