10 Songs. 10 Hours. 10 Days. 10 Years.
The members of Tokyo Police Club challenged themselves to a ten-day project in which they pick a song from every year of the last decade and record and produce a unique cover of it in ten hours. Halfway through their journey, I had the privilege of interviewing keyboardist Graham Wright of the Canadian Indie band at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, CA.
What was your inspiration for this project?
It had been floating around for a while. I think the original idea kinda came down from on high. Everyone from the band upwards was always sort of dreaming up different things we could just do. I think we’re a band that just does things and tries to be a band that does a lot of stuff as well as making records and touring. And this idea came along months and months ago while we were on tour and it just didn’t make sense with the timing. But it stuck around, and once an idea sticks around for long enough, usually you know that it’s a good idea. So finally we had the right amount of time and our heads were in the right spot.
Anything particularly significant about the number ten?
It was manageable. A decade is a nice round way to look at music, to look at it in a nostalgic way. But other than that, the original idea was sixteen, and we just thought that would be overwhelming. So ten is about right.
How are you deciding which songs to cover?
Ultimately, it’s gotta be songs we want to do that are gonna be fun to play. But aside from that, it’s also songs that people are gonna know and hopefully songs that aren’t exactly what people would expect us to play. It’d be really easy—and I know today we’re doing Phoenix, so this kind of negates my point—but it would be really easy to do a song like Phoenix or like The Strokes or like Interpol or Broken Social Scene for every year, and people who like those bands would probably have Tokyo Police Club come to their minds in one way or another. So it’s fun to do something like Kelly Clarkson or something like Moby.
Definitely. I was really impressed by the Queens of the Stone Age cover.
Thank you. Or yeah, like that, where it turns into something that—I mean, to me they still seem kind of obvious, but I guess people have been surprised, and that’s good. You know, you kind of want people to say, “Oh! I’m interested to hear their take on this,” rather than, “Oh, of course they’re going to play that.”
Right. So can you describe the creative process of taking a song that’s already been relatively successful and tailoring that to the band’s own style?
You have to have the perfect blend of reverence and irreverence, where you don’t just want to take out the heart of the song. You have to recognize what makes the song good in the first place and what makes people drawn to the song. It’s easy in a lot of ways to just completely repurpose the whole song and change it all around, but if you’re not careful, you can just make it into a bad song. But at the same time, if you’re sort of slavishly devoted to the original, then you just make a lesser version of the original song because you only have ten hours. It’s striking the right balance where you can do the things you want to do with it, be creative and put your own stamp on it while retaining what made it good in the first place; which I think for the different songs has involved different levels of reinvention. Just depending. I mean, with something like “Under Control” by the strokes, I think we moved to a pretty far spot from where it started whereas something like “Since U Been Gone” is not necessarily markedly different from the original, other than the fact that we’re playing it.
Is the ten hour time limit presenting a huge challenge for you guys?
Some days. When you’re in the studio and you sort of find yourself going off on a tangent, you just go, “Oh well, let’s do it.” And every time someone wants to try something new, or every time you’re screwing something up, you’re kinda looking at your watch. But so far, we haven’t had any close calls. You work with the time you’ve got.
What has been the biggest challenge with the project overall?
We have a tendency to get bogged down in the studio; it just comes from our nature as being sort of perfectionists and being all over the place and having four different strong voices all wanting to contribute. Even at the best times in the studio, when we’ve had lots of time to do stuff, there’s been some long serious roadblocks that you have to navigate around, which is part of being creative. But, not only do we have only have ten days, but we only really have one day at a time. With a regular album, when you record it, when everyone’s stuck on one part of the song, you can say, “Listen. Let’s all take a minute, and we’ll go to the next song and work on this.” You usually can have multiple balls in the air. Whereas with this one, there’s really nothing you can do. You have to solve these problems as they come up. So I think we have to learn how to sort of do rapid-fire problem solving.
Are there times when you guys wish you had given yourselves more time to work on each song?
No. I mean, sure, in some of the darkest moments you can catch yourself thinking, “Oh my god.” It’s never, “I wish we had more time,” it’s just, “I’d wish we’d never agreed to do this in the first place.” But I think it’s healthy. I think it’s important to learn how to solve problems faster and learn how to think on the fly and stuff and I think that’s something our band’s never really had to do. We’ve developed a leisurely approach towards recording and creativity, which is fine, but it’s always good to be able to work fast and to be able to work efficiently. And I hope we’re gonna learn how to do that.
Definitely. So is there a general direction or overall theme for the group of songs that you guys are going for?
No. That was one thing we didn’t take into account at all when we were picking songs. It was very much just like, let’s look at a list of songs from 2001. Which is the best song to do? Ok. Done. Let’s look at 2002. Although I suppose there was sort of some talk of…you’d pick a lot of more Indie songs, let’s try and pick something that’s a little more mainstream. Or vice versa, and trying to balance that would be the only thing.
You mentioned earlier that having four strong voices changes the dynamic when you’re collaborating. You guys have had really big names like Orianthi and Michael Angelakos guest star on this project. What’s it like when you’re collaborating with other talented musicians?
Because of the rapid pace, it’s just been good. The thing about musicians, or all of the ones I’ve met, is that at the end of the day, they all really like to play music, and like to work in the studio, and like to collaborate. Especially when it’s something like this. It’s fun. There’s not a lot of egotism or battling ideals. Like when Michael came, we’re friends with Michael. He was just here, he wasn’t even meant to be a part of the project. We’re managed by the same manager, who was in town, and Michael had to come into town for a meeting. We didn’t even know they were coming. The studio door just opened, and there was Michael, and we were just sort of hanging out in here, shooting the shit, and then we thought, well why don’t we just have him sing on the song? He’s a good singer, and he was game. And he just sort of went with it. He works in a really different way. He’s just like, “I’m gonna record three tracks of this, just put me in there, ok do this, do that,” and then just bam bam bam bam all these harmonies and stuff, and then he had to go to a meeting and flew back to New York.
If you could describe the whole project in ten words—without using the word ‘ten’—how would you describe it?
[Silence and staring] Can I borrow a piece of paper and a pen?
[Writing] This probably says something about the way I tackle problems…
Friends playing covers of songs they like in the sunshine.
Is there something special you guys are planning for the end of the project?
We haven’t really discussed it. I think we’d like to, but there hasn’t been as much time for scheming as I thought there might be. We’ve just been working all day. It’d be fun. I personally like endings to feel like big blowouts, like, let’s send this thing off in style. It just appeals to my romantic sensibilities, I think. But sometimes practicality gets in the way.
Great, well thank you so much for interviewing with me.
Thank you. My pleasure.