I had the opportunity to speak with Tokyo Police Club’s very own, Graham Wright to discuss his recently released debut full-length LP, Shirts vs. Skins.
BYT: Let’s talk about this new album of yours…first with the title, Shirts vs. Skins. What does the album title signify to you and what was the decision process for settling with SvS?
GW: Honestly, that was the first thing I came up with. It doesn’t really mean anything. I could sort of wizard up an explanation but the truth is that I was lying in bed one night and I couldn’t sleep. Suddenly, I don’t know what the though process was but I thought, “SHIRTS VS. SKINS”! And I thought that the album cover would just be arm wrestling. I wrote all of that down in a notebook and it just stuck.
BYT: How did you become interested in pursuing a solo career? Were there any individuals that inspired you?
GW: I’ve always done music myself. Before I was in Tokyo, I was doing my own thing. Tokyo was initially intended as a side project of that. And obviously, it took off so I ran away and sort of went with it. I was just too busy. And the whole time, I was thinking maybe I would put together a record. I would write a few songs here and there…it just never really panned out and the stuff I was writing just was really not that good, frankly. Circumstances never quite aligned and eventually things just sort of came together. I was able to record a bunch of songs that I was genuinely proud of and felt I wanted to release.
BYT: There is a great deal of complexity on the album in comparison to your resident synth/guitar role in TPC…did you collaborate with anyone?
GW: Yeah, I did. It was mostly me…the ideas, the songs. Wow! Sorry, I am moving into my new place right and this…geez. That guy is just wearing a speedo and washing his driveway with a hose. That’s disgusting!
BYT: That’s fucking Canada Day for you right there (the interview was in fact, on July 1st aka Canada Day).
GW: Yeah, Happy Canada Day…here’s the outline of my dick! Anyway, good for that guy. What was I talking about? I did the record at Chemical Sound Studio in Toronto. It’s the same place where we did Elephant Shell. The studio is run by two guys, Dean and Jay and they have just become buddies of mine over the years. So I was recording with them but they were more than just producing the album, they were totally collaborating and were people I could bounce ideas off of. I trusted their vibe as musicians and I liked the ideas that they had. It was just sort of like a free for all. The three of us were locked in the studio for 12 hours a day, just making music and recording everything and worrying about it all later. Other than that I had a few friends come in and do stuff. Stuff I couldn’t do or Dean and Jay couldn’t do. But for the most part, it was mostly us three.
BYT: I am a big fan of “Soviet Race”. It seems to have some New Pornographer elements to it that work very well but definitely contain a lot of unique aspects. How did “Soviet Race” come to fruition?
GW: You totally noticed that? That’s how that song was written, honestly. When I was writing the record, I had decided…so you know naturally motive was the more folkier stuff and there is a little bit of that on the record. I wanted to get away from that. I wanted to write some fun rock songs and I was thinking of bands that wrote songs I wanted to write and The New Pornogrpahers were on top of the list. That’s exactly the kind of music I wanted to write. And so, I was listening to “Twin Cinema”, the song. The verse in the beginning, that’s the same thing “Soviet Race” does. I mean, it’s faster and a little bit more dissonant…I literally just ripped them off. There you go, you caught me.
BYT: Ha, there were definitely unique aspects to the song. By no means was I insinuating that you had repackaged a New Pornographers tune…
GW: The great thing is that even if you are trying to rip people off blatantly, it’s good to get it filtered through your own thing. I don’t think it came out sounding lick for lick but there is definitely an influence there.
BYT: I am told that you have written over 60 songs following the release of your 2008 EP, The Lakes of Alberta. How did you trim the LP down to 12?
GW: By deciding that I was going to make three records. Which I have still yet to do but that is the plan.
BYT: Do you plan on touring much for the current album?
GW: In October I am going out with a band called Library Voices who are from the east coast of Canada but that is kind of it right now. I am just super busy slash enjoying my summer vacation. To be perfectly honest with you…sorry, we are picking up this table from Craigslist. Oh yeah, I am moving while I am talking to you. I like playing live. I would never complain about touring…I think it’s fantastic! I love doing it but I also do it a lot and with my solo stuff, Dean and I were talking about how there are no recording artists anymore because you HAVE to tour. That’s what I would really want to do. Honestly, if I could play shows a few times a year and spend the rest of the time just in the studio making records, I would absolutely do that. I am not in a big rush to tour but I will do it eventually.
Graham has included a couple words on a few track from Shirts vs. Skins…let the listening party commence!
“Evening Train From Kingston Station”
My favourite part of recording is when all the basic parts are finished with, and you get to start playing with all the cool instruments that are lying around the studio. This song is what happens when I’m set loose in two studios. The producers finally had to talk me down after I spent 20 minutes trying different ways of shouting into a reverb tank.
I was a dab hand with the saxophone back in my high school days, but by the time I recorded this song I hadn’t played for around four years. Undaunted, I rented two saxes and headed into the studio with nothing but a vague notion of what I wanted the part to sound like and the fervent hope that I could still make a noise. The dialogue at the beginning of the song is from a message that was left on my answering machine from a Florida number. I have no idea how it happened.
“Heavens Just For Moviemakers”
I was going through a top notch Orson Welles fixation when I wrote this song. For some reason, I was less interested in watching his movies (which are at least as good as everyone says) and more interested in reading about his wild life. Welles was the kind of brilliant mad man, like Brian Wilson, who managed to shoot himself in the foot at almost every possible opportunity. But I like to think that he’s somewhere now with all the funding and cameras he could ever desire, making incredible new pictures with Joseph Cotton in the leading role.
Be sure to pick up Graham Wright’s debut full-length album, Shirts vs. Skins and keep a lookout for a possible abbreviated North American tour in the fall!