Uhnellys CD Release Party: Avant-garde rap-rock duo presents Loopholic

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Avant-garde rap-rock duo Uhnellys welcomes special guest Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her for what looks to be one of the season’s best live music nights.

With guitarist, rapper and sampler-extraordinaire Kim at the mic and the lovely—and dead solid—Midi on the drums, Uhnellys is consistently one of Japan’s most energetic and imaginative rock outfits.

Aggressively philosophical, the band celebrates the release of its latest live outing, Loopholic, on December 22 in Daikanyama.

Dec 22, 7pm, ¥2,500 (adv)/ ¥3,000 (door). Daikanyama Unit. Nearest station:  Daikanyama. 

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

Rock in Opposition: European fest explores prog-rock’s potential in Japan

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The original Rock in Opposition (RIO) took place on March 12, 1978 in London, England. It brought together European prog-rock bands united by their common unmarketability to major record labels, including such acts as England’s Henry Cow, Italy’s Stormy Six and Belgium’s Univers Zero.

Over 35 years later, the fest finally sets foot in Japan, chaired by Akiko Nagai. Head of Disk Union’s progressive rock section for seven years, Nagai also helms the Tutinoko label, on which some of the RIO musicians have released albums. Nagai sat with Metropolis to discuss how it all came about.

How did Rock in Opposition come to Japan?

It grew out of the first tour by RIO headliners Univers Zero. The core group of people behind the festival were involved in producing the tour. Then our release of the documentary DVD About Rock in Opposition sold well, showing there is a demand for this sort of event in Japan. We then negotiated with French RIO festival directors Michel Besset and Chris Cutler for the rights to the name. As it turned out, the name “Rock in Opposition” was already in the public domain. We then linked up with Smash West and the Tokyo Arts Council to put it together.

What are your hopes for Tokyo’s first Rock in Opposition?

We want to share the history of Rock in Opposition with many people—not only prog-rock fans but all people with open ears. We also want to bring together the worldwide rock scene with the Tokyo scene, in hopes that something new will emerge, and that it will provide a platform for avant-garde music in Japan. RIO is expensive to put on, and the tickets aren’t cheap, but we hope that if it’s successful one day we can put on a free concert.

What is the audience like for progressive rock in Japan?

Japan’s prog-rock market is large. Bands can fill large halls here. But there are a lot of young bands that borrow prog-rock’s forms, rhythm changes and instrumentation, but aren’t really progressive rock in the true sense of the term. We don’t want to host a nostalgia-fest. The artists on our lineup are forward-thinking—“progressive” in the true sense of the word. The music may be difficult, but we hope our audience will rise to the challenge.

Nov 15-16, 3pm, ¥14,000. Tsutaya O-East. Nearest station: Shibuya. Tel: 03-5458-4681.

www.rockinopposition-japan.com/index_en.html

Fuji Rock Festival 2014: Still an unmatched feast of sounds

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Fuji Rock turned 18 this year, an age when newly minted adults are able to drink and drive in many countries.

Promoter Smash marked Fuji’s coming of age quietly. Japan’s marquee rock festival isn’t the rapidly growing sprout of its early years. Instead, like its model Glastonbury, Fuji Rock has reached a stage of maturity where few surprises are expected, but it can still be trusted to deliver an unmatched feast of sounds—and offer a snapshot into the state of international music in Japan.

For some perspective consider the following: when Fuji began in 1997, this year’s headliners, Canada’s ambitious Arcade Fire were still fresh-faced teenagers. Late-breaking New Zealand songstress Lorde was an eight-month-old infant.

With Japan’s youth population in a tailspin, Smash has had to cultivate the loyalty of its aging rock demographic. This it’s done in style by building its kids area into a memorable Tarzan-adventure treat (disclosure: I attended with son in tow for the first time).

The quoted attendance of 102,000 over three days was down a bit from peak years, but among the revelers was a growing contingent of families. Cultivating a multigenerational audience—long a goal of Smash boss Masa Hidaka—and attracting more folks from overseas (Chinese accents were heard frequently this year), look to be the key to maintaining Fuji’s run of success.

The larger problem of whether rock itself is facing senescence is something festivals everywhere are grappling with. Fuji’s stabs at broadening its audience into the hip-hop market have yielded acts from Run DMC to Eminem. Kanye West was supposed to headline the 2014 edition but for unexplained reasons canceled, leaving a reunited Outkast to wave the banner.

