Hotel Mexico’s pop aims at the heart

by Shawn Despres

Special To The Japan Times

It’s tough to figure out where to take your band when you get some buzz in the media right out the gate. After getting noticed for its fuzzed-out pop jams from highly regarded online music outlets such as Pitchfork, Noisey and Gorilla vs. Bear, Kyoto’s Hotel Mexico knew early on that it would need to play overseas. Finally, last summer the group made its first foray abroad with a pair of gigs in New York City.

Getting things organized for the self-financed trip was no easy task, and for one band member things did not get any simpler when he landed.

“Our vocalist Ryuyu (Ishigami) was stopped at immigration in the United States,” laughs bassist Kai Ito. “The immigration officer asked him if he had any meat in his luggage because bringing meat into the United States is illegal. But Ryuyu misunderstood the question and thought the immigration officer was asking him about his favorite meat, so he answered ‘pork.’ He spent an extra 10 minutes waiting around nervously at the immigration counter after that.”

Luckily, Ishigami was finally permitted to enter the country and the six-piece was able to proceed with the scheduled dates. Although the shows were small — Ito estimates that the group performed for a total of 80 people — Hotel Mexico received a lot of positive feedback from attendees and Ito says the band learned a lot.

“New York was fun,” Ito says. “At our first show we got called back out for an encore, and after we finished playing, a man rushed backstage to tell us how great our set was.”

Visiting New York was actually a fallback plan. Hotel Mexico had originally tried to visit Britain, but the timing was bad. Two members of the group are Buddhist monks and available tours conflicted with their religious obligations here. Ito stresses that going abroad, regardless of the country, was something that the group needed to do.

“Where we played wasn’t important,” Ito says. “What was important was the experience of playing overseas. It’s a necessary step for our band to grow.”

The act will make its second international excursion in March for a week-long California tour, a destination that seems well-suited to Hotel Mexico’s hazy, sun-soaked melodies. Another chance to tour Britain actually came about in October, but due to other commitments the band were unable to take advantage of the opportunity — a shame considering a few of the dates would have been supporting popular psych-pop band Yeasayer.

Hotel Mexico are now set to tour Japan in support of their second album, “Her Decorated Post Love,” which was issued on Feb. 6. Self-recorded in a house shared by Ito, Ishigami, guitarist Hitoshi Kikuchi, and drummer Masaaki Iwamoto, the band (rounded out by keyboardist Jiko Kobayashi and second guitarist Jiro Mizushima) crafted the seven-song offering last summer and fall.

“I think it’s a romantic album,” Ito says. “We don’t define specific themes for each song, but the music does contain some romantic stories.

“We always try to make good pop music. I love both our albums, but for creating something that people can keep listening to for a long time, I think we did a better job this time on ‘Her Decorated Post Love.’ “

The group’s 2011 “His Jewelled Letter Box” debut earned them comparisons to much buzzed about chillwave purveyors at the time such as Washed Out and Toro Y Moi. And while “Her Decorated Post Love” still retains an excellent retro mood, the album draws from a wide range of influences making Hotel Mexico’s sound tougher to pigeonhole. “Wilson” is an infectious piece of jangly guitar pop, “G for Good” has a cool lounge vibe to it, and Ishigami’s deep vocals on “A.I. in Dreams” almost brings to mind the work of 1980s goth pioneers Bauhaus.

“There are differences between the two albums, but I think people will still find the same dreamy, melancholy feelings in our music,” Ito says.

“With ‘His Jewelled Letter Box’ we were called Japanese chillwave. And while we were listening to other artists that were labeled as chillwave then, we never thought of ourselves as really being a chillwave act.”

While Hotel Mexico were recording “Her Decorated Post Love,” a slightly drunken older woman who was milling around outside heard the music they were making from the street and walked right into the band’s home studio.

“We had the windows and curtains open because it was really hot out,” Ito says. “She came in and said she thought it was an izakaya (Japanese pub). She apologized and said something like, ‘What are you boys doing in here with all this music and good lights?’ It was pretty funny.”

If things were that jumping during the recording sessions for “Her Decorated Post Love,” fans that check out one of Hotel Mexico’s upcoming local or overseas shows are likely in for a good time.

Hotel Mexico play Feb. 10 at Fever in Tokyo (6 p.m.; ¥2,300 in advance; [03] 6304-7899); Feb. 11 at Party’z in Nagoya (6 p.m.; ¥2,500 in advance; [052] 265-9464); Feb. 15 at Metro in Kyoto (6 p.m.; ¥2,300 in advance; [075] 752-4765); Feb. 15 at Metro in Kyoto (10 p.m.; ¥2,000 in advance; [075] 752-4765); Feb. 16 at B1 in Matsue (9 p.m.; ¥2,000 in advance; [0852]-21-3467). For more information, visit www.hotelmexicomusic.com.