Guitar-and-drums rock duo expands sonic palette on 'Near to the Wild Heart of Life'
Coming off an extensive tour in support of its breakout 2012 album Celebration Rock, guitar-and-drums rock duo Japandroids reached a tipping point.
“We were totally destroyed, both physically and mentally. … When that record came out, things just exploded for us and the feeling was, ‘This is it. This is our shot.' We had a say-yes-to-everything mentality and we tried to play as many shows and places as we possibly could,” said singer/guitarist Brian King, who joins singer/drummer Dave Prowse in concert at Newport Music Hall on Monday, Nov. 6. “[When the tour ended] we felt like the band wasn't coming to a close, but it was a natural breaking point. It was the end of something and we needed to take some time off to regroup, and then we'd start whatever the next phase is.”
As a rule, however, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, so, following the tour, which concluded late in 2013, King and Prowse had some difficulty coming to a full stop.
“You're so used to being on the go. You're used to a rigid schedule. You're used to traveling. You're used to a tour manager telling you what to do and when to do it,” King said. “It takes a bit of time to adjust and just to be normal again.”
After regrouping in Vancouver, King, who was also coming off the end of a long-term relationship, moved, first to Toronto, and later to his current home in Mexico City, taking time to rebuild his personal life. Then, beginning in the fall of 2014, the bandmates gathered in New Orleans, determined to shake up their road-tested sound.
“There was a lot of outside pressure on us to make Celebration Rock: Part Two, as is the case for every band that finds success with a record,” King said. “I think if we've learned anything from being big music fans is that the great artists we love and admire, they don't do that. They take risks and they are not afraid to fail, and that's what makes them so great. There were [new songs] we sat around listening to thinking, ‘This is awesome. Our fans are going to hate this.'”
While the resulting album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, released early this year, still occasionally recaptures the fist-pumping momentum of earlier records (“No Known Drink or Drug” is a speeding ticket waiting to happen), it's a more diverse, sprawling effort overall, swinging from wordy epics (the seven-plus minute “Arc of Bar” might contain more lyrics than the entirety of Japandroids' prior catalog) to songs such as “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will,” which unfolds as gradually as its lengthy title, building to a crescendo that would sound right at home on classic-rock radio. It's also a noticeably cleaner, sharper-produced effort, scrubbed of the sonic fuzz that defined the band's earliest work.
“I think we finally realized we were more interested in trying to make a proper studio album,” King said.
Despite the sonic shake-up, Japandroids held fast to a handful of defining traits. Near to the Wild Heart still contains eight tracks — the same as every proper LP the band has released — and the cover image again features a black-and-white portrait of King and Prowse.
“There are parts of the band we wanted to preserve,” King said. “We just wanted to, I think, say, ‘Musically, we're not going to be limited to this one thing,' but we wanted to keep some things consistent.”