“When I’m walking beside her, people tell me I’m a lucky guy,” sang John Lennon on the 1964 Beatles track “Every Little Thing.” Sitting comfortably next to iconic lead singer Kaori Mochida of the band of the same name, guitarist Ichiro Ito has had 12 years to get used to such a feeling. However, he admits that though the elder one of the duo, he was the more intimidated when they first met back in 1996.
“She was wearing a pair of thick platform boots in the gyaru (“gal”) fashion of Shibuya and was much younger than I,” he tells The Japan Times, in the duo’s first ever interview for an English-language publication. “I didn’t know what to say to her!”
Since then the former trio — founder Mitsuru Igarashi left in 2000 — have gone on to achieve astounding success with their blend of keyboard-led pop and soft rock, shifting 3.5 million copies of their second album, 1998’s “Time to Destination,” and maintaining a chart presence ever since.
This summer ELT are back with a new single, “Atarashii Hibi” (“New Days”) — the theme tune to Fuji TV’s current drama “Shibatora,” about a rookie cop who uses his unusual powers to fight juvenile crime.
“The drama makes us feel hope or courage because it’s not only humorous but also sometimes really serious,” explains a relaxed and placid Mochida, now 30.
They also join A-Nation, the festival staged by independent megalabel Avex, in August. The event features all the label’s biggest names, from Ayumi Hamasaki and Kumi Koda to Namie Amuro.
Now among the elders of the Avex stable, Ito and Mochida were in reflective mood as we relaxed in a cafe in Tokyo’s upmarket Aoyama district. The story of the group’s evolution into the thinking-man’s J-Pop band of today is a fascinating one, not without it’s unexpected twists, and the pair have no qualms talking about their experiences.
When Ito, now 40, began playing in local bands around the Yokosuka U.S. naval base in the mid-’80s, he unsurprisingly leaned toward local needs.
“There were some rock-music clubs in Yokosuka where the sailors were hanging around,” he says. “They liked hard rock so much that we played music such as Van Halen and got paid. I had actually wanted to play the drums, but one of my friends chose them, so I was like, ‘What should I play instead?’ I really picked up the guitar by chance.”
At about the same time, the infant Mochida was debuting herself.
“I was a baby performing in an advertisement for diapers!” she laughs. “My mother was really interested in the entertainment business and she encouraged my sister to be a child model, but my sister preferred playing with her friends. Then I was born, and my mother thought, ‘OK, it’s your turn!’ “
In 1991, aged 13, Mochida got her first professional experience of singing, as a member of eight-girl idol unit Kuro Buta Allstars. Their lack of success means few ELT fans are aware of this today, and the label staff, present at the interview, are not keen for the topic to be dwelt on. Yet it made a sizable impression on the young Mochida, who reminisces with glee: “I wanted to be involved in music someday, but until then I thought it would be better to gain experience. It was really fun to sing, that’s for sure; but more than that, I really enjoyed communication with those girls, (in a situation that was) rather different from school. I have fond memories of it and sometimes meet and contact them.”
The result of that foray would be a demo featuring a solo single from her unsuccessful idol career (“Mouichido,” 1993) and a cover of a song by 1970s/’80s singer Mariya Takeuchi. This was sent to Avex and picked up by in-house producer Igarashi, who was looking to produce a duo with himself as keyboardist. Igarashi passed it to guitarist and friend Ito, who had been working as a studio receptionist. After being drafted in on guitar for sessions for a first ELT single, “Feel My Heart,” he found himself with a full-time job.
Despite Mochida’s eternally positive attitude — “I never imagined it wouldn’t go well,” she states — Ito was perplexed by their success.
“When somebody showed me our CD sales, I couldn’t understand it,” he says. “It’s so different from playing in a small club to a small audience that you can see. It took more than half a year for me to realize what kind of people were buying our CDs.”
Enormous media attention, especially on Mochida’s cute appearance and original fashion sense, meant a significant change of lifestyle.
“It made me feel really weird,” says Ito. “But I always lived with my family, so when I got back home, nothing changed.”
Igarashi left ELT in 2000, at the height of their success, to form a new band, Day After Tomorrow. It could well have spelled the end for the group; the duo admit they had been left well and truly carrying the baby.
“We were really surprised,” Ito claims. “We didn’t even have time to casually say ‘What’s with you?’ “
“Luckily, or unluckily, we were about to go on tour. We first had to decide whether or not to do that,” explains Mochida. “As long as there were people who were waiting for us, we decided to do whatever we could.”
The result was a whole new ELT sound that has developed to this day. In many ways, Igarashi’s exit from the group influenced a stylistic shift.
“We became a musical unit, which is different from a band,” says Ito. “We have freedom in arranging songs to play to our strengths. But at that time (of change, without Igarashi), we didn’t have enough confidence to have fun playing with a variety of sounds, so we played acoustic. After a year or two, we grew relaxed little by little, and became even more adventurous.”
On their eighth and latest album, “Door,” released in March, the duo delivered their most lyrical set to date; Mochida admits greater satisfaction than ever with the results of their efforts.
“I used to sing without thinking,” she says, “but now I always think about how I can convey my thoughts and feelings that are hard to explain when I communicate with people in my daily life. In a way, it gets harder than before; but when we overcome the difficulties, we reap much more joy.”
“Atarashii Hibi” is out Aug. 27. Every Little Thing play Aug. 23 at A-Nation Osaka, Minato Green Hiroba (1 p.m.; ¥7,800;  996-294); and Aug. 31, A-Nation Tokyo, Ajimomoto Stadium (12:30 p.m.; ¥7,800;  993-663).