Tokyo-based Envy issued their fifth full-length album, “Recitation,” in September. To celebrate its release, the quintet embarked on their first North American tour in four years. On this, their longest international trek, the postrock and hardcore hybrid act played 25 shows in the span of a month.
“It went by really quick,” says vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa. “We met some really great people and got to see some old friends. We went to watch ‘Jackass 3-D’ with some other bands on one of our days off, too.”
A quiet evening sipping soda in a cinema may not exactly fit most people’s image of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but Envy have earned the right to relax a little while out on the road. Their first visit to the United States in 2005 was completely self-organized and done on a very tight budget. They likely cursed their situation at the time, but definitely chalked up some experience.
“It was in the middle of the winter and f-cking freezing,” says guitarist Masahiro Tobita in colorful English. “We couldn’t afford hotel rooms so we had to resort to sleeping on the floors in fans’ houses.
“We slept in a garage that was minus 20 degrees one time. It was so cold. We tried to drink ourselves to sleep, but when we opened our beers they were frozen. A lot of things happened to us on that tour, but the biggest problem for us was dealing with the cold.”
Returning again the next year, things improved only slightly.
“Our second time was in 2006,” says Tobita. “We played a few places in the middle of America where only 10 kids came.
“We also performed at a biker bar in Las Vegas that had no PA. We sold our merchandise on the bar’s pool table and gambled our earnings. We were doing pretty good, but ended up losing all our money playing roulette.”
In August, Envy posted a message on their MySpace page encouraging North American showgoers to submit song requests for the concerts. Their first time to do this, the group were pleased to see so many suggestions pour in. They will not be soliciting requests during their Japan dates for “Recitation.”
“We couldn’t do all of them, but did do some,” says Fukagawa. “It was good to know what fans wanted to hear while we wrote out the set list every night. We have a lot of tracks so it was more for us to know what songs everyone was the most excited about.”
The followup to 2006’s heralded “Insomniac Doze,” Envy started crafting “Recitation” in the summer of 2009. They recorded the disc’s dozen powerful cuts at Tokyo’s Bazooka Studio, the same place where they have made all their albums.
With “Recitation,” the group continue to turn out dramatic, dynamic structures that rise and fall with Fukagawa’s ground- shaking guttural growls and spoken- word-style vocals. Alternating between cinematic postrock and louder, more aggressive sounds, fantastic compositions such as “Rain Clouds Running in a Holy Night” and “A Breath Clad in Happiness” incorporate poppy, almost new-wave style guitar melodies that create a more accessible listening experience.
“Doing the arrangements for all the tracks was really fun,” says Fukagawa. “It’s always interesting to feel each track forming into shape.
“Like ‘Insomniac Doze’ we were very passionate about ‘Recitation’ and put everything we had into the record. We’re really happy with what it turned into. It’s something we made together and because of that I love everything on the album.”
Envy have no concrete plans for a tour in 2011 yet, but they’re slotted to play I’ll Be Your Mirror, a Tokyo event curated by the organizers of Britain’s popular All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival, on Feb. 27. The lineup for that show was announced last week; it is set to be headlined by Canadian group Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
“ATP’s founder, Barry Hogan, asked us if we could play,” says Fukagawa. “There’s been rumors about them doing the fest here before, but this will be the first time it happens. We’re excited to see what it’ll be like.
“The whole lineup looks great. We’re really looking forward to seeing Godspeed. We saw them the first time they toured Japan.”
Formed in 1992 by five bored school friends seeking something to do, Envy have grown into one of the country’s more highly regarded underground acts. Fukagawa is proud of everything that has happened over their nearly two-decade existence — shivering on strangers’ dirty floors and all.
“I never thought that it would last this long,” he admits. “Although we’ve obviously become better musicians, our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes toward our music haven’t changed since we started.
“There’s nothing I would want to do differently. Everything that we’ve experienced and all the people we’ve encountered has made Envy who we are.”
Envy play Crazy Mama 2nd Room in Okayama on Nov. 19; Graf in Fukuoka on Nov. 20; Club Quattro in Osaka on Nov. 22; Club Upset in Nagoya on Nov. 23; Alecx in Nagano on Nov. 24; Vanvan V4 in Kanazawa on Nov. 26; Live Hall Golden Pigs Red Stage in Niigata on Nov. 27; Park Square in Sendai on Nov. 28; Liquidrooom in Tokyo on Dec. 3; Club Fleez in Gunma on Dec. 10; Club Sonic in Fukushima on Dec. 11; Koiwa Bush Bash in Tokyo on Dec. 12; U-Stone in Shiga on Dec. 17; Grind House in Tokushima on Dec. 18; Matsuyama Salon Kitty in Ehime on Dec. 19. All shows are ¥2,500 in advance. For more information, visit www.sonzairecords.com/envy.html.