There’s no doubt that the best way for an independent band to tour in another country is by opening for one that people have actually heard of. So when spunky all-girl Tokyo four-piece Toquiwa befriended 1990s indie-rock heroes The Wedding Present, its members jumped at the chance to support the British band in the U.K. last year — followed by a forthcoming North American tour in March and April.
“We were playing a street performance in front of Shibuya Station, when the guy who was booking The Wedding Present’s Japan tour happened to walk past and enjoyed our set,” recalls guitarist Mikko. “He asked us to open for The Wedding Present on its Japan tour and also in Britain. It was like being courted!
At that time, Toquiwa was not Toquiwa. The young women played for several years under the name Pinky Piglets, which they shed at the start of 2012 because they felt it was holding them back. That’s probably true, though the original moniker makes sense when you hear their impossibly cute music — a supercharged guitar-and-rhythm attack over which singer Asuja squeals helium melodies in the vein of Judy And Mary singer Yuki. If you’ve ever seen the movie version of “Josie & The Pussycats,” you’ll get the picture.
Under the name Pinky Piglets, Toquiwa released several mini-albums, the most recent being 2011’s “Tokyo Merry-go-round” set of two separate CDs. The band’s songs are fun in any context, but live they have a brilliantly goofy energy that Mikko says will “shake your body and mind.” She’s right.
Even before meeting The Wedding Present, Pinky Piglets had already played outside Japan, including shows in England, Canada and Singapore. But playing with The Wedding Present around the U.K. of course took them to a wider audience; and with 16 upcoming dates in the United States and Canada, mostly with The Wedding Present, Toquiwa is set to reach even more ears in the next few weeks.
“I’m extremely curious to discover what America will be like,” says Asuja. “By playing live in a new town, you get an emotional response that is totally exclusive to that night and that place.”
The tour includes two shows at South by Southwest, the annual music-industry conference and multivenue festival in Austin, Texas. Japan has long represented at SXSW, with a dedicated Tokyo office organizing the extremely popular Japan Nite showcase there.
But many Japanese bands play at the festival without Japan Nite’s help, since they have to pay a pretty high fee to be on that roster — and perhaps more importantly, serious industry bigwigs tend not to show up at Japan Nite. Toquiwa will play its main SXSW showcase with The Wedding Present instead, plus an extra daytime appearance a! the Japan Preview event, which shares the same organizers as Japan Nite — a nice compromise.
Though she has not yet been to the sprawling citywide festival, which engulfs the whole of downtown Austin for a week or so every March, Asuja’s image of SXSW is pitch perfect: “I imagine the whole city becomes one giant music venue, with loads of people milling about and scores of bands playing at the same time as each other on different stages.”
For her part, an equally excited Mikko chimes in: “The thing that appeals to me about SXSW is that people go there from all over the world to listen to music, so we can play in front of an international audience and with other international bands. Some of the Japanese bands that we look up to have been to play at SXSW and have found some success, and we hope to live up to the standards they have set. We hope to find as many opportunities as possible.”
The problem any band faces when it plays at SXSW is that with roughly 85 stages running simultaneously, it’s very difficult to convince your industry fat-cat of choice to turn up to see your show. Toquiwa seems aware of this — on top of playing that extra show in addition to its official showcase, Mikko says the band and its management are contacting some of the industry attendees in advance. “Our goal is to start releasing music abroad from next year,” explains Asuja.
Because drummer Seixo is off on maternity leave and the band is between bassists, Asuja and Mikko’s rhythm section for the North American tour will comprise of Eri and Mizuki from lo-fi noise duo Zarigani$. And of course, their British friends will be with them all the way.
“The Wedding Present are very warm people; I love them,” gushes Mikko. “David (Gedge) is extremely sensitive, and before going on stage he emits this special aura, so at those times I’d avoid starting a conversation with him, ha ha. But in real life he’s very charming; he gave me a packet of gummy piglets as a gift.”
The band is looking forward to meeting more of The Wedding Present’s fans, too, after receiving a warm welcome on those U.K. dates.
“Lots of people said we were ‘awesome’ and they seemed to have fun with us,” giggles Asuja. “In particular, when we played a cover of The Wedding Present’s ‘Kennedy,’ everyone sang along. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
Toquiwa plays ADM Ikebukuro Live Garage in Tokyo on March 3 (6 p.m.; ¥2,000 in advance;  3983-9387); and 440 in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, on March 12 (6:30 p.m.; ¥2,000 in advance;  3422-9440). The band will tour the United States and Canada from March 14 till April 7; most dates are in support of The Wedding Present. Its South by Southwest performances are March 14 at Swan Dive and March 15 at the all-day Japan Preview, The Grackle. For more information, visit www.ameblo.jp/toquiwa.