Poking relentless fun at Japan’s crassly commercial late 20th century pop culture against a backdrop of disco-infused postpunk, The Telephones have in eight years cut an increasingly large profile across the Japanese popscape. Metropolis talked to vocalist Akira Ishige about the Saitama band’s latest, Laugh, Cry, Sing… And Dance!!!, ahead of their Go Live Vol. 1 gig at Ex Theater Roppongi.
The first time Metropolis saw the Telephones was some years back at Chelsea Hotel in Shibuya. How has your sound grown?
These days we’re going for a more pop sound. Which is not to say out and out pop, but pop with an alternative flavor. We used to be more postpunk influenced.
What is the band’s backstory anyway?
We met at a live house in Saitama. My first thought was, can this really become a rock band? The members seemed too nice. I couldn’t believe it was going to work, but the first time we got in the studio it felt right.
Tell us about your first song…
We didn’t start with a cover but wrote an original right away. Our first track had the disco punk sound typical of our early days. We actually still play the song—it’s called “Used Skin” off our Japan album. We still have the same members. We fight like any other band, but no one’s quit yet. We just hash it out until everyone has come to terms with whatever differences there are between us.
Last summer you played your first Fuji Rock Festival. How was it?
It was a dream come true. We were pretty nervous but psyched. Fuji Rock is a dream for any Japanese band. You feel like a star playing alongside all those international acts—it’s completely different than your typical Tokyo live house.
The fans have been waiting all year—they really get into it…
Yeah, and the location is fantastic. We played the White Stage, which is beautiful and also has really good sound.
What are some other events to aim for?
It goes without saying that Glastonbury would be awesome and Coachella, too. Then there’s always the Fuji Rock Green stage.
Have you been abroad yet?
We’re going to Europe next month: France, Belgium, Switzerland and England. We’ll be playing with Polysics.
Tell us about your new album…
We’ve gone in a melodic, pop-oriented direction.
Was it a conscious choice?
It was more of a natural tendency than a calculated decision.
The song “It’s Alright To Dance” hits the nail on the head in light of the current police campaign against dance clubs…
It was inspired by Eurobeat but done in a Telephones style. We love that kitschy, Eurobeat sound.
The song title “90s Drama Life” is attention-catching…
It’s inspired by ’80s and ’90s electronic music, which is a huge influence on us. I go clubbing in Tokyo a lot and also DJ. I got into electronic music via the Manchester sound, beginning with bands like the Happy Mondays and New Order and then house and techno.
What Tokyo clubs do you like?
Ageha, WWW, Liquidroom are a few of my favorites. But I usually spin at smaller clubs in and around Shimokitazawa. I like to move between the live rock and electronic scenes, which have really been coming together anyway for the last seven or eight years.
Yeah, it almost seems like you can’t have a rock band without a DJ or synth/effects player these days…
Actually there are still a lot of purely guitar-oriented bands. They may not be trendy at the moment, but there are many Japanese punk and metal bands that wouldn’t think of having anything electronic in the lineup.
Tell us about a song you’re working on now…
We’re recording a new song right now. It’s got a ’90s dance music vibe. I think you’ll find it interesting—it’s quite funny.
Is humor important for you?
Yeah, we always try to inject some humor into our songs. We’re pretty serious about music, and maybe as individuals, but when we get together something happens and we tend to lose it.
Does humor make it easier to stick together as a band?
We’re serious when we need to be serious, but we’re also serious about being funny, too… if you get what I mean.
Who’s the goofiest band member?
It’s hard to say. Everybody is funny in his or her own way. But maybe our synth player Nobu is the most obviously goofy. His stage persona reminds me a bit of The Happy Monday’s “Bez” [notorious dancer Mark “Bez” Berry].
What does music mean to you?
Music has always been part of my life. It’s a release for me, whether listening to it or playing it. I started playing music in elementary school, and MTV was also a big influence. I was into hard rock and heavy metal even as a small child.