Indie Seers: Ogre You Asshole’s elegant introspection

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A sense of honeyed sadness suffuses Nagano indie rockers Ogre You Asshole’s new album Papercraft. “If you must put it into words,” frontman Manabu Deto says of the trilogy the disc completes, “the unifying theme of those three albums would be ‘someplace cozy and comfortable, yet miserable.’”

Deto is reluctant to comment further on any specific themes of the album’s songs but prodded on the matter, offers the following metaphor:  “Something that looks decent on the surface could be so shallow and flimsy when viewed from a different angle—like a stage prop in a play.” It’s a sentiment reflected in the cover of Papercraft, which depicts a Hollywood-style building façade: All surface and no depth.

Perhaps it’s the slower pace of country life or the distance from Tokyo’s commercial entertainment industry, but Ogre You Asshole’s sound impresses as more contemplative than that of many indie rock outfits in the capital.

All surface and no depth: The Papercraft cover depicts Hollywood-style building facade

Since forming a decade ago in Nagano, the band has stubbornly resisted the lures of the big city. The ability to step back and do something expansive and conceptual is important to its members. “Creative activities of artists change with the times,” Deto says, “even more so in the rapidly changing times we live in. In such a transitory world, in order for Ogre not to be affected by fast-changing trends and create a series of works with a strong unifying theme, we had an understanding between the band and our production team that it was necessary for us to take a few years making three albums so our listeners could gain an understanding of our work.”

Papercraft launches with “Someone’s Dream,” a noire outing that sounds like it could appear on a Wim Wenders or Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. The album then segues through the boogaloo beats of “Perfect Lovers in the Perfect City” to the laconic, slide guitar-driven title track.

Throughout, Deto’s singing and his bandmates, guitarist Kei Mabuchi, drummer Takashi Katsuura and bassist Takashi Shimizu’s playing are understated yet always unexpected. Listeners familiar with cult psych rock band Yura Yura Teikoku will detect a rich vein of quirky influences from leader Shintaro Sakamoto.

Deto cites Sakamoto’s “strong concepts,” and Papercraft was in fact produced by You Ishihara and engineered by Souichiro Nakamura, both of whom worked with Yura Yura Teikoku. The album’s analog recording approach and use of vintage instruments like the mellotron also impart a nostalgic acid rock atmosphere that gives it a certain kinship with Sakamoto’s work.

Ogre’s psych rock appeal has made the group a favorite touring partner of bands like Modest Mouse (whose bassist gave them their name from the film Revenge of the Nerds), Wolf Parade and Deerhunter. Live, the band stretches out on extended improvisational excursions that evoke Krautrock, another key influence.

But Ogre You Asshole aren’t trying to lead or follow any specific trend or pop music phenomenon. “For the past few years, I’ve been listening mainly to music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I don’t really know much about the current music scene,” Deto says.

“I thought bands such as Deerhunter, MGMT and Wolf Parade, with whom we performed in Japan, were all good. I recently heard Flying Lotus and Ariel Pink, and they were good too. But we don’t really know much about them and aren’t so interested in what’s happening in the Japanese band scene.”

Dec 27, 7pm. ¥3,600. Liquidroom, 3-16-6 Higashi, Shibuya-ku. Nearest station: Shibuya. http://meturl.com/ogrepapercraft


Ten Indispensable Albums
We asked Ogre You Asshole’s Manabu Deto to name ten albums he simply could not do without.

