To celebrate the release of Tokyo Police Club's fourth studio album Forcefield, we asked Graham Wright to write about an experience that contributed to the making of the record. He took a page out of critic Carl Wilson's book and wrote about learning to love the bands you've been told to hate. You'll see who he means.
I like Nickelback.
I know I’m basically handing in my cool music guy bona fides by saying that, but hear me out. Last year, I went to visit a new family baby. I had the usual miracle-of-life-induced mix of intense emotions, then I had to get in the car and leave. And while I was backing out of the driveway, the song "Photograph" came on the radio. You know the song. Don't pretend you don't.
Nickelback! The enemy, the formulaic, the opposite of everything I hold dear. I hated Nickelback. Obviously. Everyone who knows anything about music hates Nickelback! But at that moment, while I was trying to decide whether I should do the goodbye honk or if that would wake up the baby, the song made sense. It wasn’t academic, I didn’t just understand how someone might tolerate this heretofore intolerable song. I was consumed by it, transported. I turned it up loud. And ever since then, I’ve just liked Nickelback. Which has been actually been really great. So why do I feel like that lede requires a trigger warning?
If you’re a Serious Music Fan (and I’ve always thought I am), there are some assumptions you’re more or less required to go along with: Bob Dylan wrote great lyrics! Everything after the first two Weezer albums has been a precipitous descent into mediocrity! And, of course, Nickelback suck big. You don’t even have figure that shit out when you’re 13, it’s just The Truth. Blanket convictions like these are obviously super useful when you’re first finding your way into the vast world of music – you’re going to define your taste as much by what you don’t like as what you do. And besides, knowing what bands are consensus crap is only going to save you time.
But here’s the thing about having opinions: once you have them, they're really hard to reconsider. Sure, the music you love and the music you hate can start to feel foundational, like immutable pieces of your identity, but they’re not. The band you file under “sucks hard” when you’re 16 might be exactly what you want to listen to when you’re 26. All of a sudden, those convictions are just holding you back. And I’m here to tell you that they don’t have to!
So, here’s the plan. Chart Attack kindly gave me this platform (because Tokyo Police Club’s Forcefield is In Stores Now!!!), and I want to use it to challenge you: pick a band you hate and try to love them instead. And I mean a band you really hate, whoever your Nickelback is. Go get a song or an album and give it a chance.
I’m serious about this, so here are some ground rules: no ironic detachment, no looking down your nose at anything, and absolutely no use of the words “guilty pleasure.” The objective here isn’t merely to be able to say “oh, I get it” or “I can see why some people would like this.” You want to straight up love this music, with the same earnest zeal as the music you already love. You have to do your absolute best to listen with openness and enthusiasm. You have to want to like it. Yes, it’s weird and freaky and hard, and there’s zero guarantee that it will bring you any pleasure at all. But screw that, do it anyway. Spend the next week with whatever you choose, and let me know how you feel at the end of it.
Want to be on top of the Trends Of The Future? Look no further than the music that everyone thinks sucks today!
Reason #1: I’ll bet you five dollars that somewhere among the bands you’ve consigned to your “band sucks” pile is some music that will bring you joy, and it is my fervent belief that the pursuit of joy is the most/only noble pursuit available to us humans.
Reason #2: Want to be on top of the Trends Of The Future? Look no further than the music that everyone thinks sucks today! Ten years ago everybody was making fun of No Jacket Required. Now it seems like every hip new gunslinger is jockeying for Presidency of the Phil Collins Phan Club (PCPC for short). Who knows what the next ten years will bring!
Reason #3: This is good practice for life. There’s probably a movie you hated when you were thirteen that could change your life now. There’s probably a colour someone said made you look stupid six years ago that would make you look crazy hot with your new haircut. There’s probably some jerk you got in a fight with the night you met them that could be your best friend now. If you have a flexible brain, really cool stuff will happen to you! If you hate stuff? Well, you sure will hate some stuff.
Reason #4: Are you a musician? It’s practically your job to find merit in any and all different kinds of music, so as to give yourself the freedom to pursue your creativity as far as it takes you, unfettered by the fear of winding up in someone’s reject pile.
Here's something I learned making the new Tokyo Police Club record (did I mention that it's available In Stores Now? It is!): you’ll have more fun and make better music if you consider every creative option, and that’s very hard to do if you’re thinking of some music as Off Limits.
Let's say for example that you hate Katy Perry. You're working on a song, you come up with a bridge, then you realize it has kind of a "Teenage Dream" vibe to it. Chances are that bridge is going in the reject pile before you even really give it a chance. This happens to bands all the time, this idea of “no no we don't do that," and it's too bad. Making music is really hard already, why would you make it harder on yourself by imposing arbitrary boundaries? Whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you write any music off.
I speak from experience. The 2002 version of me who could never get down with Jimmy Eat World (this after an earlier version of me was all about them, which only made my distaste that much more savoury) would never have been able to try writing a big old chorus like on "Hot Tonight." The 2004 version of me who chuckled dismissively at Billy Talent would never have been able to seriously entertain the guitar riff on "Gonna Be Ready." Hell, the 2011 version of me who thought "We Are Young" was no good would definitely have scoffed at that half time chorus on "Toy Guns." Now? I want big old riffy half time choruses on all my songs!
Okay, let’s say I have you convinced. How exactly do you go about freeing your mind and giving yourself a chance to love the music that has, until now, been firmly on your shit list? It’s different for everyone, but there’s a few things you can try.
Do you have a friend that loves the band? Buy them three beers and then get them to talk about the band – enthusiasm is contagious (and if the band you hate is Coldplay, I’m your three beer fanatic, as my somehow-still-skeptical girlfriend can attest to).
Try to dig up some glowing reviews – the best music writers make their love of the music palpable in their writing, and they’ll clue you in to some specific things you might want to listen for.
Finally, never underestimate the value of repetition - put it on your Zune and just listen to it over and over again. Let it wash over you. (Carl Wilson recounts his attempt at this in his excellent book Let’s Talk About Love, which has conveniently just been expanded and rereleased. It’s a must read, and if he can give Celine a chance then you can do anything).
But I think the best way is the way that I finally managed to embrace Nickelback: you have to let your guard down. You have to find that moment when you’re so open to the world that you forget to filter things through your usual biases, when you just let the music come in unencumbered by experience or expectations (falling in love is a great shortcut to that place, so maybe give that a try). Dick Cavett wrote that music can bypass the brain and go straight to the heart. That’s true, and it’s one of the purest things you’ll ever feel, but you have to let yourself feel it.
And if you do, let me know how it goes. I really think you’re going to love it.