#tbt An Interview with Tokyo Police Club

Found in the Margins is a defunct web magazine that Chris DePaul founded in 2006. Chris and his co-writers would interview musicians, writers and activists on one question: What books inspire the work you do? The Brothers DePaul will be reposting these archived interviews every Thursday. #tbt

This week's interview: Tokyo Police Club

Tokyo Police Club stormed onto the music scene mid-2006 with A Lesson In Crime, their 16-minute debut EP. The disc immediately won over fans and critics, selling 30-times more copies than they had expected, leading the Omaha-based record label, Saddle Creek, to sign them in July 2007. Rolling Stone commented in their review of the EP, "if only all young guitar bands were smart enough to rock out this fast, banging out seven first-rate mod-punk party starters in barely more than sixteen minutes.”

When the band went on their inaugural tour, every member of Tokyo Police Club brought with them a copy of Bill Bryson’s national bestseller, A Short History of Nearly Everything, to help pass the time while travelling in their van. Their book club acted as a bonding session for the band, discussing with each other the chapters they were reading and re-reading. “It got to a point where we would be in the van and all four of us would be reading that book. I think we all read that book three or four times over the course of the year,” says Graham Wright, Tokyo Police Club’s keyboardist.

A few days before the band started a North American / European tour to support their debut full-length album, Elephant Shell, coming out April 22, Graham Wright talked with Found in the Margins on the phone about his reading, his writing, and his cat.

FITM: What type of books are you reading?

Wright: Well, in general I am all about the fiction - I suck at reading non-fiction books. There’s a couple of non-fiction books that I really enjoy, and for some reason all the rest of them just bore me to tears. I can’t get through it, and I don’t know why that is, but I really can’t do it.

I try to read all sorts of different stuff, and I have lots of guilty pleasures, you know like trashy mysteries and Harry Potter books and stuff, but I guess my favourite author, and I am going through a big phase right now, is Michael Chabon.

The first thing I read of his was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. [Tokyo Police Club guitarist] Josh actually read it first when we were in grade ten or eleven for a project. Then a little while later I just picked it up. I worked at a bookstore for a while, so there was a period where I just gleefully used my discount to buy every book that I ever had been interested in, and this book was one of them. The first time I read it, it just blew me away. It is a super, amazing, fantastic, unbelievably good book, and it is probably my favourite book. I recently read his latest one, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and then I got one of his short story books and read that, and then I re-read The Amazing Adventurers when we were in South by Southwest last week, and now I am reading Wonder Boys, which is also excellent.

I do that – I will latch onto an author and then read nothing but their stuff until I have finished it all and then move on.

FITM: Is there a specific element of a book that you focus on most when reading?

Wright: For me, story is first and foremost. I can appreciate a great character, I can appreciate a fancy, flowery writing style, but the thing for me is the common thread between the Harry Potter books, the Michael Chabon and all the other books. Regardless of whether they’re written in very plain straight ahead style, like the Harry Potter books, or a really interesting, in-depth kind of writing, like the Chabon books, they just have a really great story that keeps me turning the pages.

I am very much one of those people that will start a book and will devour it in two or three days because I am just so interested to see what happens next. And if a book can keep me doing that, then that is really my only criteria for whether or not I like it.

FITM: Do you find it is easy to read when you are on the road?

Wright: We all read a ton on the road. It is not uncommon for the sight inside our van to be five people with their noses buried in books, not saying a word.

FITM: The first EP has a dystopian feel to it – was there a literary inspiration there?

Wright: There is the one song on the EP, Citizens of Tomorrow, and that is the one that seems to inform everyone’s perception of the rest of the EP: the science fiction, sort of robot apocalypse thing. For that song, I sort of suggested the topic matter to [singer / bassist] David in a much more light hearted way, where I was saying ‘write about how everyone in the 1950s saw the future’, where you see those educational videos with the scratchy voice and the funny graphics, where everyone is going to have robot wives and live in domes on the moon, or whatever. So that was sort of my suggestion, and then he obviously filtered it through some morbid instinct of his own to make it into what it is.

I have always been a bit of a science fiction fan. My dad is a huge science fiction guy. He was always trying to push the Isaac Asimov books and all that stuff on me, and I never really got into it as much. I like the stuff you can barely qualify as science fiction, like Star Wars or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but I could never quite get into the real core of the genre.

FITM: You are the primary writer of Tokyo Police Club’s blog - is writing something you have always been interested in?

Wright: There are two things that I have always fantasized about doing since I was a little kid, and one of them was music, which I can check off now, and the other one was writing. I used to write all these stupid little stories and stuff, where I would take books that I had read and then re-write them in childish terms, usually starring my cat. They would always be some mythical, wardrobe land with a name that sounded suspiciously like Narnia, but instead of Aslan there would be my cat.

I still try and write; I really suck at finishing what I start, though, so it is always a struggle for me to actually write anything real.

FITM: Do you find that writing can be an outlet for you while on the road?

Wright: I keep my little notebook with me all the time and I’m always trying to write something. I’m planning, this next tour we go on the road, to try and set some time aside everyday to write, because there is so much spare time to kill that it is a good way to finally get down to writing. When I am at home I’ll say ‘well I could spend the next two hours writing, or watching T.V.’. But when you are stuck in a van, there is really nothing else to do except that, so maybe it will help me concentrate.

I have always loved writing and I am really hoping that at some point I will actually be able to start and finish something. And if I ever do that, then yes I would certainly love to spin that into another sub career or something.

Written by Chris DePaul