  1. Joe Meek, I Hear a New World
    Kei (Mabuchi/OYA’s guitarist) wrote a song that reminded me of this Joe Meek album, which we recorded for the Japanese Anime “Space Dandy.”
  2. Can, Tago Mago
    Back in our college days, a friend of mine used to play this album a lot. It brings back memories and so I guess this is my favorite of all Can albums.
  3. Modest Mouse, This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About
    This is the album that I listened to most in my college days when we started our band. It’s different from the kind of music we play now as OYA, but I still think it sounds great.
  4. Todd Rungren, Something Anything?
    I like all of Todd Rungren’s albums, but particularly like this one. I guess this album shows what I think of as “mellow.”
  5. Arthur Russell, World of Echo
    It’s so soothing that I could just keep listening to it.
  6. Stereo Lab & Nurse With Would, Simple Headphone Mind
    I’ve been listening to Stereo Lab for quite some time, but I’ve just recently heard this album they made with a noise/industrial rock band called Nurse With Wound for the first time. I thought that they were doing the kind of minimal musical phrases we sought to create (on our new album Papercraft) already in the ‘90s.
  7. Terry Riley, A Rainbow Curved Air
    The thing I like about Terry Riley is that his music sounds inorganic, but if you keep listening to it, it gradually leads you to a trippy state.
  8. Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside­-Out
    The thing I like about Yo La Tengo is that just by listening to their album, I can tell that they truly love music.
  9. Throbbing Gristle, 20 Jazz Funk Greats
    In between albums “100 years passed” and “Papercraft”, OYA released an album called “Confidential” which we rearranged songs from our early days. We came up with the ideal of adding industrial rock elements like that of D.A.F. and Throbbing Gristle and it turned out quite interesting.
  10. Lou Reed, Transformer
    The first solo album by Lou Reed that I ever listened to was New York (released in 1989). I thought that I prefer the Velvet Underground over his solo works, but then when I started listening to his earlier solo albums released during the ‘70s, I came to like his solo works more.

The Mornings: Post-hardcore trio explores new ideas

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The Mornings are a band of ideas. It’s no coincidence they’ve named their brand-new album Idea Pattern.

But when Metropolis first speaks with them, it’s last winter and the trio is busy rehearsing at a friend’s Asagaya studio for a gig celebrating the band’s tenth anniversary.

“At first, we didn’t know what we were doing—we just did what we wanted. We were naive college students,” says singer/guitarist Junya Kishino. “We’d always wanted to do something original, but we didn’t have the ability to pull it off. I think our skills have finally reached the level where we can do what we want to.”

Emerging out of the post-hardcore scene, the band’s early material was intended to be cathartic. “On our first album, work stresses were a big theme,” Kishino continues. “I come from punk and hardcore, so there’s some of that influence in the first album. But on the second album, the ideas are more imagistic. I always think, if people listen to music with their eyes closed, what would come to mind? Then I write based on what that might be.”

The Mornings’ third album, Idea Pattern, builds on this impulse. The Tokyo band, which also includes keyboardist/vocalist Shimpei Watanabe and drummer “Kemono” (“beast”) Keika, was looking to create music that demands more of the listener.

“Compared to the last album, this one is not only catchier,” they say. “It’s also difficult to say exactly what kind of music it is.”

Listeners may recognize a bit of the thrashy blend of guitar rock and electronica that characterizes bands such as Japan’s Boom Boom Satellites. But The Mornings’ music has a headier quality—something akin to their heroes Radiohead—that makes it equally as suited to headphones as to the mosh pit.

“VSCOM,” for example, begins with Kraftwerk-era synth bloops before launching into Keika’s formidable drumming. Dub-ified vocals from Watanabe are chopped into fragments before Keika drops in with a singsongy, almost J-pop refrain. And then, without warning, it ends.

Idea Pattern by The Mornings

“From the first 11/8 meter sampler phrase, I aimed for something that sounds a bit like an electronic, kaleidoscopic version of the Matrixsoundtrack,” says main songwriter Watanabe. “The rhythm has abrupt changes and tricky drum and bass, but it’s not intended to sound tricky or make you feel uncomfortable. We put a lot of time into arranging this song. Especially in the last violent climax of the song, the previous parts all come together in an unexpected way.”

The Mornings turned to noted Japanese dubstep producer Goth-Trad to helm the production of Idea Pattern. “We had cosmic images in mind,” they say. “In order to bring out that atmosphere, we felt the only way to do it was to work with a cutting-edge electronic music producer.”

The band says it was the right choice. “It wasn’t only that Goth-Trad understood our intention and gave form to it, but also that he understood the potential of songs that even we ourselves didn’t have a sense of. He’s very detailed and makes good decisions; we got a sense of why he’s respected as a producer worldwide.”

With the band members holding down serious day jobs as copywriters, corporate planners and IT headhunters, The Mornings are a determined lot to stay together for ten years. What have they learned in a decade on Tokyo’s often soul-sucking “live house” scene?

