Most young bands can't yet fully describe what they want to sound like, and neither can Tokyo Police Club. That's working in the Toronto four-piece's favor as it tours with Cold War Kids, behind the 16-minute EP A Lesson In Crime, which amounts to its entire studio output to date. Keyboard player Graham Wright and drummer Greg Alsop recently told The A.V. Club about getting used to the music industry and the one strange way in which the band is already getting pigeonholed.
The A.V. Club: You sound like a band that's still figuring out what it is and trying a lot of different things, yet a lot of people are already watching you. Does that feel strange?
Graham Wright: I'm terrible at describing our music without resorting to naming six or seven different bands and saying that we kind of sound like all of them but kind of don't, and it just gets to be a really big muddle.
AVC: Do you write many new songs on the road?
GW: We're really bad at writing on the road. We've been trying to write new songs since the summer, and just because we've been touring so often and everything's been so busy, it's been a struggle to find that time and find that groove that we have to get into to successfully write songs.
AVC: Any given person who comes to see you will only have heard a little of your music, so do you make a conscious effort to show them another side?
GW: I guess. Yeah. There's not that many other sides to our music right now. We do want to be a band that has different facets. We don't just want to be a band that writes short, two-minute, punky songs that are very quick and uptempo and everything. So far, most of the songs we've written have been like that, and who knows? Maybe we'll continue to write like that for a while, but we have consciously made the effort to have the slow song in the right spot of the set, so that it breaks things up enough to make things a little bit different.
AVC: How much total material do you have now?
GW: We've broken the 40-minute mark now, which was actually a long time coming. We don't give people the chance to get sick of us.
AVC: A couple of people on the EP are credited with "estrogen."
GW: A few songs have group shouting on the record, so we just brought in a couple of our friends who were girls and had them join us in the shouting, and it added enough variety to the yelling to make it sound a little bit more like we wanted it to.
AVC: So you have to settle for a substandard shouting sound on the road?
GW: I don't think people can even hear us half the time when we're shouting, so it's really just for the spectacle on the road. Right from the beginning, we've sort of tried to make our live show memorable through various gimmicks. At the start, we had signs with "Tokyo Police Club" on them that we'd hold up. We had a big red flag that we would wave during one of the songs. We've retired those, but we still want to have spectacle on stage. We've sort of realized how cool it looks when you watch a band and no one's ever really idle, so now we have two extra snare drums, tambourines laying around, so whenever anyone's not playing their regular instrument on a song, they'll just start smacking a drum or playing a tambourine or something, and shouting. Me hitting a snare drum doesn't really add anything to the music, but it looks cool if I hit it really hard.
AVC: People keep latching onto this science-fiction element in your music. How did that come about?
GW: We wrote the one song about robots ["Citizens Of Tomorrow"], and every other song is completely, 100 percent about other stuff. Just the way that it ended up flowing and the way that certain things fit in ended up making it look like that was what we were trying to write our record about. The guy that did the artwork, I guess, picked up on that, and based his artwork around that theme. And now, every time someone wants to do a photo shoot or a music video for us, we have to fight off the idea of us fighting robots. We don't want to be the robot band.
AVC: In searching for a label, do you feel any pressure to have a more easily identifiable sound?
Greg Alsop: I don't know if anyone's giving us any of that kind of pressure. The only pressure we would get is from ourselves, to try and encapsulate our own sound in a complete album. One of the reasons we released an EP to begin with was, we didn't feel at the time that we were ready to make the statement of a full album. So we gave ourselves that kind of freedom, to just release seven songs, here they are, and they didn't need to really gel in any sort of way. Hopefully with an album, there'll be more of a consistent thread to the entire thing.
AVC: You're one of those bands that's known for benefiting mostly from web attention, but it's kind of unclear how much that serves a band in the long run. Have you seen a downside to that?
GA: It doesn't give bands as much time to incubate out of the spotlight as before. Now, your songs are available to everyone in the world as soon as you post them online, and people are watching bands grow up, where before, you'd have a few years to get your sound, become more unified as a band. It makes it more difficult, in a way, if people expect something from you that early on, where before, people were kind of just seeing the finished product.
AVC: How do you think Cold War Kids' audience is receiving you so far?
GA: It's been kind of hard to tell. It's always difficult being the middle band. With the first band [Delta Spirit], people are just excited to hear music, so they're always pretty warmly regarded, so the middle band is like, "Well, this is fine, but we came here to see Cold War Kids, so hurry up, do your thing, and bring on the other band." We've had some trouble, at times, winning crowds over. There's been times onstage where we just felt like, "Okay, maybe we should just shorten it up and get off." But mostly, it's been really, really good.
AVC: Are you getting more comfortable with being involved in the industry?
GA: We're definitely more comfortable now. We would be nervous just like, as far as playing in front of people, or meeting with people who could further your career. I wouldn't say it's not a big deal now, but it's just part of the day. "Oh, this guy's the head of Capitol Records," it's just another person out there. It's so hard for it to mean something right now. It's just a whirlwind of people—"Oh, hey, I'll shake this person's hand, I'll try and remember his name, and then here's another person right after, this is why it's important you should remember this person, because he works here…"
AVC: Any surprises while touring America?
GA: The three best things I saw while I was on the road this past month were a truck that said "Got 'Er Did," in response to Larry The Cable Guy's "Git 'Er Done"; a bumper sticker that said "Osama bin Laden hates rock 'n' roll," and he was really green-faced and there was a Fender Stratocaster right in his face; and a woman carrying her baby under her arm with a [case] of beer, both with matching spiky hairdos, and the infant had a shirt on that said "Hung like a 5-year-old." Those were all in Arkansas. Having to decide between eating at a Roy Rogers or a Checkers every night is something to reflect on.