Math rockers Toe take it slow

by Shawn Despres

Toe have their own record label, Machupicchu Industrias. It’s not so much to flaunt a punklike DIY ethic, they’re basically just slow.

Based out of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, the instrumental math-rock (a genre characterized by angular rhythms and complex time signatures) quartet created the imprint in 2006 so they could control their own schedules.

“We like to release albums at our own pace,” says Toe’s guitarist Hirokazu Yamazaki. “That’s the best timing for us. Now we don’t have to be concerned with how long has passed between albums.”

Toe formed in 2000 and are comprised of ex-members from other Japanese acts — Yamazaki and bassist Satoshi Yamane were in screamo band Dove, drummer Takashi Kashikura played with melodic hardcore group Reach, and guitarist Takaaki Mino was a part of emo-ish power-pop combo Pop Catcher.

Toe draws influence from Chicago instrumental math-rock band Ghosts and Vodka, an offshoot of seminal emo act Cap’n Jazz. Yamazaki listened to Ghosts and Vodka’s 1999 “Memento Mori” prior to starting Toe and knew that he wanted to find musicians to make similar styled songs.

“I loved their emotional guitar music without vocals,” says Yamazaki. “Mino and I had started to make some tracks together. I wanted to start a new band with those songs after I left Dove. I asked Yamane to join us and Mino invited Kashikura because they were friends.”

In July of 2001, Toe started performing live. They issued an EP, “Songs, Ideas We Forgot” through Tokyo label Catune in 2002 and began getting offers to open for visiting international bands such as The Album Leaf, Pele and The Mercury Program. These supporting slots helped Toe establish an overseas following.

“The guys that we did shows with would tell their friends about us when they got back to their hometowns so their fans learned about us too,” says Yamazaki.

“Re:designed,” a disc of Toe numbers remixed by Japanese and foreign peers (including the abovementioned Pele and The Mercury Program) came out in 2003. Their top-notch first full-length, “The Book About My Idle Plot on a Vague Anxiety,” surfaced in 2005 — five years into their career.

Working at a slightly quicker speed, it took a mere 4 1/2 years to release their sophomore effort, last December’s “For Long Tomorrow.” The self-produced album was recorded and mastered by Mino between March and September of 2009.

“It’s good for us to produce and record ourselves because we can take our time and think about the songs,” says Yamazaki.

“One of the reasons why we took such a long time to record is that everyone has other jobs and we had to shuffle around our schedules.

“Mino is a recording engineer. Kashikura is a professional drummer and performs with pop singer Kaela Kimura, Kotoringo, and Takeshi Hosomi from Ellegarden’s new band, The Hiatus. Satoshi is a shoe designer, and I do shop and interior design.”

Well worth the wait, “For Long Tomorrow” is a compelling listen that retains the phenomenally played, complex arrangements of its predecessor, but sees Toe expanding their sound to incorporate a much stronger postrock feel. Densely packed with many different textures “Our Next Movement” flirts with experimental funk while “Say It Ain’t So” is pure soul.

“We are very excited that we were able to fully realize many of our ideas. We accomplished more than we imagined we would be able to make happen.

“We don’t feel that our music has necessarily ‘grown.’ This is just the kind of music we wanted to play right now. We wanted to make music that was honest and that had its own feeling.”

“For Long Tomorrow” has guest vocalists on three songs with Clammbon’s Ikuko Harada, Dry River String’s Yuzuru Hoshikawa, and pop and jazz artist Asako Toki all lending their talents.

The group and Toki debuted their pairing live during Toe’s White Stage appearance at Fuji Rock 2007.

“I just imagined some tracks needing singing parts,” says Yamazaki. “We love all three vocalists and they all have good quality voices and delivery.”

In true fashion, Toe’s “For Long Tomorrow Release Tour” will begin in February — two months after the CD hit shelves. For their upcoming dates, whenever possible the band will set up in the middle of the floor — instead of on a stage — to create a more personal experience for them and concert goers.

With their popularity rising, Toe are trying to strike a balance between their indie roots and commercial success.

“All new ‘real’ things always come from the underground so we want to stay true to that scene,” says Yamazaki. “But we don’t want to be disregarded by the mainstream. We don’t want to narrow the window or push anyone away. If there is a person who is interested in our music, we want them to be able get into it easily.”

While their Nagoya and Tokyo shows are sold out, Toe play Feb. 8 at Big Cat, Osaka; Feb. 10 at Drum Be-1, Fukuoka; Feb. 11 at Yokogawa Cinema, Hiroshima; March 2 at Sandinista, Yamagata; March 3 at Morioka Club Change Wave, Iwate; March 4 at Sendai Park Square, Miyagi; and March 6 at Kanazawa 8 Hall, Ishikawa. Tickets for all shows are ¥2,500 in advance and ¥3,000 at the door. Toe will also appear at Tokyo’s Kaikoo Popwave Festival (April 10-11). For details, visit www.toe.st.