“Most of the bands that started around the same time have broken up,” Watanabe says, laughing at the question. “I just turned 30, around the age when many give up. A lot of people make music for commercial success, and when that doesn’t happen they stop.

“For us now at 30—I have a kid and our drummer is also married—it will be harder for us to balance our lives, and there will be tradeoffs. If we’re going to sacrifice, then we want to make music that will go down in history in some way.

“You never know if you’re going to sell records, so you may as well do something special.”

Idea Pattern release party Nov 19, 7:30pm, ¥2,500. Shimokitazawa Shelter. Nearest station: Shimokitazawa.

http://themornings.biz

Call and Response Records: Cutting-edge J-indies label turns 10

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British expat Ian Martin began “stalking” Japanese rock bands a decade ago, and soon founded Call And Response Records with a mission to bring undiscovered music from the archipelago to a wider audience. Martin talks music with Metropolis.

How did you first come across Japanese rock?

Just from growing up in Britain in the ’90s with Shonen Knife, Cornelius remixing Blur, Melt Banana; that sort of thing. But the actual ground scene came through this band called The Students who I started stalking at their shows. Seeing their gigs at empty venues, I felt I had to put on my own gigs. After doing that for a year, it felt natural to start a label.

What do you hope to achieve through Call And Response Records, and why should people listen to the new albums by Futtachi and Jebiotto?

I just want to get the music I release out to the kinds of people who will like it. Looking at these releases’s contrasts helped clarify what links the music that appeals to me. I love music like Futtachi’s, that takes something avant-garde and draws you in; or Jebiotto’s, that takes something really pop and sabotages it. That tension between discord and harmony is the key. Making the audience work a bit [to like the music] is showing them respect, and they’ll appreciate the result more. Once musician and audience reach toward each other, there’s a “call and response.”

What have you learned in a decade of running Call And Response?

You can’t please anyone all the time and you can’t please everyone any of the time. Whatever you do, things will go wrong. Find glimmers of light and cherish them.

You’re writing a history of Japanese rock: What are the most important differences between Japanese and Western rock?

There are broad differences between Japanese and Anglo-American pop in the number and sequencing of chords, the vocal delivery. The biggest difference, however, is the structure of the industry. In Japan, management companies have all the power, with the artists as salaried employees. Together with the labels, TV companies and advertising agencies, they make a sort of cartel. This makes the industry less prone to change. The structure that promotes popular music and the kinds of challenges facing talented artists trying to break in are where the big differences lie.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Japanese music?

The idea that Japanese music is just a “copy” of Western music is rubbish. Japanese rock and pop have had a lively domestic tradition since the ’60s, and the influence of overseas acts has shrunk to near-irrelevance by now.

Who do you tip to be the next Japanese act to go big internationally?

I think we’re going to see a lot of idol-style acts trying to reach overseas audiences—although trying to transfer a very Japanese promotional model to overseas markets that operate differently seems problematic. Frankly, there’s really no one in even semi-mainstream Japanese pop and rock that I think deserves overseas success.

20000V, Sep 27. See concert listings (popular) for details. http://callandresponse.jimdo.com

1. Hikashu Super, Hikashu (1981)

This album gathers a lot of the best tracks from the first couple of years of what is probably my favorite Japanese band ever. Hikashu represents one of the most original, trailblazing groups of the new wave era.

2. Atsureki,
Friction (1980)

Arguably the best Japanese punk album (though Meshi Kuuna by Inu runs close), Atsureki is effortlessly cool and fizzes with spiky energy.

3. Futurama, Supercar (2000)

Supercar was one of the bands that defined early 2000s Japanese rock, and while lots of people prefer their shoegazey 1998 debut Three Out Change, this album soundtracked my early years in Japan.

4. A Long Vacation, Eiichi Ohtaki (1981)

Happy End and Haruomi Hosono are pretty much the godfathers of all modern Japanese rock. But it’s Ohtaki who I think made the greatest single contribution with this gorgeous, Beach Boys-influenced, multilayered pop masterpiece.

5. Sashitai,
Hyacca (2007)

In 2006, my life was a mess and I took a trip to Fukuoka to get away from it all. I got drunk with some musicians there and woke up the next day with this plain white demo CD in my pocket, containing the most perfect postpunk/pop/noise ever. So I tracked down the band, offered to release it and never looked back.

