Vancouver’s Japandroids live and learn with latest Near to the Wild Heart of Life

If you ain’t learnin’ you ain’t livin’.

Or you’ve stopped living and are just existing. Staying the same. Playing out the string. Whatever.

Canadian indie rock duo Japandroids have done a lot of learnin’ while they’ve been livin’ over the past decade. More specifically, over the past, say, half-decade, between the 2012 release of their almost universally beloved sophomore release Celebration Rock and the followup Near to the Wild Heart of Life, which dropped in January of this year.

That includes, as drummer David Prowse says from the streets of the band’s hometown of Vancouver during a recent break in touring, knowing when to step back and recharge.

“We’re trying to build in a certain kind of buffer between each tour to make sure we’re make sure we’re well rested and haven’t lost our minds and broken our bodies,” Prowse says of the two-week-long layoff, which would have never been a thought during those past years of 200-plus-shows.

“We’re a little less dumb every year — the Japandroids motto.”

And better than ever.

The pair’s trajectory since they dropped their debut Post-Nothing in 2009 has been remarkable, when it comes to quality and acclaim.

The brilliant eight-song Wild Heart of Life is yet another instant classic, a rock record that spares nothing, goes for everything, makes “anthemic” and “accessible” less pejoratives than the same exciting and timeless calling cards of acts such as The Clash, Husker Du, The Replacements and, on a more modern level, Jimmy Eat World and The Gaslight Anthem. From the singalong travelogue North East South West and the cracking No Known Drink or Drug to seven-minute slow-slugger Arc of Bar, goddamn it’s a great fucking record.

Prowse calls the making of it a “fun process,” more so than those two previous recordings, with a number of factors playing into that. For one, there was that layoff and catching of literal and figurative breath for a good three years after the cycle of Celebration. Then there was the writing and recording of the album, with the two friends living in different cities — Prowse still in Lotusland, his partner, guitarist-vocalist Brian King, splitting his time between Toronto and Mexico City — and working on it in centres such as New Orleans, Montreal and back home.

Prowse describes the process as “good for us, very fruitful,” with it allowing them to explore a city and provide more focus to what they were doing.

“And a lot of that was just a product of having more time in the studio,” he says of the weeks, months spent recording with longtime producer Jesse Gander.

“More time in the studio means more freedom to experiment, and experimenting is a lot more fun than beating your head against the wall worrying about getting the perfect take or something like that.”

That said, he admits with the long pause came “more pressure you feel to deliver something that you’re really proud of.” They upped their chances of that by enlisting the help of mixer Peter Katis, who has worked on albums by such notables as The National, Mercury Rev, Sharon Van Etten and Kurt Vile.

Prowse says it was a necessary step in making Near to the Wild Heart of Life the album it is, explaining Japandroids learned how much it helped to allow another person — an “extra set of ears” — into the process, with the mixing of what they’d already worked so hard on “eye-opening.”

“There’s a lot that we get out of our relationship with Jesse and we’re very comfortable with him in the studio and we really value his opinion, I mean we have a long history, but also getting to work with other people was very inspiring and a very cool education,” he says.

That included “lots of cool stories about bands that we love and the records he made,” but mainly, musically, about the fact that the dynamics of a song don’t come from the mixing, but rather “the songwriting and performing aspect of it.”

“We didn’t really think about it like that, and then all of sudden we’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. There’s only so much you can do with dynamics when you’re beating the crap out of the drums and Brian’s playing eight guitar amps at the same time.’ ”

The drummer says that Katis was “pretty free to mess around with” the songs they gave him, and when they got them back it was “pretty exciting to see how creative he could be in the mixing.”

He continues. “We knew we had a great record, but there was just something kind of missing with it still, and getting Peter to mix it really brought it home for us.

“I think it was a really important time to have some new blood in the process.”

And Katis managed to help them walk that ever-fine indie line between professional and too polished, keeping the essence of Japandroids, while still taking them to that next level — something that Prowse admits was part of the plan when it came to their third album, but also something that was a difficult thing to figure out.

“You want it to feel direct and have this emotional resonance, but we always were interested in having more textures and having it sound bigger and more dynamic,” he says.

“It’s really interesting to figure out exactly what you’re comfortable with and at what point do you feel like it’s ruining something by enhancing those sonics. It’s really tricky finding that middle ground.”

Of course, not everyone is onboard, with Japandroids now at that point in their career where people are looking for something, anything to criticize. Perhaps it’s telling that most of the negative feedback has been exactly about that — the fact that the record isn’t quite as alt or indie as those two early albums.

Yeah, it still delivers the same Japandroids goods, but, well, it’s almost as if they want more people to hear them, to listen to it. Weird, hey?

“Haters are gonna hate,” Prowse says resignedly.

“I think we were aware that there was potential for there to be some backlash, but I think, to be honest, to factor how much critical acclaim had been heaped on Celebration Rock — we were very fortunate to get that kind of universal acclaim and really glowing praise for it — you’re kind of fucked after that, you know what I mean? As far as the next record you make … if we’d made something that sounded more like Celebration Rock then people would have been like, ‘Well this is more of the same,’ or they would have said, ‘This is trying to be like Celebration Rock, but it’s not.’ ”

He points to the long layoff as also a factor in ramping up expectations.

“No matter what someone was going to have an opinion about it that we were probably not going to be happy with,” he says. “But that’s part of doing this thing, right?”

Live and learn.

Japandroids perform Friday, Oct. 13 at MacEwan Ballroom.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at