Most bands in Japan come to Tokyo to reach for stardom. Indie rock act Mothercoat did the opposite, however, when its members all relocated to Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture, two years ago.
“We don’t really see a point in being based in Tokyo anymore,” says bassist and singer Toki “Tokirock” Imada. “When bands tell us they’re going to Tokyo, we tell them they shouldn’t do it. People come anyway, though, so I guess there’s still some point to it . . . but it’s really not for us anymore.”
Imada and her bandmates — singer and guitarist Hitokazu “Gigadylan” Giga, guitarist Fukunosuke Abe, drummer Jun Irimajiri and sound manipulator Jumpei Sugihara — have their sights set on someplace else: the world. Specifically, the South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Conference and Festival taking place from March 7 to 16 in Austin, Texas. The band will be playing at two official showcases this year, the International Day Stage on the March 12 and the Japan Nite showcase on March 14, as well as several one-off shows. They will share the stage with other Japanese acts such as Jungles from Red Bacteria Vacuum and Happy. This will be the second time Mothercoat has played SXSW; they first played in 2007.
“At first, just being able to play abroad was fun,” says Giga of his band’s early overseas tours. “The first time we went there the reaction was really good and we kind of took that at face value.”
Mothercoat first ventured overseas in 2006, when it played the Fanime anime convention in San Jose. The group has since played in Canada, Britain and South Korea. SXSW will be its first overseas show in two years.
“Our music isn’t the type that would blow up and be popular in just one country,” explains Imada about the band’s efforts in expanding its audience. “We need to find a core audience across the entire world in order to make a living playing music. So if we get opportunities to play in other places, we want to invest in them.”
Giga hopes that the trip to Austin will lead to new connections as well as providing an artistic challenge for the band.
“By connecting through people, we might get to someone important, someone who will be that one piece (of the puzzle),” he says. “Also, by playing shows abroad we’ll come back stronger. We’re not expecting anything to change immediately just by going over there, but you don’t know what’s going to happen until you do it.”
Giga says he’s particularly interested in how the band will be received at Japan Nite, an annual showcase of Japanese indie and punk bands.
“People will see the band as being a ‘Japanese band.’ Like at Japan Nite, some people will be expecting stuff that we’re not,” he says. “When you talk about Japan, people usually think about anime, idols or Vocaloid, or maybe all-girl bands such as Shonen Knife, or visual-kei. So it’ll be interesting to see what sort of reactions we’ll get.”
The shows at SXSW will be the first time the band will introduce new guitarist Abe to audiences abroad. Abe joined the band last November after auditioning as a replacement for previous guitarist So Ninomiya. Giga says he knew Abe was the one without hearing a single note.
“He just had this presence to him when he held a guitar,” he says. “I could watch him just standing.”
Giga says the previous lineup “started thinking about things too much.”
“It (all) became less instinctual,” he says. “The new EP is really raw and lo-fi, but it has momentum.”
The band released a three-song EP, “5 — 1 + 1 =” (“Five Minus One Plus One Equals”), last month. The title refers to Mothercoat’s change in members, which is reflected in the content. The EP contains a song written with Ninomiya, one as a four-piece, and finally one with Abe. The track with Abe, “Trickster,” is a quirky lo-fi number with Giga and Imada’s vocals bouncing off of each other against Abe’s playful guitar. The band has always had a cute side to it, but “Trickster” definitely brings that aspect up to the fore.
The sound of Mothercoat has always been just as hard to pin down as keeping track of their perpetually in-flux membership. Giga says that’s exactly what he wants the audience at SXSW to experience.
“We want to surprise people with our live show. People like to compare things, like when they see a band, the first thing they say is, ‘That sounds like that (other) band.’ I want people to get stumped when they see us.”
In addition to its sets at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, Mothercoat will play Shimokitazawa Three in Tokyo on March 25 (6:30 p.m. start; ¥2,000 in advance; 03-5486-8804); and Growly in Kyoto on March 30 (5:30 p.m. start; ¥1,500 in adv.; 075-366-6369) For more information, visit www.mothercoat.com.