Metropolis, Sep 4, 2014

The Lumineers: Wesley Schultz‘s sushi-flavored work ethic

1035-MU-The-LumineersIt’s been a year of superlatives for Denver folk-rock outfit The Lumineers since “Ho Hey” went to number one on the back of one of the decade’s most memorable choruses. Yet when Metropolis reaches frontman Wesley Schultz on tour in Florida, they’re coming off another high.

“We sold out two nights at Red Rocks with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, which was just incredible—it was distracting how beautiful it was,” he explains in measured cadences over the phone. “It was the first time we’ve had the chance to play with people of that caliber.”

Schultz says the quintet’s planning for their first symphonic collaboration went smoothly. “Tom Hagerman, who’s in this band Devotchka, did the score. We make pretty minimal music, so there was a lot of room to add more sound. Some of the songs we’d already envisioned with strings, so the choices pretty much made themselves.”

Along with outfits like Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers are spearheading a new chapter in the singer-songwriter tradition.

Founded by Schultz and childhood friend Jeremiah Fraites in New Jersey in the mid-2000s, the group weds heartfelt lyrics to carefully wrought acoustic guitar music, leavened by the cello, mandolin and bass of three newer members. “Jer and I, we’ve been writing songs for eight-plus years together,” Schultz says, eager to show the band is more than simply a 100-million YouTube view wonder. “That experience made me able to appreciate this—and the years of working on our craft in the shadows I hope helped us to make a complete record instead of just one great song.”

Still, the shock and delight clearly continue to reverberate. “Three years ago, my brother and I were home for Christmas,” Schultz remembers, “and he said, ‘Did you see that “Ho Hey” song has 3,000 hits?’ I thought he was joking, but it kept growing and growing. The number gets so big it’s difficult to wrap your head around it—you realize it as you travel to different cities and more people recognize you. So I’m blown away and thankful that song got our foot in the door with a lot of people.”

Rather than musical influences, Schultz credits people outside of music for helping him realize his musical vision and then stay focused enough not to get carried away by the hype over “Ho Hey.” “There have been a few figures in my life—one worked construction, one was a butcher and the other a sushi guy—and they all taught me so much more about music than most musicians ever did about how to conduct yourself,” he says.

The “sushi guy” was the owner of the restaurant Schultz and Fraites worked at in Denver after relocating from New Jersey. “It’s owned by three Japanese brothers, and they taught me what it means to be a hard worker,” Schultz says. “Making sushi at a high level taught me a lot about how to approach our band. It’s about that unrelenting commitment—being really intentional about things and punching a clock helped me far more than knowing the right records or something.”

Which of course makes it a given that the singer, who spent three months in China but has never been to Japan, is excited about The Lumineers’ first visit here. In the meantime, there’s a European tour, and a track on the new Hunger Games movie. “It’s called ‘Gale Song,’” Schultz informs, “but we’re not allowed to play it until the movie comes out.”

Like all Lumineers’ efforts, the song’s simplicity shrouds the elaborate process that brought it into being. “Typically our songs are worked over a lot—we’ll record 20, 30 versions, playing with the tempo and instrumentation and adding verses and taking them out,” Schultz says. “We burn an idea down and then build it back up again ’til we’re satisfied.”

Metropolis, Jan 23, 2014

The Telephones: It may be 2014, but the Saitama group is laughing, crying, singing…and dancing like it’s 1999

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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.

Metropolis, Jan 22, 2014

Takuya Kuroda: Winter Jazz Fest, Jan 11

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Photo by Jati Lindsay.

It’s eight on a warmish—for January—Friday night in New York City, and the line is dozens deep for a set by Japanese trumpeter Takuya Kuroda at this year’s tenth Winter Jazz Fest.

In a short decade, the event has become a fixture of New York’s music calendar, and tonight it’s something of a coming out party for Kuroda. The Kobe-born trumpeter is not only playing the sprawling festival on a Friday night at downtown club Groove, he’s also just  launched his debut album for legendary label Blue Note.

