Interview – Dave Monks of Tokyo Police Club September 21, 2010

A little while back I got to interview Dave Monks. He was a cool person. I know I say that a bunch, but it’s honestly always surprising to me. I get all ready for people to be dicks and rock stars that even after all this time it boggles my head that most are just people. Strangers with wives and children, as a bard said.

Think about your accomplishments in high school. Tokyo Police Club took a slightly different path. Honour society, pep squad and Model U.N. are all noble bullet points, but they lack the panache of “rock star.” It’s doubtful your secondary school career sent you vaulting onto record store shelves on the legs of infectious anthems and hooky romps, and it’s less likely that ring put you on David Letterman around the time you walked the stage to grab your diploma. That said, their latest record, Champ, feels like the first step in a fruitful adulthood for the band.

Chrissy Piper

“Each record we’ve made was under really different circumstances. I feel like we’ve arrived somewhere more sustainable,” says bassist and lead singer Dave Monks. “They’re just the result of the environment we wrote it in,” he continues, recognizing the differences between albums, “as opposed to conscious decisions. Maybe we made conscious decisions to change the environment. But not the music that was the result.

“We had written (the first albums) in sort of a vacuum. There was no outside pressure,” Monks explains. “It was just us doing our thing. The next one came within all that, and those pressures reflected onto the record. I think Champ is the first time we cut some space out for ourselves.”

No one would accuse Tokyo Police Club of not being fun, and in some ways they up the ante on Champ. Tracks like “Bambi” and “Big Difference” clip along with the band’s trademark velocity and “Favourite Food” and “Favourite Color” explore catchy, inscrutable lyrics (with subject matter including Ike and Tina Turner, and the nostalgia of old movies played at max volume), a feat for a band that once wrote a stunningly casual song about robots. All of this on tracks that flirt with a previously-unheard-of four minutes, a sign of a reckless youth now a little further behind them. “Elephant Shell was a way more thought out record. It was kind of uncalled for, really. We’re just trying to feel it more than think it. I’m really proud of it.”

Tokyo Police Club grew out of adolescence with Champ. But can enthusiasm trump the transition from hobby to career? Monks seems unfazed. “It is a job. A job that I love.” The success and romance wears thin at times, but Monks understands that comes with the territory. “You totally fall into that trap sometimes. When the touring keeps going and you don’t really get time off, it becomes the main focus. I try to make sure I’m not in that zone when I’m writing. Even if that means not writing a note for six months.” It’s something necessary for the process, he says. “You just have to trust that you’ll get back to that place where it’s just an outlet for other things going on in your life.”

Being globally recognized rock stars at such a young age has been the narrative of the band since its inception and has always begged a question likely posed to child stars of other media: was this part of the plan? “We had always been in a band together. That was the plan: be in a band forever.” After high school, college was a fleeting feature of their lives. “I think I was at McGill for, like, a semester. I really wanted to give the band a shot. I turned nineteen and the record came out.” Monks knows his twenties are atypical, but his resolve speaks to the effort easily seen on Champ.

“I just want to be able to do this.”

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