Abingdon Boys School of rock is now in session

by Robert Michael Poole

“Songs these days have become a lot shorter because people don’t seem to have time to listen to whole songs anymore,” laments Takanori Nishikawa, vocalist of Abingdon Boys School. “They just (listen to) their favorite part and then skip to another song.”

Nishikawa is hoping the public can get over their collective attention-deficit disorder and give Abingdon Boys School’s newest album, “Abingdon Road,” a proper start-to-finish listen.

The band’s music consists of glossy rock-guitar solos, harmonized choruses and pummeling drums, best represented by 2009 single “JAP.” The resulting mix summons images of 1980s hair-band era Van Halen and edgier ’90s rock outfits such as Jane’s Addiction.

“We want to return the elements of a proper intro, vocal line, then maybe a guitar solo and an instrumental section to the song and (bring back) that fun element.”

Four-piece rock quartet Abingdon Boys School are on the verge of releasing their second album, “Abingdon Road,” and in honor of their classic-rock approach toward making music, they prepared themselves with an old-fashioned bus tour across Europe.

“Live shows are the biggest inspiration,” says Nishikawa. “When you put the show set-list together, you start to think that between this song and that song it would be cool to have a particular kind of idea or song that the fans would probably love. As we got to play and see the fans’ faces, the ideas kept coming up.”

The Abingdon Boys School story began in 2005 when Nishikawa — better known by his alter-ego TM Revolution, a vastly different musical outing known for glitzy J-Pop — decided to return to his roots as part of a band with guitarist Sunao, one of TM Revolution’s backup musicians.

“We both hoped that one day we could return to that,” says Nishikawa.

The pair were then introduced to guitarist Hiroshi Shibasaki and continued to talk about forming a band when, four years ago, they received an offer to be on a tribute album for anime film and manga series “Nana.”

“This was a chance to use a demo I had liked from our first meetings, and that demo was given to our programmer and producer, who turned out to be (Toshiyuki) Kishi.”

Keyboardist Kishi became the fourth band member and completed the lineup.

The band began playing in a studio in Tokyo’s Ebisu district. They thought the pronunciation of Ebisu sounded like the band’s acronym, ABS, and made the link to the Abingdon School, a public school in southern England where the members of Radiohead first met.

“When I realized, I thought, ‘Wow, it’s great.’ It was a coincidence but I love Radiohead,” says Nishikawa. “I knew that their members were all in the same year in their school, and essentially the four of us (in Abingdon Boys School) are also in the same year, and the first time we all really fell in love with music was when we were in school, so we thought it would be cool if we could go back to that feeling again.”

Their self-titled debut album came out in October 2007, peaking at No. 2 on the Japanese charts and by the time the quartet headed to Europe for their first overseas tour, they had clocked up seven straight Top 10 hits, including the singles “Innocent Sorrow” and “Blade Chord.”

They also nabbed a deal with German label Gan Shin in Europe to distribute their first album.

“We just had a simple idea to do what we wanted to do as a band,” explains Nishikawa. “The fact that we seemed to generate interest in foreign countries was wonderful, but certainly not planned.”

Taking in Helsinki, Stockholm, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Paris and London, the surprise addition to the tour was Moscow, which ended up as the opening show.

“We were especially nervous about Russia before we played,” admits Kishi. “But as it turned out it was probably the most excited audience we played to.

“The Russian promoter had done some research and put together a ranking of foreign artists Russian fans wanted to have come to Japan, and Abingdon Boys School was No. 1, so we couldn’t say no to that offer.”

“Some countries began the show in absolutely top gear, and others were slower to start and built up toward the end” says Kishi. “I remember Bonn in Germany. They were maybe a little shy at the start, but by the end of the show they were having a great time.”

The band were clearly surprised in Paris to find that even the locals would sing along. As well as Japanese tracks, the band is also comfortable enough to write songs entirely in English.

“We all have different ideas” says Nishikawa. “One of us will make a rough demo, and bring it to the others and see what they think. This time I wanted to make demos which would promote a lot of discussion within the band,” says Kishi.

The main lyric writer is also the band’s best English speaker, Nishikawa. “They are hard to do! After the tour, we found we wanted natural changes to some of the lyrics. I write the (English) base and then have the grammar checked just to make sure. Usually, I listen to the music and think of an image for it. For example “Siren,” just listening to it gives me an idea for the title and lyrics. But I was not really thinking about singing a lot in English particularly, it has just naturally progressed that way.”

One highlight of the tour came in London, where Abingdon Boys School were able to play Camden’s famous Underground venue, where pioneering Japanese rock group Sadistic Mika Band played in 1975.

“It was such a cool dream come true for us,” swoons Nishikawa. “Bands representative of counter-culture styles like punk have made Underworld famous, and for us to also play there in that capacity was brilliant. The vast majority of the audience were English people who lived there and they were the ones who were really excited to see us.”

In Helsinki, the band was able to meet one of their own idols, Andy McCoy of 1980s hair-metal band Hanoi Rocks, who showed up unannounced. “We were getting ready so it was totally by surprise and we were thrilled about that!” says Nishikawa. “The venue we played had Hanoi Rocks posters on the wall, and when I realized they had played there too, I thought that it was cool for me to be able to play the same venue” says Sunao.

“Abingdon Road” combines music half-created before the European tour, featuring five previously released singles and new tracks directly inspired by their experience abroad and recorded upon their return to Japan.

“For tours in Japan, we all have our down time, and our own space, but for this tour we were together the entire time, and that was great” explains Kishi. “We were all together 24 hours a day, the band members and the staff. Our band is made up of musicians with their own careers; some of us are working with other bands as producers and musicians, but we all came together for this tour as a band, and it was great for me to have us all together and experience that group feeling again.”

“It gave us a lot of power, a lot of energy and inspiration” adds Nishikawa. “Just looking at the other band members across the stage was an amazing feeling. We are all individual musicians, and I had previously always thought our performance quality was the most important thing. But now I realize that irrespective of using different musical instruments, or our condition on the day, the fans having a great time is the most important thing. That change in thinking has been a very big change for us all.”

Abingdon Boys School’s second album, “Abingdon Road,” is out Jan. 27. They will play Chiba’s Makuhari Messe on March 19. For more information, call (03) 3498-9999 or visit www.aabbss.com