The aptly named Rising Son ripples with the 33-year-old Kuroda’s fluid style, and classic approach to chopsmanship. Best known until now as the trumpeter with nu soul vocalist Jose James, Kuroda is influenced in equal parts by the understated cool sounds of Miles Davis, and the more athletic, upbeat tones of Clifford Brown.

Rising Son bubbles with beats from the laidback fusion of Roy Davis’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” to Afrofunk, and at Groove the band is all rhythm. While the group could showboat if it wanted to, the players remain focused on, well, the groove.

With Kuroda now on Blue Note, it’s only a matter of time before the New York-based player makes his mark on his native Japan. In the meantime, he’s boning up playing at events such as Winter Jazz Fest alongside the likes of Elliot Sharp, Vernon Reid, the Jazz Passengers, Marc Ribot and Roy Hargrove.

Metropolis, Jan 15, 2014

Los Lonely Boys: Garza bros deliver a “Texican rock” Revelation

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Somehow, the image of three Chicano brothers singing rootsy rock songs steeped in Christian ideas of family and faith, didn’t seem quite the natural fit for Club Quattro in trendy, materialistic Shibuya.

Yet there Henry, JoJo and Ringo Garza were, searing themselves into the audience’s consciousness in their first visit to Japan in 2012. “We always want to make sure our music is about being in the light,” JoJo says from the Los Lonely Boys’ San Angelo, Texas hometown, “by which I mean god being the ultimate source. It doesn’t mean if you don’t believe we don’t care for you; all it means is that’s how we live our lives.”

Not so long after a follow-up Fuji Rock appearance, their faith was severely tested. Singer and guitarist Henry broke his back at the beginning of 2013, falling off the stage during a concert in Los Angeles.

“It was a horrible, horrific accident, not only to the business, but most importantly to the family,” JoJo says. “It put our lives back in perspective. We got together as a family and are a lot closer again. It’s sad that it takes something catastrophic but sometimes that’s what it takes.”

Henry’s recovery has been two steps forward and one step back, but the band was able to complete their brand-new album, Revelation. “When the accident happened we were already working on the record, and I can remember Ringo and I were going into the studio without Henry trying to work through the parts we could, but it just didn’t feel right,” JoJo says. “We even played a gig without Henry, but decided that wasn’t going to happen again. It’s been one of the tougher years in our lives and I’m thankful we’ve had the opportunity to learn, because it could have been swept out completely from under our feet.”

Revelation sparkles with Los Lonely Boys’ “Texican rock ‘n’ roll,” their sublime blend of Latin rock, blues and Americana. It’s a style the brothers have been honing for a decade since they emerged out of Nashville, where they’d moved to break into music.

Willie Nelson, virtual personification of Americana, helped propel the brothers along by guiding their debut album, which saw the track “Heaven” go to number one. “Willie gave us a big push in the early stages of our career, and he’s treated us as his own family, and loved and respected us,” JoJo says. “He was also one of our dad’s biggest inspirations, as well as Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.”

Los Lonely Boys’ new single, “Blame It On Love,” encapsulates the band’s musical trajectory. Launching with simple acoustic guitar and mariachi accordions, the track segues into a rollicking country rock jaunt, climaxing with a sizzling Fender guitar solo, all topped off with the brothers’ crystalline harmonies.

“Dad taught us about Mexican-American cats that weren’t doing the traditional music, people like Santana, and earlier cats,” recalls JoJo. “He and his brothers were actually playing traditional music, but they would also step away from that to do country or rock. It’s something we’re really proud of, to know our own traditional music, but also be able to branch out into Americana.”

Music is the family business and the Garza brothers are handing it down to their own kids. “You can’t help what gets played on the radio and TV, and when the kids are out with the other youngsters, they want to blend in,” JoJo grants. “So my kids are aware of computer-based music and the computer controlling everyone’s voices, and that’s cool in its own right. But our music comes from raw wood with a few strings attached, and we feel it’s something that has to be passed on, and not only to our children, but to everyone’s kids.”

The Japan-edition of Revelation, as is customary, features a few bonus tracks in the form of a cover of Santana’s legendary “Oye Como Va” and a live recording of “Heaven” from that night at Club Quattro.

