Until their new record, Elephant Shell, is released later this month, the introduction that most will get to Tokyo Police Club is singer Dave Monks softly vocalizing “ba ba ba” in the opening seconds of last year’s Smith EP. Not long after the warm-up, the rest of this four-piece from Newmarket, Ontario, lay into the track with a wall of hard, dancy noise that they shouldn’t be capable of. Skinny and unassuming, with shaggy hair in their eyes, they might seem prone to a lighter emission, but the Strokes fooled us at first sight too.
TPC has reached its buzz-heavy point this early in its career thanks to the reliable self-PR machine of blogs and message boards and a quick stop on Letterman last year. But today’s generation isn’t known for a long attention span when it comes to entertainment. Staying power is a question that’s always up in the air. Still, Tokyo Police Club’s records boast attention-grabbing starts and hooks that dare you to keep your legs from stomping, and that might actually be enough for them to stay on the radar until they get an album out.
An indie band of meager beginnings, they were a group of musically like-minded buddies in high school, one of whom, guitarist Josh Hook, had a mom who didn’t mind that screechy racket coming from her basement. TPC was “just for fun, basically,” says drummer Greg Alsop, speaking from back home, where the band took a small Easter break. “It was something to do in Newmarket instead of a ton of drugs.” Alsop sounds weary from excessive touring, but excited about the band’s future. “We just had these songs and we wanted to start playing them for people. We didn’t have much of a dream of making it big after this, but then we applied for the Pop Montreal festival, got accepted, and, I don’t know, our ambitions kind of changed.”
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After two straight years of touring and two EPs on a small Canadian label, Paper Bag Records, the change came when Robb Nansel of Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records, indie rock’s current Mecca label, caught their set at 2006’s Pop Montreal festival. “We always had the intention of going to the States once we’d decided on doing this for a career. We just didn’t want to be stuck in Canada, touring back and forth from coast to coast, month after month,” Alsop says. “It gets kind of tedious after a while.”
Nansel met the band again at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City a few weeks later and at South by Southwest last March. Finally, Robb said, “‘Are we gonna make a record, or what?’ and we went ‘Yeah, I guess we will!,’” says Alsop. “When we first decided that we were going to look for different labels, we had the big three in mind: Merge, Matador and Sub Pop. We were like, ‘If we get on any of those, then we’re set.’ `But Saddle Creek` just seemed like the best option for us,” Alsop says. “We really appreciate the home-style scene that they’ve built up.”
Clocking in at 28 minutes, Elephant Shell, the band’s first full-length LP, is the natural progression in form. It features a floor-to-ceiling tightening of the sonic foundation they built on the EPs. The stunted length isn’t an issue for the band, Alsop asserts, noting that the band is more comfortable in the short form. “I think we’re really good at editing ourselves down to the bare minimum that we feel is needed to present a song,” he says. “It’s very rare that a song over four or five minutes long needs to be that long.” Playing the quickies live is a horse of a different color, however. “Sometimes it hurts a bit, because you can see the audience is just getting into the song and then we cut it off,” Alsop says. “But we’ve gotten better at combining songs together so that energy level stays up when we’re playing live.”
Almost as soon as Elephant Shell was recorded, it popped up online. “It would have been nice for the record to actually come out on April 22,” Alsop says. The inevitable Internet leak is something every band has to deal with, but Tokyo Police Club remains philosophical on the subject. “It’s just kind of the way a lot of the younger generation, the people who are teens now, see music. They don’t feel that need to go out to a record store and wait for the release date. There isn’t that anticipation, which I think is unfortunate, `but` you have to change with the times.”
The plan now is to hit the road again and hit it hard; to “tour away the rest of our early 20s,” Alsop jokes. After a wide-ranging tour of North America, they’ll pull up stakes and hit Europe for the summer in support of Elephant Shell. When pressed on just what the hell an “elephant shell” is anyway, Alsop himself admits to some noggin-scratching. “It’s just one of Dave’s lyrics,” he says with a laugh. “I haven’t really asked him about that one.”email@example.com