Osaka’s 8otto have a new album, a new label and a new mindset.
The garage-rock/postpunk quartet’s first three albums (2006′s “We Do Viberation,” 2007′s “Real” and 2008′s “Hyper, Hyp8r, Hyper”) came out through BMG Japan (and are now housed on Sony subsidiary Ariola Japan after Sony’s acquisition of BMG). Wanting more creative freedom, 8otto (the “8″ is silent) signed with the smaller imprint Lively Up for the release of their fourth full-length, March’s “Ashes to Ashes.”
“We thought that we didn’t really need to work with Sony anymore,” says bassist Youki Toraoka (who uses the stage name “Tora”). “It wasn’t an issue between the label and us. It’s a very good label and we still have friends there. The issue was whether playing music was still fun or not. We wanted to make things fun again. Now we’re enjoying playing music much more.”
Having more leeway to do as they please, 8otto are no longer limited to only making CDs and hope to find more creative ways to issue future tracks. U.S. psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips have received much press of late for releasing music on USB flash drives embedded in life-size gummy candy skulls. 8otto are considering doing something in a similar vein, but would like to put a local spin on it.
“We’ve talked about putting out new songs on a USB flash drive that’s shaped like a piece of sushi,” says Tora. “We’re also thinking about making a 7-inch set and designing special T-shirts that come with music download codes. We want to try and think of more exciting ideas.”
In addition to Taro, 8otto includes drummer and vocalist Masaki Maenosono along with guitarists Ryo Morishita and Seiei Yoshimura. Drumming frontmen are far from the norm, and Maenosono’s strong presence and energetic performance style captured the attention of BMG Japan shortly after 8otto formed in 2004.
Their major-label ties certainly had advantages. Heavily influenced by the early noughties American postpunk revival, they were flown to New York to record their debut with Toshikazu Yoshioka, an engineer on The Strokes’ 2003 sophomore effort, “Room on Fire.” While in New York, they played a gig as well.
“We had a show at a tiny club there,” says Tora. “The crowd was small, but they liked us a lot. They asked us about when our next concert was and for CDs, but we didn’t have another gig planned or an album to sell yet.”
From 2006 until late 2008, life passed in a blur. In addition to crafting three studio releases, the band played upwards of 130 concerts each year.
“After that, we thought we needed time to think about what we really wanted to do together as 8otto,” Tora says.
Their new deal with Lively Up gave them complete control over their song-writing and release schedule. Choosing to work at a slower pace, they broke from gigging for nearly 12 months to craft “Ashes to Ashes.” Recorded in Osaka with Yoshioka (who had moved back to his native Japan after spending a decade in New York), on “Ashes to Ashes” 8otto sound like a meatier and much less pretentious version of The Strokes.
“It feels like we took a step forward with this album,” says Taro. “We could do what we wanted and tried some different things. We’re eager to keep trying new things. I think this will ultimately help take us to the next level as a band.”
8otto are performing throughout Japan in May and June to promote “Ashes to Ashes.” They were scheduled to open for Beady Eye in May, but the British band postponed their Japanese dates after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Bailing on their own shows was something that never crossed 8otto’s mind.
“Groups canceling tours is sad news for Japanese fans, but I guess those bands have their own way of thinking,” says Taro.
“We have our own way thinking, too. Some of us think things like, ‘I want to get out and encourage people.’ Others think, ‘I don’t want to mention the earthquake and tsunami to people. I just want to give everyone a refreshing change.’ Both ways of thinking are important.”
8otto play Crazy Mama 2 in Okayama on May 19; Namiki Junction in Hiroshima on May 20); Look in Chiba on May 23; Alecx in Matsumoto on May 24; Graf in Fukuoka on May 28; Django in Kumamoto on May 29; Unit in Tokyo on June 4; Helluva Lounge in Kobe on June 11; Mojo in Kyoto on June 12; Hook in Sendai on June 17; Change in Morioka on June 18; Roxx in Hachinohe on June 19; Outline in Fukushima on June 20; Club Rock ‘n’ Roll in Nagoya on June 24; Pangea in Osaka on June 26. Tickets for all shows are ¥2,500 in advance. For more information, visit news.8otto.jp.