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Acoustic Guitars

The amps are still buzzing from Japandroids’ paint-peeling performance at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern when the band’s roadie steps out to make an announcement: An audience member has lost their wedding ring in the mosh pit. A mad scramble ensues, as smartphone flashlights swoop and swirl across the club’s checkerboard floor like mini-police choppers. Suddenly, a hand thrusts victoriously into the air, a ring pinched between its thumb and index finger. A chorus of cheers and hugs between strangers ensue. And so ends this five-minute tale of chaos, drama, camaraderie, and true love prevailing—there was no encore on this October night, but at least we got to see another Japandroids song play out in real life.

Ever since they appeared in a warm embrace on the cover of their 2009 debut, Post-Nothing, singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer Dave Prowse have engendered a palpable bonhomie among their fans. From day one, they’ve wanted to be the house band for the most pivotal moments of your life, bashing out the sort of garage-spawned, arena-sized pop-punk anthems that instinctively make you want to wrap your arms around your best mate and yell like hell to the heavens.

But where Japandroids’ 2012 follow-up Celebration Rock boasted possibly the most self-explanatory album title in rock history, it was the sort of party where they always had one eye on the clock, bracing themselves for the inevitable moment when the lights were flipped on, the room cleared out, and real-world responsibilities beckoned once again. And now that time has come. With their upcoming third album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids have quit the adrenaline nightshift—they want to make music they’ll still respect in the morning.

Celebration Rock might be great for driving or partying, but there are certain circumstances where it’s just not the right album!” says King. “Great rock‘n’roll albums—like The Velvet Underground & Nico—work anytime because there’s a little something for everyone.”

Listen to the title track from Japandroids’ third album; the image shown is also the record’s cover.

Japandroids’ set at the Horseshoe is part of a small, six-city club tour marking the Vancouver duo’s return to the stage after a three-year layoff. But technically, they never stopped traveling in the interim. Though Prowse is still based in Vancouver, King has relocated to Toronto, but actually spends most of his downtime in Mexico City, where his girlfriend lives. When it came time to write material for the new album in the fall of 2014, they reconvened for five weeks in New Orleans, before bouncing back and forth among all the aforementioned cities. And while the album was mostly recorded back in Vancouver with long-time producer Jesse Gander, the road to completion also included pit stops in Montreal, New York, and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

But on this warm-up tour, Japandroids aren’t just introducing audiences to some of the songs that make up Near to the Wild Heart of Life. They’re also introducing the songs to themselves. Because, for the first time, Japandroids the live band and Japandroids the studio entity have become two very different things—and, at this point, the former isn’t quite sure how it’s going to recreate the sounds produced by the latter.

At their core, Japandroids are still very much a band that writes valorous songs about living for the moment and loving for a lifetime. But the anxious, slash-and-burn abandon of old has matured into a steadier hand and confident poise; the gritty surface buffed away for a radio-ready polish; the duo’s minimalism blown open to absorb the infinite possibilities of the recording studio. For the first time on a Japandroids record, there are prominent acoustic guitars. And synthesizers. And a shoegaze ballad. And, in centerpiece track “Arc of Bar,” a seven-minute, Haçienda-bound psych-disco epic—complete with guest vocals from their girlfriends—that will require Prowse to use a sampler pad to trigger drum loops live.

“In some ways, we’re approaching this like it’s our very first record,” King says. “We’re removing all the self-imposed rules that led to the songs and the sound of our whole career up until now. When you do that, you can try anything.”

The evolution goes beyond those sonic embellishments. The title Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a line from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (sourced via Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector’s 1943 novel Near to the Wild Heart). And though King is reluctant to dwell on any direct literary influence, he was inspired to think more about crafting narratives this time, to bring more color, nuance, and dramatic purpose to a record where the booze-fuelled mania that produced his previous writing has been replaced by a clear-eyed contentment.

Really, the difference between the new Japandroids and the old Japandroids can be read through their albums’ covers. Like its predecessors, the new record is adorned by a black-and-white photo of the pair—but it’s a posed studio portrait instead of a candid backstage snap, and the guys are sporting nicer clothes and more serious facial expressions. These are subtle differences that underscore a big change: On Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids give you older us.

The setting of our interview only reinforces this growth. The day before the Horseshoe show, a band that once cut its teeth in DIY spaces and industry-resistant festivals is holding court in a boardroom at the Spoke, a private member’s club in downtown Toronto that charges an annual fee of $800. Granted, King and Prowse aren’t actually members themselves, but the posh environs are indicative of the kind of resources that Japandroids’ new big-league labels—ANTI- in the U.S. and Arts & Crafts in Canada—are investing to push the band to an even wider audience.

True to their humble roots, King and Prowse just order a couple of waters.

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