Interview: JPNSGRLS

JPNSGRLS Photo by Casey Bennett
Photo by Casey Bennett

In a music scene torn between new wave and old school, JPNSGRLS (pronounced “Japanese Girls”) are a more than happy medium between the two worlds, combining jangling guitar riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Arctic Monkeys record with stomping dancefloor energy that you’ll be hard pressed to find even from rock veterans. With a tour of Singapore under their belts, a completed album just waiting to drop, a spot at the Keloha music festival lined up, and a tour of BC, Alberta, and the West Coast of the United States all planned out, JPNSGRLS are ready to break out of Vancouver’s cocoon and take the world by storm, one concert at a time.
Lotusland met up with lead singer Charlie Kerr and bassist Chris McClelland to chat about their future, the wonders of touring Asia, how to record an album in 8 days, and why you should never let Graham name your band.
Alright guys, so what’s going on with JPNSGRLS right now?

Chris: Well, we actually just found out that we’re gonna be playing a show with Marianas Trench at the Roxy.

No way.

Charlie: Yeah, it’s kinda hilarious.

That’s some serious heaven and hell merging right there.

Charlie: Josh actually went to high school with my big brother before Marianas Trench got big, so they actually requested us as an opening act, which of course we took. Marianas Trench are like, a household name. I’m so stoked.

You guys just got home from Singapore. How was that?

Chris: Amazing.

Charlie: One of the best experiences of my life. The fans over there are incredibly cool and loyal. We played 5 shows at 5 different bars in 4 days, and people who saw us play on the first night would also come to see us at the second, third, fourth, and fifth shows. It got to the point where as a kind of litmus test, I asked everyone at the last show “For who is this your first JPNSGRLS show?”, and like two people out of over two hundred raised their hands. It was good to know that we can make a splash overseas. It wasn’t just a cool destination, but something that we may want to do later down the line again.

Chris: Are you Vancouver-based?


Chris: Have you ever heard the expression “If you can get a hundred people out to a show in Vancouver, you can get a hundred people out anywhere?” Just because it’s notoriously difficult to pull people out of their comfort zones in Vancouver. Other than like, the Biltmore or like the Commodore, bars in Vancouver aren’t known for being music bars. Vancouver is just a big EDM city. So it’s incredible to go somewhere where people are just thirsty for rock and roll.

On the subject of Asia, what can you guys tell me about the band Mass of the Fermenting Dregs?

Charlie: Well, that’s how we got our name– watching one of their music videos. They’re incredibly tight musicians who make some awesome songs. I heard from someone actually in Singapore that they had broken up, which makes me really sad because they’re just an awesome band. They followed us on Twitter, which was a cool moment.

On the subject of your band’s name–and I’m really sorry, but I just have to ask– what do you guys have against vowels?


Charlie: Well, vowels are the difference between googling our band and getting call girls and pornhouse sites, and not.


Charlie: Yeah, think about that one.

Before you guys went to Singapore, you played at the Cultch’s IGNITE youth festival! How was that?

Charlie: That was awesome man! There was this band that played before us in like the 9th or 10th grade. They were called Switch to Black, and man, they just shredded. What I took away from that night is just how great that opening band was for being in the freaking 10th grade. I love playing all-ages shows.

Chris: The thing about all-ages shows is that the people who come are so uninhibited. They don’t care about looking cool, they’re not leaning against a wall with their arms crossed. There were seats available, but no one was using them. We were playing right on the floor, almost like a punk show. The kids were dancing right in front of us, we all started jumping from behind our monitors into the crowd…it was so easy to feed off of their energy, because they were so pumped. It got us pumped.

Your album, Circulation, is coming out soon. What are some differences we can expect between it and Shark Week?

