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Japandroids unexpectedly rise up from the ashes

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'People are still excited about us,' says Prowse. 'It was really flattering and actually heartwarming.'
  • 'People are still excited about us,' says Prowse. 'It was really flattering and actually heartwarming.'

They say discretion is the better part of valor, and Japandroids drummer David Prowse can totally relate. After touring nonstop for a year and a half behind his Canadian duo's 2012 breakthrough sophomore album, Celebration Rock, he and vocalist/guitarist Brian King wrote a farewell message to their fans online and simply dropped off the pop-culture radar.

"It was a 'We're going to hibernate for a while, and we'll come back when we have something to show you' kind of letter, I guess," Prowse says. He had no idea how long it would take the team to begin recalibrating its initially punk-propulsive sound.

But Japandroids returned in January with an adventurous new follow-up, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, which opens on the galloping pop-punk title track but quickly segues into the twangy folk of "North East South West," the jangly "Midnight to Morning," and a hypnotic chant-along "No Known Drink or Drug." Most ambitious of all is the 7:26-long synth-underpinned experiment called "Arc of Bar," an envelope-pushing number that the band believes perfectly exemplifies its edgy new songwriting approach.

Prowse knew that he and King were rolling the dice by taking so much time off, and then tweaking their sound with new instruments like keyboards. But the risk paid off, he swears, and they're all the stronger for it, creatively.

Key to the band's survival was spending more time apart. Initially, the two musicians met at the University of Victoria in British Columbia back in 2000, then formed Japandroids in Vancouver, where Prowse still resides. But shortly after returning from the Celebration Rock juggernaut tour, King moved cross-country to Toronto, and then began splitting his time between home and Mexico City, where his new girlfriend was based.

This sudden influx of breathing room proved unusual, even off-putting at first. Prowse's girlfriend was glad to have him around the house more often, but he recalls one particular Saturday night spent listening to Canadian talk radio while he painted a picnic table in his garage. "I thought, 'What the fuck is going on right now? I'm like a ... a grown-up or something!' he chuckles. "Suddenly I had a different routine and a very different lifestyle."

Gradually, the musicians started to reconvene. Prowse would fly to Toronto to write with his partner, who returned the favor by visiting Vancouver. Sometimes they connected in Mexico City, and at one point they rented a house in New Orleans, where they quietly shifted into high gear, composing-wise. "It was like this weird, secretive, covert operation, where we'd jam and work on what became this new record," Prowse explains. "But we just did it out of the spotlight." He never once Googled his group's name to see what fans were saying about them going MIA. He wondered if his audience might have forgotten him.

Prowse needn't have worried. When Japandroids announced its surprise return last fall with a small Canadian tour, the shows immediately sold out. And for the first comeback concert in Vancouver, fans flew in from all over the world just to catch it. "That was the first time where we went, 'Okay — people are still excited about us,' and it was really flattering and actually heartwarming," he says. "All these people came up to us, saying, 'We've been waiting for you to put out a new record for so long!' And they were telling us how much our music means to them.

"And that's a pretty incredible thing, you know? Once we came back in the public eye, to have such a warm response. That really meant a lot."

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