Homecomings’ harmonies help them stand out in a twee herd

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

All a university really needs to get its students to come out to an event is the promise of free food.

However, Kyoto Seika University enlisted four students from the school’s folk-music club to entice a crowd to a welcome party in April 2012, which ended up being the debut gig for Homecomings.

“We didn’t plan on doing anything more than that, so we just practiced whenever we all didn’t have class,” says vocalist and guitarist Ayaka Tatamino. “We didn’t get much reaction from our friends or the people surrounding us … though a few foreign people sang along.”

These days, Homecomings are drawing reactions from more than just a “few foreign people.” The quartet released their debut album, “Homecoming With Me?,” through Kansai-based indie label Second Royal Records. Two weekends ago, they played the Shimokitazawa Indie Fan Club event in Tokyo, and followed it up with several in-store performances. Their peppy take on guitar-pop has helped them stand out from a very crowded field of twee-loving groups, and has made them one of the most interesting young bands in the country.

[Just after publication, it was announced that Homecomings will perform on the Rookie A Go-Go stage at this year's Fuji Rock Festival.]

The band’s members — Tatamino, drummer Narumi Ishida, bassist Honami Fukuda and guitarist Yuki Fukutomi — met after joining Kyoto Seika’s folk-music club (“Club members could play any music they wanted,” Tatamino says, clarifying what the folk-music club was all about). All of them had been in cover bands before shipping off to college, and that’s where their indie-pop roots started — Tatamino says these early outfits covered the likes of Vivian Girls and The Cardigans.

“The other three, along with another person, used to play in a shoegaze band, but they had to breakup,” Tatamino says. “We then decided to do something guitar-pop sounding, so we formed Homecomings.”

Following the freshman welcome party, the four of them expanded beyond campus, playing shows in Kyoto. Tatamino says Homecomings first nonschool show was as part of the Itsumademo Seikaiwa event.

“We were the first band to perform at Waller’s Club for the night, so there weren’t that many people.”

A person from Kyoto live house Nijyo Nano saw that show, though, and invited the band to play at his venue. There, they caught the attention of someone from Second Royal Records. Last year, they released a split EP with fuzzy Tokyo beach rockers Teen Runnings, and last month Second Royal released “Homecoming With Me?”

Over the past two years, dozens of new indie-pop bands have popped up, reaching wider audiences thanks to music sharing sites like SoundCloud. Online labels such as Ano(t)raks even put out compilation albums full of these bands’ tracks — Homecomings contributed the song “You Never Kiss” to that label’s very first release.

So why did these four get Second Royal’s love? Their songs aren’t radically different from other twee-leaning acts, all up-tempo guitar playing and emotionally vague lyrics. The group cites Christmas music as a major inspiration — “they sound sparkling,” Tatamino says, before saying the soundtrack to “Home Alone 2″ is the group’s favorite example of the stuff — but that only looks good on a press release, and doesn’t shine through on their debut.

What makes Homecomings stand out, it turns out, is the harmonizing the band does come the chorus. Tracks such as “Sunday” and “Home” sprint ahead until the hook, when the group’s three female members (Fukutomi is the only male in the band) break into harmonizing. It’s a superbly lovely sound, one that makes the seven songs on their debut all the stronger. Tatamino says this is a result of a shared love of The Beach Boys.

“I actually listened to them for the first time after starting college,” Tatamino says. “I loved their melody line and harmonizing.”

Fitting that she discovered them at university, for a band of students who started off playing glorified mixers.

“Homecoming With Me?” is in stores now. Homecomings play Nano in Kyoto on July 15 (3:30 p.m. start; ¥1,500 in advance; 075-254-1930); and Shindaita Fever in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, on Aug. 4 (6:30 p.m. start; ¥2,000 in advance; 03-6304-7899). The “Homecoming With Me?” release tour starts at K.D. Japon in Nagoya (6:30 p.m. doors open; ¥2,000 in advance; 052-251-0324). The band will also play Fuji Rock Festival’s Rookie A Go-Go stage on July 27. For more information, visit www.homecomings.jp