Photos by Jordan Beschel
Is there anything more appealing than a summer camp for adults? The idea of spending an entire summer hanging out with friends and doing whatever you want: eating, drinking, card games, sports, video games, and chatting the night away by campfires? Shit, if only that were an option for those of us who are older than we care to admit. Sure, there would be drama and people who don’t get along with each other, but the ability to connect with friends, old and new, and strip away the garbage of daily life would be liberating.
That’s a big part of why Tokyo Police Club’s latest album, TPC, out Oct. 5 via Dine Alone Records, is such an incredible exercise in effervescent indie rock. The Canadian indie scene feels very interconnected and full of personality—We Are The City and Said The Whale immediately come to mind, even though they couldn’t be more different. Tokyo Police Club are unique because the band feel like a craft ice cream shop: every new flavor of record brings something different to the table, but each one is as delightful and tastefully done—if not incrementally better—than the one that preceded it. TPC feels especially easygoing yet immediate; there’s a carefree vibe that belies some incredible songwriting craft beneath the surface.
The Ontario-based group have been steadily growing in prowess and success through each release. However, two years ago, the band were at an impasse that threatened their very existence. Drummer Greg Alsop recounts the drive to Chicago that might have ended Tokyo Police Club as we know them.
“It was almost two years ago,” he begins. “We were just starting a tour for the Mellon Collie EPs, [2016’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness: Part One and Part Two], and we were driving to Chicago for our first show. [Keyboardist] Graham [Wright], [guitarist] Josh [Hook], and I were in the van, and [vocalist and bassist] Dave [Monks] was meeting us there. The three of us had this conversation for the first time: ‘What if we stopped doing this? Is everyone still feeling excited about this?’”
“When you have 11 hours in a van to let it all out there, we definitely let it all out there,” he laughs. “We planned to have this conversation with Dave—not necessarily about breaking up, but it was about realizing this couldn’t go on this way anymore. We’d been doing it for 10 years at that point. You have to stop and reflect after a decade of doing it. We sat down that night. Dave said he can’t let this be the last record; we can’t let this be our last statement. He wanted to fix this and make it manageable to make a record on our terms and see what happens. We agreed and are way better off for it.”
The solution? A very serious conversation centered around what the band actually wanted, instead of what they thought they should want, and some time at a lakeside summer camp near Lake Huron in Ontario to rediscover their old magic.
“The whole recording process was a practice in learning to loosen our grip a little bit, to be less tightly wound when we’re crafting and recording the songs,” Alsop elaborates. “Also, lowering the expectations as far as what we wanted the songs to be. We stopped looking out toward [the future]—we do the album, put it out there, worldwide tour, then endless success, etc.,” he laughs. “We stopped looking toward the future and started looking toward being happy with the songs. We stopped looking at the songs as these endless problems to be solved.”
The past five years in the life of the band had been focused on the potential for success, and Tokyo Police Club needed a reset. In contrast, TPC feels imbued with the sense that a group of friends got together and fell in love with music again. It comes across like the group collectively said, “Fuck it. We’re just going to make songs we want to play and listen to.”
“Exactly,” Alsop concurs. “When you stop thinking about ‘How will people like this song?’ or ‘How will the label or radio feel about this one? Will this song get us on tour with Twenty One Pilots?’ or something, then you stop listening to all the expectations you or others have for the band or the songs. You start listening to each other again and ending with ‘Are we happy with this? Are we excited about it?’ It loosened us up a lot, and hopefully that comes through.”
“It’s a lot more fun to play, and I actually like listening to the record, which I didn’t always like to do in the past,” he laughs, “not because I didn’t like those records, but—when you’re creating art, the process goes so deep inside you and is so very ingrained in the piece that it gets trapped in the music afterward. Listening to past records, I can feel the stress over writing the songs and recording certain parts. With this one, it feels more relaxed, because it was. It was instinctual.”
The band found a great location for their summer camp experience thanks to old friends.
“We found this old converted church space thanks to our friends Born Ruffians; [it was] out in the middle of nowhere near Lake Huron in Ontario,” Alsop recounts. “We would get together and go to this church with all of our instruments and stay there for three to five days at a time and just play everything: new songs, old songs, and covers even. There was a time when we were trying to learn to play [The Strokes’] Room on Fire, front to back. We were just getting excited about music again and playing in a room together and trying to recapture that chemistry that you had when you were younger. We used to play in Josh’s basement, where we’d have nine hours on a Saturday to play music, eat pizza, and play N64. The springboard for it was learning how to play together again but relearning as the people we are now.”
“We had laptops there,” he continues, “but everyone was using it as a chance to unwind. The internet wasn’t great there. It was mostly just hanging out together. We were close to a lake, so we’d go down to the beach and swim. We cooked together. We had a BB gun and [would] go shoot old cans out back. We’d play soccer and play catch. It was in the summer, so it felt like a retreat.”
So, did this retreat involve a recommitment ceremony?
“As much as it’s corny to say, we all recommitted to the band—no blood oaths, though,” Alsop laughs. “We all found out how much we enjoyed hanging out together. We spent a lot of time just talking about life. We didn’t live in the same city for the past five years, so there was a lot of time spent apart. Before, we all lived down the street from each other and would be together every single day. There was a lot of reconnection that happened.”
This recommitment resulted in the band’s best and most earnest release to date. TPC is a beautiful exploration of how to craft easygoing tunes without sacrificing songcraft. Tokyo Police Club are at their creative pinnacle, because they’ve rekindled that old friendship.