“I don’t know why they expect more tracks—it’s kind of weird to me—but ‘Oye Como Va’ we recorded a while back and they liked it and we were like, ‘Yeah, if you want to use it go ahead,’” JoJo explains. “Because at that time it was impossible for us to get back in the studio. But then when they used ‘Heaven,’ which was recorded in Shibuya, we were super happy about that.”

“We love Japan and we can’t wait to get over there again,” JoJo finishes. “I didn’t want to come back to America. The humbleness of the people, the courtesy… I just felt like that was where I belonged.”

Metropolis, Jan 8, 2014

Padmasana II: Asia expats head back to the chillout room

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Almost a full generation since the first Western tripsters blissed out to sunrises on the Eastern beaches of Goa and Koh Phangan—and 13 years since their last album—Padmasana take up where they left off, providing the sonic downward glidepath for nights of electronic music and mind expansion. The duo of veteran Asia hands and occasional co-producers Gio Makyo and David Hikari (both at times Tokyo residents), with spiritual advisor S. Widi, expertly guide listeners on mood journeys via tracks such as “Transition” and “Vibration.” The musical references are as much to Indian ragas and Jamaican dub as they are a knowing wink to the 90s ambient house of The Orb or Subsurfing. The intriguing aspect of Padmasana 2.0 is that the music sounds good even without the presumed benefits of ecstasy or LSD. Is this because it brings the listener back to a certain time and place? Or because well-produced chillout music was always mind-expanding enough for it to stand alone?

Metropolis, Jan 7, 2014

Sebadoh: The indie rock warhorse’s new Defend Yourself

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With long-serving US indie-rock outfit Sebadoh, what you see—and hear—is what you get.

“I always write from a very direct place,” offers frontman Lou Barlow from his home in Los Angeles, “which is good, but bad in some ways, because classic songwriting is about putting yourself in characters. With Sebadoh I write in a way that literally documents what’s going on in my life.”

Early Sebadoh songs famously took up Barlow’s expulsion by leader J. Mascis from Massachusetts band Dinosaur Jr. On their new album, Defend Yourself, the confessional atmosphere is even more personal and painful. “In the last year I left my wife,” Barlow says simply. “We’d been married for 17 years and together for 25 years. I left her during the recording of the record. So that informed a few of the songs.”

Where Barlow played the foil to Mascis in Dinosaur Jr., with Sebadoh, it’s all Barlow and co-leader Eric Gaffney. The pair formed the band in 1986, later filling out the lineup with drummer Jason Loewenstein.

Barlow and Gaffney’s songs have a less choked atmosphere than Mascis’s, but they remain quintessentially indie rock in flavor. Barely tuneful vocals are mumbled under grinding guitars—the ability to emote, rather than play a solo or pen a clever song, is the goal.

After releasing a few of lo-fi indie rock’s more influential albums (Weed Forestin’, Bakesale) in the late ’80s and ’90s, Sebadoh (a nonsense word coined by Barlow) went quiescent for a while. Barlow mended fences with Mascis for the 2005 Dinosaur Jr. reunion, and Gaffney had his solo project.

But Barlow and Gaffney went out on tour together again in 2007, even visiting Japan a few years later for a gig at O-West in Shibuya. The groundwork was set for their first recording in 14 years.

“We just finally found some time to do a new album,” Barlow explains. “We’ve had some really great tours, but it wasn’t realistic for the touring band to record for various reasons. Then Bob [current drummer Bob D’Amico] joined Sebadoh in 2010, and that went really well. So we made some definite plans. Jason and Bob flew out to LA and we got together in my practice space and recorded.”

The three tracked Defend Yourself without a producer, and the results are loose and lo-fi—yet surprisingly energetic for a bunch of middle-aged guys. “The last record we did in a studio and there was a lot of pressure and money involved,” Barlow relates. “What we learned was, if we were going to make another record and have a good time doing it, we wouldn’t get involved in any of that.”

At this stage in life, Barlow is unconcerned about staking out any new musical ground. “So much of what is considered modern music is actually regurgitated,” he believes. “I don’t think rock has progressed in any real way for a very long time—I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying the most natural thing is to just write some songs and play them, and not make a conscious effort to evolve in any way or make anything timely.”

