From the beginning, rock act Muddy Apes set a lofty goal for themselves.
“Before we even named our band, we decided we wanted to play at Fuji Rock,” says bassist Taka Hirose. “It was our aim from the very start.”
Other groups have formed with similar ambitions. But unlike most bands, Muddy Apes are achieving their goal quickly. Having played only a handful of gigs to date, they’ll appear on Fuji Rock’s Red Marquee stage on July 28. Their inclusion at the event can be attributed mainly to their membership.
While technically a new act, Muddy Apes features Hirose from the popular British alt-rock group Feeder, guitarist Inoran (whose real name is Kiyonobu Inoue, but officially goes by his one-word moniker) from the popular visual-kei band Luna Sea, former Feeder touring guitarist Dean Tidey and vocalist Masaki “Maeson” Maenosono from Osaka garage-rock/post-punk act 8otto (the “8” is silent).
Inoran and Maeson live in Japan, but Hirose resides in Britain and Tidey is in the United States, which limits Muddy Apes’ practice time. Because of that, the supergroup had stage jitters when playing their initial concerts last fall at a Tokyo show hosted by Rolling Stone magazine and then the following day on the Japanese TV show “Factory.”
“We were quite nervous,” Hirose says. “Our second gig was a TV show. We had to play like 35 minutes, so it wasn’t just a few songs. That was kind of uncomfortable. We had only done one gig and then we were doing a TV show. It was a bit odd.”
The idea to form Muddy Apes came after Inoran invited Hirose to play bass on his 2011 solo single, “Hide and Seek.”
“I’ve known Inoran for five or six years,” Hirose says. “Whenever I was back in Japan we’d meet up for drinks. We always said we should do something together when we have time, you know, typical musicians’ chatter. But after I played on the single, we thought, ‘Yeah, let’s do something together — now.’ “
Needing additional players, Hirose contacted Tidey and Maeson. Tidey had moved from Britain to Tampa, Florida, and according to Hirose was “a bit bored over there.” Hirose knew Maeson through mutual pals who spoke highly of his vocals. While Maeson handles singing and drumming in 8otto, Muddy Apes wanted him to focus solely on being a frontman.
“At first we thought of it just as a project,” Hirose says. “The idea was to make something together, and if it went well, to continue.”
Since they were in different countries, Hirose, Inoran and Tidey exchanged music files digitally. As songs were pieced together, they were sent to Maeson to add vocals to.
Last year the group gathered in Tampa to make Muddy Apes’ debut disc, “Crush It.” The recording sessions were actually the first time that Maeson and Tidey met. “Crush It” was released in September 2012 and Muddy Apes played three Japan shows that month to promote it. They regrouped for another Tokyo concert in late December. That was when they asked their label about being a part of this year’s Fuji Rock Festival.
“We said to them, ‘Please, we’ll do anything,’ ” Hirose says. “They told us we’d need to make our next album quite soon if we wanted to try and do the festival. At the time we only had one new song. Our label said that we’d have to have a new album finished by May in order for it to be ready for Fuji Rock.”
Working again through email, Hirose, Inoran and Tidey quickly created tracks for Muddy Apes’ “Fairy Dirt No. 5” sophomore effort. The act returned to Tampa this past spring for three weeks to record the album. It was released July 3.
Solid from start to end, “Fairy Dirt No. 5” is filled with catchy, radio-friendly rock ‘n’ roll. “Kizuna Drive” is a slice of punchy post-punk that has Maeson spitting out fast-paced, almost spoken vocals. He cheekily counts “2, 5, 4, 3, 5, 5, 5” as the lead in to the fuzzed-out anthem “Generation 555.” And the uplifting alternative-rock cut “Peep Show” is certain to get the Fuji Rock masses bopping around.
“For ‘Crush It’ we just sent stuff to Maeson and said to put some vocal melodies on it if he liked it,” Hirose says. “We told him he could do whatever he wanted. But with the new album we thought more about Maeson’s singing style when making the songs. I think the songs on the second album are more interesting because of that.”
Muddy Apes will play a handful of Japan dates this summer in support of “Fairy Dirt No. 5,” with the most notable being Fuji Rock. For their upcoming concerts, Miyoko Yamaguchi from Tokyo garage rockers Detroit7 will drum for the band, upping their supergroup status even higher.
“We actually received our confirmation about playing Fuji Rock in the middle of making the new album,” Hirose says. “We’re really excited about the festival. It’s one of the best in the world. I’m sure the other Japanese festivals are good too, but Fuji Rock is so unique and the audience is really passionate about it. We also like that the audience is very diverse. People don’t care where the bands are from. As long as you’re good, they’ll like you.”
So what can festival-goers expect from Muddy Apes’ performance at Fuji Rock this weekend?
“A set of bloody good rock ‘n’ roll.”
Muddy Apes play the Fuji Rock Festival’s Red Marquee at Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata Prefecture on July 28 (ticket prices vary); Aug. 1 at Shinjuku Loft in Tokyo (7 p.m.; ¥3,000 in advance; 03-5272-0382); Aug. 25 at Mihama Crystal Beach Sound at Suishohama Beach, Fukui Prefecture (ticket prices vary); Aug. 27 at Umeda Shangri-La in Osaka (7 p.m. ; ¥4,000 in advance; 06-6343-8601); Aug. 29 at Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo (7 p.m.; ¥3,800 in advance; 03-5459-8630). For more information, visit www.facebook.com/MuddyApes.