20 Questions

Tokyo Police Club

by Evan Sawdey

10 August 2010

The Ontario guitar-pop fireball known as Tokyo Police Club sits down with PopMatters to talk about its new album Champ, the movie that forever traumatized its drummer, and relishing the lost of art of a simple conversation with a stranger.

Ontario’s own Tokyo Police Club has alternately had a very drama-free existence since its Lesson in Crime EP came out in 2006.  The group didn’t get in huge drunken fights, get dropped by labels, or engage in intense legal wranglings over songwriting royalties, no.  Instead, the only real drama the group had to deal with was a bit of blogosphere backlash following the heralding of that aforementioned EP, some saying that the band’s 2008 full-length Elephant Shell was the sound of the group selling out, with just as many trumpeting it as the logical extension of the group’s poppy, guitar-driven aesthetic.  During all of this, though, the band seemed to not really care, instead touring like hell and having a good time with its legions of fans.

Now, with the release of the group’s lean, muscular new album Champ, few people seem to be snickering, as the band has fully come into its own, with angular guitars mixing with spritely keyboard patterns and an ever-shifting set of dynamics, like on the storming “Favourite Colour”, which uses stop-start guitar spurts to ask a very simple question to a possible love interest, adding high drama to an everyday sentiment.  Indie rock don’t swagger like this.

Taking some time out of his busy touring schedule, Tokyo Police Club’s drummer Greg Alsop answers PopMatters 20 Questions, here revealing how The Velveteen Rabbit “cauterized my tear ducts”, how he positively thrives on human interaction, and why lightsabers trump phasers each and every time.


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
When I was three I watched a made for TV adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit at my pre-school. In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s an old story about a child who has this intense attachment to his stuffed toy rabbit but then has it taken away from him and burned when he’s diagnosed with smallpox. At the end, the rabbit is reborn as a real-live bunny because of the boy’s love, but at my tender age the idea of reincarnation wasn’t comforting in the least bit and the thought of losing my own stuffed toy to sanitizing flames was way too much for me to handle and I broke down crying. My dad was the parent volunteer for the day and he had to take me home because I was so worked up. I think that after recovering from that very public traumatic experience my emotions must have psychosomatically cauterized my tear ducts because I haven’t cried from a movie or book since.

2. The fictional character most like you?
I would love to be any character that has ever been played by Tom Hanks. Who can help but love each and every one of them? Maybe that’s more of just a lifelong aspiration. I would really like to find a poster out there in that series “Everything I know I about life I learned from ...” that they have in waiting rooms but instead of the role model being “my cat” or The Golden Girls it would be “from Tom Hanks”. I guess the key defining traits of his are “always look concerned, but never overwhelmed” and “try to save a spot for Gary Sinise”.

3. The greatest album, ever?
I can only really judge this on the criteria of what album, whenever I stumble into hearing it just by chance, I will stay put for and listen through the entirety of almost always, no matter what my previous plans were ... which is Kid A by Radiohead. (I once “browsed” a tiny stationary shop for nearly an hour after hearing the first five notes of “Everything in Its Right Place”.)

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
I don’t want to go into a long diatribe of how incomparable the two are and how it’s shortsighted and ignorant to use them divisively among nerds (really, the only similarities are that they both take place in space and have the word “star” in their titles). I will say that I did run around for a good five years of my life with a roll of wallpaper border, crudely fashioned to a flashlight handle that would telescope out with a flick of my wrist, challenging anyone who would indulge me to a battle with my “lightsaber”. I never carried on me an old TV remote commanding that all “phasers” be “set to stun”.

5. Your ideal brain food?
Running. Whenever I need to really focus on something I go for a long run and let my mind concentrate on just getting my body through another lap until I’m completely drained. Then on my walk back home I can think about whatever it is I need to set about working on without any of the previous distractions that were competing for my attention

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
During the months that we were recording Champ, I took a history course through correspondence from Ryerson University (my aborted alma mater). It was the first upper level course I’d ever taken and my first serious attempt at “getting an education” since dropping out five years ago to work on our band. I passed the course with a B. Not an amazing grade, but it was enough to prove to myself that a half decade spent drinking across America hadn’t ruined my ability to potentially one day get a B.A. and reap the benefits of graduation presents from my grandmas.

7. You want to be remembered for ... ?
Not for my smile. Hopefully the image that people have of me in their heads after I’m gone will go through some kind of corrective dental work. I’ve had photographers ask me if I could stop “that” (smiling) mid-shoot because it’s ruining all their shots. Maybe before I die I should learn to smile with my eyes, like Tyra Banks.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are ... ?
I’m really inspired by my dad. He was laid off from a career as the PR person for our local environmental conservation association when he was 40. Instead of seeing it as a huge setback and trying to find similar work in a quickly diminishing field, he decided to go back to school and become a video editor. I think that it’s a ballsy move to set out on a completely new career path halfway through your working life but he was presented with an opportunity and seized it. It just proved to me that there are endless possibilities if you seek them out at any point in your life.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The grilled cheese sandwich. When I was much younger I was convinced I had invented it. I was going to open up a stand out front of our house to sell them, calling them “Cowdies”. It would have been a million dollar idea if the Kraft recipe calendar hadn’t gotten there first.

10. Your hidden talents ... ?
I can give a really decent massage. I’ve got a good sense for finding knots of tension in peoples’ bodies and then really digging into them (mostly it’s just a practice of thinking about where on my body I’d want someone to jam their knuckles into and then applying that to those spots on their body; usually I’m not far off).

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
This isn’t really advice, but I once got a fortune cookie that read “You are capable, competent, creative and careful.” I keep it in my wallet and try to consistently live by its image of who it thinks I am.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I finally bought a Tempurpedic travel pillow for my neck. Now when I wake up mid-flight to use the restroom the passengers next to me aren’t also woken up by the loud snap my head makes when it re-aligns with my spine.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ... ?
My favorite shirt is this really old Lakehead University tee I took from my dad. It was his work shirt, so its speckled in paint and the fabric barely has elasticity anymore, but it sits on my torso just right and no matter how many times I sweat in it and wash it, it still has/keeps the musty scent of our family home’s basement, so it’s really comforting to keep around.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
My mother. She would be really impressed that I was able to get us a table.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Nope. I don’t think I would. There’s too much potential for you to effect just one minor change that could alter the entire future as we know it and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for messing things up for anyone who had a good thing going. That’s also why I don’t feed the ducks.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
I’m lucky that my job is one of the most effective stress reliefs I’ve ever found. As long as you’re hitting the right things with the right things at the right time you have absolutely nothing else to worry about.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ... ?
Conversation. I get really restless if I spend a day completely reclusive without talking with anyone. It doesn’t even have to be a good friend or family member, even just a few words exchanged with a coffee shop barista or person who I’m waiting for the bus beside is great. I just like hearing what people have to say, even if it is just something casual about the weather. It’s a little insight into another person’s perspective, which I’m always curious about.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Eventually I’d like to own a plot of farmland, not far from a city, where I can grow my own fruits and vegetables for a cafe I’d like to open downtown specializing in soup and pie. Anywhere I can do, I’ll be content.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
I think I’d just like to ask him (or any current world leader) why did they choose politics? What set them on the path where their life goal was to eventually oversee the functioning of a country? And I’d love to receive a very candid answer.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Right now we’re just working on our live show. We’ve been away from touring for over a year so we’re a bit out of shape, but we’re getting better and better every night! Come check us out sometime! We’ll do our very best.

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