The odds have got to be nearly impossible. You and your pals have just formed a band and along comes a guy who loves your music and offers to pay for you to play overseas. Well, that’s exactly what happened to Tokyo band Owarikara.
“Since we formed, we’ve always wanted to play worldwide,” says Hyouri Takahashi, singer-guitarist of Owarikara. “Who could ever calculate the possibility of a band being picked up by a foreign sponsor?”
Owarikara formed in 2008 and play their own blend of 1970s Western psychedelic rock and Japanese Showa pop. Unlike many bands whose members hook up in high school, the four members met at gigs and started playing music together.
They joined Steven Tanaka’s Next Music From Tokyo (NMFT) Vol.1 tour shortly after their formation, being asked by Tanaka himself. Takahashi says Tanaka was known as a foreigner who wandered Shinjuku watching Japanese bands. “I didn’t even know if it was possible,” says Takahashi, who sums up the experience as “amazing.”
Takahashi says one obstacle for Japanese bands playing overseas is the language barrier: “The Canadian audience could have caught the Japanese lyrics as a sound. Although the lyrics may not be understood, Japanese has a peculiar accent that adds a unique quality to the music. The audience’s reaction was better than I thought and it ended up much more exciting than our usual shows in Japan.”
Despite Owarikara’s success, bands touring with Tanaka this year are still unsure of what to expect. Bass player Seiji Harajiri, who will travel with his band, Hyacca, to Canada for the third edition of NMFT, remains humble.
“It is a great opportunity for our band,” says Harajiri. “But our home turf is Fukuoka, so I am not expecting the same reaction that a band from Tokyo would receive.”
Eight-member Natsumen also expressed some pretour jitters, even despite having played in New York before.
“I’m kind of worried about the equipment because I can’t take my amp there,” says Natsumen guitarist Motoharu Ase, who goes by the moniker AxSxE. He pauses, “Since we have eight members in our band, someone might get lost.”
Takahashi maintains the bands should be able to pick up some practical skills from the overseas tour and the experience should definitely increase their confidence.
“The environment and language seem like a huge barrier,” Takahashi says. “But it was easy to overcome due to the friendliness of the audiences. You really come to understand that music has the power to unite anyone.”
What about the bands that will attempt such unity this time round?
Natsumen came about after the dissolution of influential funk-rock act BOaT. The two guitarists, AxSxE and Hoin (formerly Ain), along with six other musicians, formed Natsumen in 2002, as (what they call) a “progressive hardcore jazz aggressive improvisation rock band.”
The acts of Next past
The bands introducing Japanese indie music to Canada through Next Music From Tokyo:
NMTE Vol. 1 (May 2010): Andymori, Mothercoat, Owarikara, Kulu Kulu Garden and Goomi.
NMTE Vol. 2 (Oct. 2010): Mass of the Fermenting Dregs, sgt, Uhnellys and Susquatch.
NMTE Vol. 3 (Oct. 2011): Natsumen, Chiina, Hyacca, Akai Koen and Merpeoples.
“Although we’re influenced by a variety of genres, a hum or something else that just pops in my head is the music we aim to play,” AxSxE says. “Since I’ve been playing guitar for such a long time, I got into the habit of playing the same thing all the time, and that should be avoided. So to do that, I record my humming, play it on guitar, and then instruct the other members on what to do.”
Since Natsumen uses a lot of progressive song structures, it could be difficult to come up with ideas. But to this AxSxE jokingly replies, “It’s just improvising.”
Meanwhile, Hyacca will present a completely different take on Japanese indie at the Canadian shows, something they credit to their Fukuoka roots.
“Our music is unique because we aren’t really influenced by anything,” Harijiri says. “In our hometown, we don’t have anything — the CD stores only sell music that is extremely popular.” Despite the dearth of influence, Harijiri says he listened to a lot of hard rock and heavy metal growing up. Hyacca’s own sound features the sharpness of postpunk, but mixes it with a slightly shoegazer atmosphere.
“If I could play metal, I definitely would,” Harijiri says, unabashedly admitting it’s just too hard for him. Still, their music was strong enough to get them noticed for NMFT, and it will be their first time playing abroad.
“I want Steven to be proud that he invited us and that’s all we are expecting.”