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54 NUDE HONEYS

A last taste of Honey

by Simon Bartz

It might be the right time for the 54 Nude Honeys, but it’s the wrong place and they’ve decided to do something about it. In September, they’re jumping on a plane and decamping to New York, where the American music-media have stepped into line with their British brethren and realized that the current garage-rock revival is the kind of shot in the arm that rock ‘n’ roll has desperately needed since the demise of Kurt Cobain. And, unlike in the pathetic, punklite-loving Japanese press, the U.S. music media are devoting column inches to inform the kids about it.

But the Honeys are not moving to a town where it’s all happening just to jump on the garage-rock bandwagon. They’ve already got two classic garage-rock albums tucked into their studded leather belts — 1999′s flawless “Drop the Gun” and 2001′s almost-as-ace “Snake & Queen.” The latest record, “54 Nude Honeys,” is released here Wednesday and it easily lives up to the stratospheric standards the band has set for itself.

But the Honeys — who got their name from a pack of nude-girlie playing cards popular among U.S. forces during World War II — don’t seem to be thinking of their emigration as a career move. “We recorded the new album in Manhattan in March at Kampo Studios — where our Japanese friend works as an engineer — and we fell in love with the city,” says bassist and band leader Vivi at an izakaya in Ebisu.

“We played our first gig in New York at CBGB’s while recording the album. I know that venue is no longer the cool place it was in the ’70s, but it was great for us to play at a legendary livehouse associated with bands we love like The Ramones. We also played at a lesbian club called Meo Mix, and it was a riot. The New Yorkers loved us.”

“We know it’s a risk, and we’ve got to get visas and all that shit but who gives a f**k,” adds guitarist Kotome. “If you don’t take risks in life, then you get nowhere, and the time has come when all three of us have nothing to keep us in Japan. New York was fun, and now we’ve got contacts and friends there so we don’t want to waste this opportunity. And maybe we can find a good drummer.”

The Honeys have been through about a dozen drummers in the last five years. They last a few months, then mysteriously vanish, meaning the Honeys can’t take live bookings until they find a replacement. Maybe some detectives with shovels should check the Honeys’ backyard. Who knows what they’d find?

“We’d like to have killed some, yeah. Especially the slow ones, or the ones that can’t keep time,” says singer Yuri. “But a lot of them are guys who probably feel intimidated playing with three moody girls, or they’re embarrassed they can’t match us drink for drink. If you find us the new Keith Moon, give us his number.”

While the new album is brimming with irresistible melodies, the songs pack a more aggressive punk-rock punch and are harder and dirtier than most other garage bands.

“We usually think about album titles before we record,” says Yuri. “But this time we were sitting round listening to the finished recording and I said, ‘Hey, we forgot to give this one a title.’ Then Kotome said, ‘This album is really what we’re all about,’ and Vivi added, ‘It’s all about how we feel right now so we’ll call it ’54 Nude Honeys.’ And it’s true. This album expresses all the intense desires and emotions that we feel right now. This album is us, totally.”

Yuri’s lyrics are darker and songs such as “Where is Love?,” “No Way,” “Go to Hell,” “Don’t Shut Me Up” and “Boring Man” all indicate that the love lives of the Honeys have recently hit brick walls here in Japan. Kotome parted with Billy, Guitar Wolf’s bassist, a while back, Yuri split up with her boyfriend last December, and Vivi — also newly single — flew off to New York a few weeks ago with her 5-year-old-son, and successfully found a school for the kid.

Rumor has it that two of the Honeys struck up close-ish relationships with guys working at the recording studio. And when you think that the Japanese music-media are so happily in bed with major record companies that they’re sleeping through the noise being kicked up by the great underground bands beneath their feet, then it makes perfect sense for the Honeys to wave bye-bye to their homeland.

Melt-Banana are another Japanese band who spend so much time touring the States that they might as well live there. And they’ve built a massive underground following there (just put the name in a search engine and see how many fan pages you get!) despite attracting as few as 20 people when they play in Tokyo. The Honeys have the potential of doing even better than Melt-Banana as their songs are far more accessible.

But for the group’s strong cult following in Japan, the departure of the Honeys is horribly depressing. Sometimes I selfishly hope it doesn’t work out for the Honeys in New York, so they have to return to Japan, but I know deep down I’d be far happier if these garage-rock goddesses took their rightful place in the New York pantheon of awesome rock ‘n’ roll bands.

I mean, there’s no place better. New York’s The Strokes kicked off the revival of back-to-basics rock two years back with stripped-down songs focused on the sheer quality of the tune, and New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs are the latest garage band to grab headlines worldwide with their flab-free songs spitting pure punk venom. The Honeys fit almost too perfectly between the two — fantastic tunes, in-your-face attitude, and seemingly just as important these days, the look. Close your eyes and imagine how the perfect rock ‘n’ roll band should look — then open your eyes and re-check the photo on this page. These hot chicks in black latex hotpants, leather boots and not much else make the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O look like a dowdy aunt.

Guys might drool over them, but though the 54 Nude Honeys are the sexiest band in Japan, they won’t be treated as sex objects. I’ve seen a guy in the moshpit try to get a little too close to singer Yuri at a show and his nose ended up splattered across his face — courtesy of a vicious kick from a mean stiletto-clad foot. And this is why girls love them, too. The Honeys don’t treat men as equals; they look down on them. In Tokyo, two of the Honeys work as dominatrixes, while the other is a bar hostess. They all work in the pink industry, which means they’re streetwise and don’t take any crap.

So I predict they’ll have no trouble looking after themselves in the louche livehouses of downtown Manhattan.