Beautiful Losers to play at Amnesty rights benefit

by Angela Jeffs

Everyone who knows them agrees they are beautiful people. We also agree that Brett Boyd and Raj Ramayya deserve the recognition they are achieving. All this makes their name, as musicians, an interesting irony: The Beautiful Losers.

The title of TBL’s second album, released Nov. 23, promises “Peace, Love, & Xmas.” Yet despite a tight promotional schedule and any number of Kanto-based gigs through to the middle of December, they find time to do definitive good. They’ll be appearing with Peter Barakan in a show of “Songs on Human Rights” at Superdeluxe in Tokyo’s Nishi-Azabu on Dec. 3. On Dec. 11 they will play at Amnesty International’s “Rock for Human Rights” benefit at What the Dickens in Ebisu.

Brett, from California, picked up the guitar at age 14 and has never looked back. “My main instruments are electric and acoustic guitar. But basically I’ll play anything with strings.” (He collects vintage Vox guitars as if to prove the point.)

Raj found music — in terms of playing and composing, that is, for he has always had a voice — only after coming to Tokyo a decade ago. Of Indian ancestry from the wilds of Saskatchewan in Canada, he traveled to Japan to make a little money and got trapped. “Trapped in a nice way,” he adds hastily.

He and Brett met nine years ago in Shibuya. Brett’s band at that time, Mother Asia, was not really getting off the ground, and Raj had a new project that Brett thought sounded promising. At the time, Raj had a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll outfit called Shiva Blue. “We had lots of work in and around Kanto. But I wanted to start writing songs, get more serious.”

Working together for so many years, they know each other very well and never fight or even argue, or so they say. “No, no,” they stress. “We never do.”

Raj regards Brett (who arrived first) as reliable, responsible and reasonable. “But maybe he gives too much of himself away . . .”

Brett describes Raj’s strengths as energetic and charismatic. And the downside? “He’s energetic and charismatic.” (At which we all burst out laughing.)

They produced their first album, “The Beautiful Losers,” three years ago, after Raj got “really serious” about writing songs.

More recently they got a deal with a production company in San Francisco, Brett’s home turf and to where he thinks he will be returning soon. It’s great, he thinks, for he and Raj to be taking control of the situation. “DIY (doing it yourself) means you attract the people you want, who are genuinely helpful and believe in what you are doing.”

Raj agrees: “We created our mistakes. Now we’re creating our success.”

With more and more musicians taking control back from companies, he believes that within the decade, most labels will be Web sites. “Companies know things are changing but don’t want their dominating roles to change. But they’ll have to work towards a future where they and musicians work together in partnership or be pushed more and more out of the picture.”

When collaborating, Raj tends to come up with songs and lyrics, then Brett arranges and adds bits and pieces. As Brett says: “Raj creates the foundation. I develop the frame.”

The first track of “Peace, Love, & Xmas” is, however, a cover — a version of the George Michael song “Last Christmas.” But then we get into original tracks, such as “She’s Coming Home for Christmas,” which Raj describes as full of hope and longing to see a girlfriend or partner over the holiday season.

Tracks three to six are more political. “Be As One” is a call to keep faith with strength of purpose, peace and forgiveness; “World I Live In” offers up an antiracist message. “She” pays homage to Gaia (Mother Earth), combining both pain and apology in lines like “I’ve seen wonders / Man, I wonder what we’ve done / I’ve been watching / Her world come undone.”

The last five tracks (some original, some covers) again link to Christmas, or rather Xmas — because, as Raj explains, “neither of us are religious. Spiritual yes, religious no.” The last song, “Every Day is Xmas Eve,” concludes with the now-famous lines “But our pockets are so shallow / And our minds are oh so weak / When we do not have the spirit to lift the poor / And bring them to their feet.”

Offered the chance of studio time in August, the album came together in five days. “It was great, helped keep up the momentum,” Brett recalls, noting a vast improvement on their first album: “This is less slick, more organic, more acousticy.”

“Mind you,” Raj adds, “it was hell, sweating to death in high summer writing Xmas songs!”

Appearing this year for the first time at the Fuji Rock Festival has resulted in many doors swinging open. TBL will make their third album in the spring for release next summer to tie in with Kanto’s beach scene. They will be expressing their personalities more, they say, with a heavier upbeat feel to please the surf rock circuit. If there’s any message, it will be to “enjoy the ride, knowing you are not alone.”

They play benefits for organizations like Amnesty to put something back into balance. It’s about doing what they think is right, and helping to raise awareness. Raj: “We’re against all forms of violence, but especially towards women.” Brett: “And musicians!”

Raj has to go sing for his supper (an advertising gig) and then has a meeting. Brett has a box of CDs to deliver and stuff to send off to the States. There is also a music video to be made, to help promote “Peace, Love, & Xmas,” which sounds like a lot of fun. “Check us out on our Web site. You can see us, hear our music, keep with what we’re up to.”

And their name. Will they keep it?”

Sure,” says Raj, Brett nodding madly in agreement. Wearing their hearts very much on their sleeves, it seems the veteran duo would rather be Beautiful Losers than ugly winners any day. Quite right, too.