King and Prowse muscle their way through Celebration Rock's blistering opener "The Nights of Wine and Roses," a song whose title is a goofy homage to Los Angeleno Paisley punks the Dream Syndicate — like "The Boys Are Leaving Town" is a tribute to Thin Lizzy and "Darkness on the Edge of Gastown" is a shout to Springsteen. And while the album is a retromaniacal rock nerd's Ouroboros — built by fans for fans — it's also a major leap forward for Japandroids as songwriters, a stack of paeans to emptying glasses and staving off sunrise, sung by two guys intent on elbowing their way into the annals of an art form some consider passe. They recorded it in Vancouver during several sessions over the course of a year, returning to the same room (the Hive) with the same producer (Jesse Gander) and the same setup they used three years earlier. "It's an extremely simple recording," Gander says. "It's one guitar and one drum kit."
Still, it's a major improvement; King's vocals have been foregrounded, and his lyrics, once lost in distortion, now, in all ways, ring true. "Anyone can make a shitty second album," King says. "I wanted to expand on the inclusive nature of the band and the songs, which I didn't understand until 'Young Hearts Spark Fire' came out and I saw what that could do. I felt like I had so much more to give. So much more to give to songs, so much more to give to an album."
Celebration Rock is also an album of transition: Its final songs were written outside of Vancouver. After King recovered from the perforated ulcer, the career window that he'd worried would close opened up even wider. Post-Nothing began to garner acclaim at home and abroad, and Champaign, Illinois' Polyvinyl Records stepped in to reissue the record in wide distribution, signing Japandroids to a multi-record deal that still allowed King the kind of all-encompassing creative control he'd commanded since the band's birth. They went on an 18-month tour across four continents, including dates in Brazil, Costa Rica, and Russia. Look at the back cover art of their latest single and you'll see them playing in a Swiss club, a progression in the series he'd shown me in his apartment days before.
When Prowse and King returned to Vancouver in the early winter of 2010, they came home to a changed city. Friends had married or left for the suburbs, and clubs that they'd cut their teeth in had been razed to make way for condominiums. Within weeks, they had slipped into old routines: Prowse was working his day job as a social worker in a nonprofit housing project, and King was "hiding inside," paralyzed by the thought of "writing an album from scratch" with a newly found audience in mind, worried yet again that their moment had come and gone.
"It felt like the ride was over," Prowse says.
For months, King and Prowse labored over every inch of tape before deciding that maybe what they needed was what they had wanted all along: a road trip. They threw their gear into a car and embarked for Nashville, a city that met all their criteria: "We knew we wanted to go south, somewhere far away, far enough that I would feel like we really went somewhere," says King. Using tour funds, they rented a house, went out on the town, stood slack-jawed at the sight of Jack White in his Third Man Records shop, and got to work writing what would become the album's defining statements, "The House That Heaven Built" and "Continuous Thunder."
"When Post-Nothing happened," King explains, "we felt like we were going on an extended vacation. You did this thing, people discovered it accidentally, it felt finite. We always thought that when the touring stopped, it'd be over. It never occurred to us that we could be a real band and make lots of albums and keep touring. It never occurred to us that we would have the potential to be like one of the bands we liked." As we leave the rehearsal space, King receives a phone call from his mother, with whom we've planned to have dinner. I'd been given one conversational guideline for the evening: Do not mention the endoscopy or biopsy, and, if his mother asks, "compliment her cats." But someone already had done the former. As Prowse and I mill around waiting, King nods and offers his mother a string of monosyllabic responses through his teeth.
"You've been talking to Courtney, haven't you?" he asks, finally. She had.
Despite her fear of heights, King's mother, Kellie, lives on the top floor of a sky-scraping condominium tower in Vancouver's newly residential downtown. When we arrive, King immediately darts toward her stereo. "The first thing Brian does when he comes over," she explains, "is say hello to the cats. Then he changes the music."
"It's fucking Coldplay," King says, as he turns it off altogether. "Hey," she scolds. "You're not on tour yet, son." As King starts to seek out a suitable replacement, she leans back on the kitchen counter and looks him over from a distance.
"How are you feeling, son?" she asks.
"I'm fine. Little bit sore."
"Yeah," she says, pressing the tips of her fingers to her throat. "From the scope?"