Chris: Well you’ve got three years of personal growth right there. We haven’t played a song off of Shark Week for like six months. Every once and while we would play “Monarch”, but we have so much new material that even though we’re so proud of our first EP, we’ve grown up since then. Our arrangements are tighter, the songs are more developed…

Charlie: Someone described Circulation as being around a single idea. The thing with Shark Week was that it was really diverse, but at the same time I think it may have been a bit too messy. I think this new record really flows- it’s eclectic as well–

Chris: But this is a record you could put on a party and listen to the whole A and B side and it would make sense in one setting. Shark Week was recorded in bits and pieces in basements, living rooms– it took like, a year and a half to record. Because we were basically working on borrowed time, wherever we could set up for a weekend or an evening. With this record, it was recorded in one session of three days and one session of four days, with maybe two days of minor overdubs. All and all, in 8 days we recorded this entire album.

How does one do that in the space of a week? What was your schedule like?

Chris: We were originally only planning on doing a four song EP. When we showed up at the studio and started rigging up all our gear, the plan was to only do a four song EP. So then that day, we had been playing the material for so long– we consider ourselves to be extremely tight musically– we pounded out those four songs and got through the drum tracks in like, three hours. We only had the drums for that one day, so Steve said we might as well try and do one more song. So we thought “Ok, five song EP. Sweet!” So then we pounded that out in three or four takes, and we still had five hours left with the drums. So we did another track. Boom! We pounded that out too. As we were working on it, we were talking, and he said “You know, I’ve got some studio time open next month. Why don’t you guys come in, and we’ll record another four songs?” We had planned, at that point, to release two seperate EPs, but when we went in we cleared our four songs early– again — and then recorded two more. So now we were sitting on 12 songs that we were super stoked about, so we decided that instead of doing two EPs, it was time. Time to release our debut LP and take the band to the next level.

Charlie: Steve had a point– Steve is an incredible producer, and has even helped with the songwriting at times. Anyways, we were walking down Commercial Drive one day and we were talking, and he started talking about how LPs are taken a bit more seriously. People jump when they hear that there’s a full length album.

A fun question now: A lot of bands go through a few bad names before they find one they like. What is the worst name you’ve ever performed under?

Charlie: I played in a band that was just me and my brother. And you know, my name is Charlie Kerr and my brother is Matt Kerr, so we just performed under the name “Kerrs”. I thought that was pretty bottom of the barrel. And also gimmicky, right? My first band, when I was like in grade 5 was called the Sloppy Joes, that was pretty creative.

Chris: I played in a band called the Scarlets back in high school. And before we became JPNSGRLS we played one show under the moniker of “The Capsules”, which I’m pretty sure was already taken. And before we settled on JPNSGRLS, I was REALLY psyched for “Rock Paper Machete.” That was my vote.

Charlie: We were almost that.

Chris: If I had had my way.

Charlie: And Graham, to this day, his suggestion is “The Roof Daddies.” Which literally is the worst band name I have ever heard.

That’s actually awful.

Charlie: Right? It’s a terrible name!

Tell Graham he’s wrong.

Chris: I can do that for you.

So, what’s next?

Charlie: We are on the road for like, a long time.

Chris: We’re going to North by Northeast soon. We’re playing a festival in Kelowna called Keloha.

Charlie: Local Natives, Monster Truck, and a lot of bands that are blowing up right now are playing there too.

Chris: After that, we’re doing a bit of a BC/Alberta headlining tour of our own, so hopefully that’s well attended. We’re going back to some cities that we’ve already played before, some cities that we haven’t been to but that have been nice to us on the radio, and we’re also in the running right now to play at Osheaga.

Charlie: Jack White, the Arctic Monkeys, Outkast on the mainstage. If my iPod was playing a festival…but that’s definitely a tentative thing.

Chris: We’ve also got an American publicist, and they’re trying to get us to do a west coast U.S tour in August or September, so we’re thinking maybe 10 dates over a 14 day period. That would be wicked.

Charlie: We’ve got a music video for “Smalls” coming out soon, which I think is the most money we’ve ever spent on a video and I think the best video yet. It’s wild. It’s like if Tim Burton had directed Scott Pilgrim. And then the most important thing: July 15th, Circulation comes out. We’re very proud of this record.

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