The members of Tokyo Police Club are taking their first summer off in a very long time, giving Graham Wright time to finally release his own debut long-player, Shirts Vs. Skins. It’s a contest themed release stemming from a personal, painful break-up, yet Wright says even figuring out how to release the material is a battle of sorts — whether to go through a traditional label set-up or experience the instant gratitude afforded by the Internet. He’s chosen the former.
Wright’s first solo release of any kind was the Lakes of Alberta EP, still available for free even after a few years. Yet the minimal response has Wright re-thinking his strategy the first time around. The only problem is the endless wait that comes a label’s red tape. He’s hoping however that enough of you hear it to warrant a second time around, since Shirts Vs. Skins is the first of a planned trilogy. Here’s hoping Graham Wright wins this contest. He deserves to.
SSv: Going back to the Lakes of Alberta and continuing with this one, are you finding it essential to be able to release these projects for the artist within?
Graham Wright: It’s essential in the sense in that I couldn’t not do it regardless, whether I was working as a musician or a janitor. I’d still be making music. It’s a compulsion. It’s a habit. But it has these side effects of being helpful in terms of my other creative endeavors to have more perspective. The more you do it, the better you get, obviously. Particularly with music and being creative, there is more to learn than I expected there was. So it helps me to bring in these experiences into everything else I do.
SSv: How does it specifically affect Tokyo Police Club?
Whether I'm just being pretentious about it or not, I like the songs a lot. I think there's a lot of substance there, so they deserve to be respected like a real release and not just something flying around out there that nobody cares about.
Graham: I think it makes me a better collaborator. I think it makes me a better bandmate, just in a simple sense that I was always writing, but before I was recording, Toyko Police Club was my only outlet for my creativity. The result is that I get precious about my parts. I get territorial and argumentative. It’s easy to get caught up in doing your part as opposed to doing what’s best for the song, which is really what you’re supposed to be doing. So having my own thing has made it a lot easier for me to do what’s best for the song more than I used to be able to do.
SSv: Do you start to hold things back for your own material now?
Graham: Well, that’s not really an issue since I don’t write Tokyo Police Club songs. Well, I mean, we all participate in the writing process, but Dave [Alsop] is the one who primarily writes it. It’s not that I hide verses and choruses that I keep away for myself. That being said, I will contribute keyboard ideas and sometimes that will be the genesis of a song. And yeah, if I admit it, if I come up with a keyboard part that’s really rad, my inclination is to record it and use it and start working on it. It doesn’t even occur to me to think, ‘Oh, yeah, this is all for Graham.’ [Laughs]
It’s just hard to stop yourself from writing, I suppose. If something comes out, I want to keep working on it and it usually turns into a song. Then consequently, it doesn’t make its way to Tokyo Police Club. That’s been fine for the last year, because we haven’t been doing stuff creatively. But now that we’re back to the writing process, I’ll have to find a way to be fair with the way that I dole out stuff.
SSv: What have you learned about the place in the industry for your own solo stuff the first time around?
Graham: I don’t know that I really learned that much. I mean, it’s nice to know that you can put something out on the Internet right away. It’s nice to know that you don’t have to go through the red tape, bureaucratic nightmare of releasing a record — even on an independent record label, you have to jump through all these hoops to make it happen. That’s the nature of the business. I understand that, and don’t resent it. But sometimes it is exhausting, so it’s nice to circumvent all of that.
At the same time, it doesn’t work as well. I put the Lakes of Alberta online for a free download and in the two years since it’s been out, I think 800 people or something have downloaded it. That’s cool. That’s awesome. But if it had come out on a record label, 800 people buying a record is a miserable failure. I do want to reach people. I do want to see it out there, so that’s why when it came to put out Shirts Vs. Skins, I knew right away that I wanted a proper label with a proper release.
Graham: We worked with Brendan back in the early Tokyo Police Club days, so I’ve had a good relationship with him for a while. We’re friends. We hang out. He’s a fan of my stuff and he’s always said that he’d happily help out, since he knew I had some stuff tucked away. So here we are.
SSv: Musically, what was shifting for you from Lakes of Alberta to Shirts Vs. Skins?
Graham: This was the first time in my career making music where I consciously changed my style. I don’t really believe in doing that. Even as Tokyo Police Club has evolved over time, it’s come as a natural growth as people and musicians. Whereas with my stuff, my natural mode is still Lakes of Alberta type of stuff — even to this day when I sit with a guitar, that’s what naturally comes out. But with Shirts Vs. Skins, when I started writing the songs for that record, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to write fast, full-on rock songs. That’s something I’ve never done and I wasn’t even sure I was capable of doing it.
But it wasn’t a musical decision; it was a personal one. I was going through this shitty break-up and I thought, ‘I can’t surround myself with that miserable of a song, because that will double my losses. I’ve gotta write something fun and pull myself out of this.’ Songwriting is such a personal part of my life, no matter what is coming out, so I was using the songs to change my mindset and help me get into a better place. Some songs will do a lot better job of that than others.
SSv: Did the songs become cathartic then?
Graham: Yes, they started as distracting songs, but I think you can hear it in the lyrics that they quickly became cathartic. Even now if I go back and listen, there are lyrical parts that I didn’t realize then that I was totally addressing stuff. I don’t think other people will be fooled by it, but I was fooled in the moment.
SSv: Is there a moment you’re thinking of?
Graham: There’s a song called “Soviet Race” and it’s all about world war and rocket scientists. That was about as lightweight of a topic as I thought I could address. [Laughs] But it also ended up about being left out and scared, and I can see that popping up there.
SSv: How much material did you have sitting around for this project?
Graham: Too much. The songs on Shirts Vs. Skins are songs that I wrote in 2009. I have a playlist of 62 songs or something that I wrote in that year, so I have tons more stuff. I intend to record and release it as a trilogy of which this is just the first part. But going back to labels and properly releasing stuff, I have these songs and they’re done. Now is the time. I don’t want to deal with them anymore, because they’re two years old and I want to move on to other creative things. But I have to put this record out to see how it does, and then maybe after that, someone might give me money to go back and record again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Every day I think about maybe putting them on the Internet, but I want to record them in a proper studio. Also, I’ve had this notion, and maybe it’s old-fashioned, but it feels like it doesn’t count when you put it out on the Internet. There’s some part of me that has to put out a record and go through this process. It seems to easy to upload it to a website and tell people where to go. Whether I’m just being pretentious about it or not, I like the songs a lot. I think there’s a lot of substance there, so they deserve to be respected like a real release and not just something flying around out there that nobody cares about.
SSv: So degree of difficulty equals degree of legitimacy?
Graham: Yeah, which is totally bullshit when you put it that way.
SSv: [Laughs] I didn’t mean to correct but clarify.
Graham: Well, it’s true. There’s countless examples to prove me wrong, but I can’t help it. It’s just how I feel. I feel okay indulging that, and I’m only hurting myself. I think we’re conditioned to believe that hard work yields results and more hard work yields better results. I think that’s true a lot of the time. When I came up, you went to a store to buy a CD and that’s a big deal to me. I think I’m conditioned to think that’s how it’s supposed to work. When people who are 10 now start making music and releasing 10 years from now, they won’t have any qualms about releasing it out there. That’s all they’ve ever known.