Tokyo Police Club has been a band on the rise, inked record deals and watched the recorded music business both collapse and begin to reinvent itself. They’ve emerged on the other side a nimble collective dedicated more to creativity than commerce.
The band — singer/bassist Dave Monks, drummer Greg Alsop, keyboardist Graham Wright and guitarist Josh Hook — is alternative rock that alternates between guitar-driven and synth-heavy.
We checked in with drummer Greg Alsop and discussed the band’s longevity, dynamic and their effort to turn imagination into finished product.
Q: The band has been really busy lately. Tell me about the new gallery project you guys did.
A: That is a song called “Ready to Win” that we have off our record, and it’s a song just about messing up. We thought it would be a good idea to set up a gallery station and a submission form online and just get people to submit all the times they’ve messed up in the past and how they’re willing to look forward from it.
People are more liable and willing to talk about their failures because it’s like a safer environment to talk about it now. To be OK with that and admit our mistakes is amazing. We’re all human and we screw up, so why don’t we just talk about that?
We plan on turning it into a video over the next while. It has been a good response, we have gotten a lot of cool submissions over the last while, and it will be fun to see it all come together.
Everyone can either be sympathetic, empathetic or just laugh at it because it can be funny, too. It’s funny when you screw up, and it’s funny to look back at the past and realize that you felt terrible about that then, but now it’s a story that I can actually share with people and get a kick out of it.
Q: You guys have had a pretty lengthy career. I remember Saddle Creek sending me CDs in the mail that would just have that black page on the back with no artwork. That being said, you guys have been together for such a long time; what do you attribute that to the most?
A: Friendship. We started as friends. The other three guys were in the same class from fourth grade onwards, and I was in the same school but two grades ahead of them. So, we’ve known each other for ages. We started out making music together just as something to do when we were 14-year -old kids, and it was nice to get together in one of our parents’ basements. It was great to be down there and just make noise for a few hours.
It still comes down to that. We still hang out together, are on the phone with each other catching up, and in each other’s lives. It’s not just a band or business, it’s true friendship.
I think the fact that we still get to do this together, with some of my best friends, is pretty incredible. The music, as much as a big focus that is, is just a huge bonus.
Q: As children, what were some of the things you guys played there in the basement?
A: I mean, we were teenagers when the 2001 garage band stuff was going on, like The Strokes, The Hives and the White Stripes. We stumbled through “Hate to Say Told You So” really badly, and that’s a fun song to just kind of rock out.
When we first started getting together, I think some of the stuff we were writing was more similar to being a lot like Radiohead. It was just all over the place, and eventually you kind of decide to focus in and figure out your sound.
I was talking to friends the other day about how you keep trying different styles, genres and songs until you just find one that clicks and it becomes a keystone for your sound. So I think for us, the nature of experiment, was the key to finding our sound, at least for the next few years of music.
Q: You were talking about the other guys in the group and just for the sake of the interview, can you tell me a little bit about each member?
A: David is like our missionary; he’s the main songwriter in the band, and he has the big ideas — which is great because you need someone who is the artistic source.
I think Josh is the executer, and can just go in and get stuff done when it needs to be done. He’s also the handiest guy, like, if you needed someone to just help you install flooring in you basement or something like that, he would know exactly what to do. If you were broken down in a car somewhere he would be the guy you’d call to come help fix it.
Graham is amazing in any kind of situation where we have to be charming, especially on camera. He knows how to turn it on. He’s amazing at sound bites, and I think the funniest member of the band. Everyone just kind of rounds each other out. It’s just a really good group of four guys. We’re good at finding each other’s strengths and playing to it and having each other make up for our weaknesses.
Q: That segues really nicely into my next question. How does a TPC song begin? And how do all the members join in?
A: Usually it starts with Dave sending out a voice memo recorded on his phone of a finished two course, the chorus song or an idea with some lyrics. He’ll send out a few of those every few weeks and we’ll go through and find ones that are really compelling to us, then from there we’ll all get together.
Since we all live in different places right now, this is how it has been for the last couple of years. We get together for sort of a writing retreat and go away somewhere secluded for three days to a week and focus on music together again. We’ll just go through all the songs and go somewhere we can make noise at any time in case inspiration just strikes, so if it’s 3 a.m. we can get up and turn the amp on again.
It became sort of a hang once we really start to explore the songs, but also get that freedom that we normally don’t get now that we’re all in our 30s and adults with adult responsibilities. It’s nice to retreat from that for a little while and just go back to when we were teenagers, or early 20s, and all we had to do was focus on music because we had that time for us.
Q: I’m gonna stick on one part of that when you said you “find inspiration.” What is a really good source of inspiration for you guys to write?
A: It’s like if I were to go to an art museum and just wander through it, it’s just going somewhere you can just get away from sound and focus on something else. That definitely works for me a lot, or nice walks through this forest beside my house for about an hour and get lost in the woods for a bit.
Inspiration for Dave, who writes songs almost every day, would be just keeping it turned on all the time.
But inspiration for the band only really happens all together when we have the time. Sometimes there’s a spark there, but most of the time it’s just allowing space for the inspiration to happen with no distractions.
Q: I was looking at your Instagram and saw the lineup for the Just Like Heaven Fest in California in May, which you’re playing. How hard is it going to be to not see every one of those bands?
A: It’s kind of insane that it’s all my favorite bands from the last decade. It’s almost like a throwback to 2011.
Q: If you guys are in the van driving, who controls the music?
A: It’s all between the driver and the navigator. It’s a fun time because everyone else in the van kind of just puts their headphones on and fades out the music in the front. But whoever is on driver or navigator duty just becomes a song for song or album for album kind of thing. It’s a nice time to just sit and listen to music, or even show each other music.
Q: What does the band have planned for the rest of the year?
A: We have the short tour in March and April and we’re going back to L.A. to do some recording in May. Most of the year is just getting to work on our new album to get something out for early spring 2020. We’ve got a couple of songs we’ve already recorded. We’re feeling really good right now and love making music together, so we just want to keep doing it.
Larry May is the owner of CD Cellar record store on Noble Street in downtown Anniston.