The name for the album came after the realization that three songs had the word “defend” in them. “A lot of our songwriting has been about understanding other people, but at some point you have to consider your own emotional wellbeing,” Barlow affirms. “Rather than always understand someone else, I had to go, ‘Well this is how I feel.’ There’s a double meaning: literally ‘defend yourself,’ but also to send the message to someone else that I’m not taking care of you any longer. It’s harsh, but it’s my life and I only have one of them.”

Showing archetypal indie rock lack of self-esteem, Barlow is sanguine that few people will actually relate the lyrics to events in his own life. “I’ve always felt my life doesn’t really matter that much and that no one is listening when I expose something,” he says. “I feel really anonymous when I do it. Even in my personal life, when I write for people, rarely do they see themselves in the songs. I take the view that the more honest I am in writing about myself, people will take that and apply it in their own lives.”

This goes for Barlow’s own experience of music. “When I hear a classic, great, incredibly personal song, I am not thinking literally about the musician who wrote it—I’m applying it to myself,” he says. “And I write my own songs with the naïve hope that other people are doing the same thing.”

Metropolis, Nov 21, 2013

Benjamin Skepper: Aussie-Japanese musician’s postmodern soundscapes

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Avant-garde cellist, pianist, sound designer, fashion icon, and now cultural ambassador. Musician Ben Skepper is an artist of many hats (literally), among them being a bicultural Australian raised Melbourne by a Japanese mother and Aussie father who sometimes inhabits Tokyo. Metropolis heard from Skepper about his new album of field recordings, and his upcoming cultural mission to Russia.

Why did you decide to base your new album around field recordings?

In The Field is my fourth album, however, I present a different perspective on my work as a sound artist. This album is not instrumental, but rather an exploration of different sounds recorded around the world. Boiler rooms of a naval ships, Rom gypsy weddings, chanting in Roman Cathedrals, street life in Paris, environmental sounds from the forest in Australia, temple sounds in Kyoto, there are many different sound bites that I have captured. Back in recording studio, I separated all the files by country and then set about remixing field recordings into a multi-track recording. Italy, France, Turkey, Japan and Australia feature on this album, and each sound composition is designed as a “sound trip” into my sonic view of the landscapes of that country during my travels between 2006-2012. I hope that the sounds trigger visual images in the listener.

How do you incorporate the recordings with your cello and piano performances?

The field recordings form part of the live performance, interspersed between live instrumental compositions, and sometimes blurring into them. It is like a DJ mixing two tracks together, one is the live sound the other is the sounds of the field recordings.

What did you learn about yourself and your travels in making the album?

When we travel, we tend to capture a memory of a place or space on our iPhone. I see the world through sound, and while I love photography, to capture sounds from the places where I travel brings me back into that time space, triggers a memory. I rarely leave home without my sound recorder!

Tell us about a few of the more intriguing field recordings you made.

On the Turkish recording, when I was walking around Istanbul with my dear friend Aysu, we were suddenly invited into a Rom gypsy wedding party. People are very much scared of the Rom as they are often represented as thieves and criminals, however, we seized on this opportunity to join the fun, and I took a little recording of the live band and background chatter. It was a fantastic evening! The Italian field recording features many sounds taken on 11 March 2011, the day of the Tohoku disaster when I was supposed to fly back from Rome, but did not due to the disaster. That night I found myself on the Spanish Steps, in prayer, that friends, family and all in Japan would be safe. I captured a number of field recordings on this day as a memory of what happened even though I was outside Japan.

Tell us about your role as an Australian cultural emissary to Russia.

In July this year, I had my first tour of Russia. Alongside my work as an artist, I was also sent on a mission from the City of Melbourne to the City of St Petersburg with the intention of developing international intercultural exchange and to research the artistic landscape more generally. I met with some of the most prestigious Russian Public Arts Institutions, one of which was the State Conservatory of Music. I have now been invited back for a fellowship next year, which I am extremely excited about. I have always had a deep respect for the cultural history of Russia, and I now possess the chance to become part of its cultural fabric. Next year Melbourne and St Petersburg celebrate 25 years of sister city relations, and I have curatorial and collaborative performance plans in the pipeline. I intend to share my experiences as an artist with Russia, and to introduce Russian art and artists to the rest of the world. It is a big dream, which is coming into fruition.

Metropolis, Oct 15, 2013