the Hiatus to swap guitars for synths on ‘Keeper of the Flame’ tour

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

Who says you can’t go home again? After breaking from what it knows best, the Hiatus is set to return to the live-house venues that it built itself on, following a nationwide tour that took it in a different direction.

The Afterglow Tour, which began in 2012, took the five-piece to eight different cities throughout Japan. Venues such as Orix Theater in Osaka and NHK Hall in Tokyo had assigned seating, not the sweaty crush of mosh pits typical of a Hiatus show. The band even collaborated with an orchestra, but coordinating 17 people on stage — though a great experience — had lead singer and guitarist Takeshi Hosomi yearning to return to rock venues.

“We received a good response from the tour and were even asked to do more of those types of shows, but that format requires way too much time to prepare,” Hosomi tells The Japan Times. “So for now we’re thinking about only playing smaller shows, and that way we can get close to our audience again.”

Hosomi started the Hiatus after his former group, pop-punk act Ellegarden, decided to take an indefinite break in 2008 — but that’s not actually how he got the name for his band, he just liked the word “hiatus.” His new project leaned heavily toward experimental postrock, and he recruited bassist Koji Ueno, Drummer Takashi Kashikura, keyboardist Keitaro “Ichiyo” Izawa, and guitarist “Masasucks,” who only goes by his nickname in public.

The band debuted at the music festival Punkspring in 2009, but since then the Hiatus has played around with its sound and has incorporated influences from different genres. The polyrhythmic structure of progressive rock melds with the aggression of punk and even the ambience of electronic music at points.

“Since I was left by myself after Ellegarden went on hiatus, I wanted to challenge myself by making different music,” Hosomi says. “So, I began writing material using a piano for the first time and found myself gravitating toward mellower beats. When the other band members were recruited, we aimed to get the most out of each other by focusing on our specialties.”

New album “Keeper of the Flame” is the Hiatus’ fourth full-length release. Hosomi says the band was influenced by overseas acts when writing it, and he cites Idaho-born musician Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) and London synth act Factory Floor as some of them. The singer believes it’s important to bring in new elements to his music to keep things interesting.

“Though my vocals have never really been influenced by other acts, the soundscapes of the songs are constantly changing,” Hosomi says. “This time, I wanted to incorporate danceable beats and the atmosphere of a post-chillwave sound with sharp vocal melodies.”

While influences from overseas indie acts can be heard on “Keeper of the Flame,” another big change for the group was the departure of former keyboard player Hirohisa Horie. Replacing him is Izawa, whose presence is more upfront than his predecessor’s. This move has changed the band’s entire sound, resulting in more digitally processed tracks.

“When Ichiyo joined, I believed the Hiatus would drift toward a more organic sound, because he’s a pianist,” Hosomi says. “I thought we would sound like how we were on the (2013) ‘Horse Riding’ EP, with acoustic guitars and other real instrumentation being the main sound source. However, in the end a lot of synthesizers were featured.”

The track “Horse Riding,” is included on the Hiatus’ new album. It had originally featured a thumb piano, but the album version used programming instead. According to Hosomi, this alteration was made to keep the track in line with the rest of “Keeper of the Flame,” and he feels that this sound is the direction the band will continue to take in the future.

“We know we’re good at making huge, epic-sounding rock,” he says. “This time, though, we were looking for a strong beat that was simple and easy to dance to, but that didn’t take away from the Hiatus sound. It didn’t work using the eight- or 16-beat pattern so we rejigged the band’s sound to be based on a four-on-the-floor rhythmic pattern. That meant it was unnecessary to have two distorted-guitar elements.”

The decrease in guitar on “Keeper of the Flame” is something that will strike Hiatus fans almost instantly, even though the band hasn’t made a complete departure from its rock roots. For example, the track “Broccoli” from previous album “A World of Pandemonium” consisted of two guitar tracks as its lead, each heading off in a different direction, and was accompanied by a simple synthesizer melody in the background. On “Keeper of the Flame,” the Hiatus reverses the situation. Opening track “Thirst” still contains sharp guitar chords, but there’s no question that the synths are trying to hog the spotlight.

“Don’t expect to hear guitars in both ears,” is all Hosomi will say to fans with regards to the new setup. However, don’t expect a radical departure into 1980s-style new wave either.

He admits this new kind of rhythm pattern is difficult to re-create live, and notes a certain particularity about the Hiatus’ performing style. Its members are all trained musicians and improvisation could be an enjoyable part of their individual live performances. However, Hosomi sticks to a script.

“Our drummer Takakura always comes up with different rhythm patterns live and when we are recording,” Hosomi says. “(To master this material, though) we need to concentrate on playing the key parts as close as possible to the recorded version.”

Looking on the bright side, Hosomi points out that for the audience to get the most of its live experience, the main elements of the songs should be as recognizable as possible.

“The songs are constantly changing, since it’s boring to keep on playing the same thing. For this upcoming tour, at least, we will keep (every show) the same,” Hosomi says with a laugh. “It would be cool to perform the songs differently each time, but it’s more important for the audience to feel that the tracks are being presented to them in a similar, but more enhanced way than what they were listening to on a recording.”

The Keeper of the Flame Tour begins May 8 in Chiba before moving to Yamanashi, Tochigi and further westward. The tour comes to Tokyo on May 26 and 27, and includes 41 dates in total — a pretty grueling schedule.

“I’m in a band to perform in front of people, and I release records because I think it’s more enjoyable that people come to our gigs knowing about the songs,” Hosomi says. “I want this tour to be a bit more intimate than the previous one, so I can actually see the people in the crowd moving their bodies to the music.”

the Hiatus plays Look in Chiba on May 8 (043-224-8828); Conviction in Kofu, Yamanashi Pref., on May 11 (055-236-0061); Heaven’s Rock in Utsunomiya Tochigi Pref., on May 13 (028-639-0111); and Zepp Nagoya on May 15 and 16 (052-541-5758). Tickets for all shows cost ¥2,600 in advance. All shows start at 7 p.m. For more information and dates, visit www.thehiatus.com