In the meantime Smash can only hope that emerging lights such as deep-lunged Lorde and indie rock fairy princess St. Vincent—this writer’s best act of 2014—will one day be big enough to fill the Naeba Ski Resort’s gigantic Green Stage with a new generation of rock fans. With stadium-level classic rock, punk and even grunge-era rock bands in increasingly short supply and international music’s market share in Japan stagnant, Fuji Rock may look different in the future.

In addition to fighting to maintain international rock’s appeal in Japan, we’d also like to see Smash do a better job of alerting Japanese to their own emerging rock music. Toward this end we think it’s possible to achieve a more creatively curated selection of young domestic acts for the Rookie A Go-Go stage. This stage has been the launchpad for acts like Sambomaster, but for the most part doesn’t seem to host many of the intriguing bands on Japan’s underground live house circuit.

What isn’t in doubt about Fuji Rock is the promise of a rewarding and diverse weekend of music, performance, freak shows, mountain breezes, and a uniquely freewheeling break from Japan’s grueling day-to-day. It’s the last factor that more than anything else guarantees the festival’s future for many years to come.

Metropolis, July 31, 2014

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

Carl Stone: Resident expat computer music seer

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Computer music pioneer Carl Stone’s career took a left turn when he joined the Department of Information Media at Chukyo University in Aichi. Stone had begun to explore sonic collages via cassettes and turntables in the 1970s, and in the ’80s innovated the use of laptops to create live electronic music. Invitations to Japan led to a faculty position, and Stone now splits his time between Japan and the US. The native Californian spoke to Metropolis about the computer’s evolving role in music and how Japan shapes his sound.

Computer music is now omnipresent. What have been the biggest changes since the ’70s?

Miniaturization and portability. When I was a student we had a synthesizer studio that probably cost about a half-million dollars. Now that studio’s power can be roughly represented in a ¥5,000 iPad app. I used to tour with about 50kg of gear. Now all I take is a laptop, audio interface and toothbrush.

Is the computer now just another musical instrument?

It depends on how one chooses to use it. It definitely can be an instrument, but it can also be a tool for composing, for recording and more.

Much computer music lacks traditional identifiers of music such as melody and rhythm. What differentiates “sound” from “music”?

In John Cage’s theory, nothing. Not only did he feel that any sound could be repurposed as music, but in fact the distinction between even unintended sound and music was artificial. I remember listening to a conversation between Cage and Morton Feldman, another great composer. Feldman was complaining about the time he was walking on the shore, lost in thought, and some people were blasting music from a radio. Cage, who often used unintended sounds including random radio transmissions, laughed and said that it wouldn’t have bothered him because, “I would think they were just playing one of my pieces.”

Tell us about two or three of your defining works, and what you were trying to achieve with them.

Probably my most notorious work is called “Shing Kee,” which takes a small sample of German art-song sung in English by a Japanese pop singer, and methodically stretches it until it becomes a new sonic world. A more current series of pieces I’ve done recently use an electronic process I call “skinning,” where the shape and rhythm of one piece of music is “wrapped” around the harmony of another. Some very interesting things can result. Probably the best example of this is in my piece “Al-Noor.”

How have your many years in Japan influenced your music and career?

In many ways. First of all, just being in Japan serves as a place of constant stimulation, not only because of the arts scene but because of the fascinating urban soundscape. I rarely go outside without a handy portable recorder. But also the music scene itself here is interesting, and I’ve found a lot of musicians I enjoy playing with. I’ve been lucky to improvise with great musicians like Yoshihide Otomo, Yasuaki Shimizu and Yuji Takahashi.

What are some of the challenges you face as a foreigner on the faculty of a Japanese university?

The usual issues of language and culture differences, which of course get mediated over time. I was a freelance composer for many years before I took this job, so I had very little experience in academia besides my early years as a student at an American art school. Academic bureaucracies are problematic enough, but the Japanese seem to have raised them to an art form.

Japan is a hub of computer music. Tell us about a few favorite Japanese computer music composers.

Electronic music has a lot of important history here, going back to pioneering work by Toru Takemitsu, Yuji Takahashi, Akira Ikufube. These days I’m enjoying music by Ryoji Ikeda, Satanic Pornocultshop and Chihei Hatakeyama.

Tell us about your upcoming performances and new groups.

I’ll play on June 6 with Brian O’Reilly from Singapore, who performs as Black Zenith. In the fall, I’ll play with new group Tapakasa, featuring the great Akira Sakata on sax, Yumiko Tanaka on shamisen and Pearl Alexander on bass. We performed earlier this year as an experiment and liked the results so much we are planning to keep it going.

Metropolis, Jun 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