Music genres can sometimes be helpful guidelines for a band, but they can also end up being an albatross around a musician’s neck, especially if they’re part of your group’s moniker.
Just ask Hiroshi Sasabuchi, drummer for rock band CQ and formerly of Tokyo Shoegazer. Speaking in a Shibuya cafe, he begins by talking about his previous group’s demise.
“We didn’t plan on doing Tokyo Shoegazer for very long initially, but when we put out the record it sold more than expected, so we decided to try it out for a while,” he says. “Because we put the word ‘shoegazer’ in the band name, we were really limited in what we could do. Compared to that, I feel like we’re really free now.”
The days of Sasabuchi being bound to a single genre are over. CQ releases its first album, “What a Wonderful World’s End,” on April 3. The album represents a culmination of the work he and his bandmates — vocalist Jun Shibuya, bassist Yuki Obuchi and guitarists Kiyomi Watanabe and Yoshitaka Sugahara (both also formerly of Tokyo Shoegazer) — started when they first formed the group in May last year.
Released as a vinyl LP (a CD version will be included in the package) the album will only be available at the band’s gigs, including a nationwide tour that kicks off April 3 at Duce in Sapporo. A three-track EP, “What a Cruel World’s End” will be released simultaneously, which features remixes of live tracks by the all-star lineup of Atsuo from drone-metal band Boris, Narasaki of shoegaze/metal band Coaltar of the Deepers, and Yutaka Aoki of postrock group Downy.
Despite the initial desire to move away from the shoegaze sound he cultivated in his previous group, Sasabuchi says there was a natural underlying element of the genre within him and his bandmates, something they at first resisted and had to come to terms with. And while there are distinctive qualities of shoegaze — ethereal guitars, reverb-drenched vocals and an overall dreamy soundscape — the album itself seems more concerned with channeling 1980s new wave and goth (Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure), along with heavier, more metal-influenced sounds. Recorded live during a single 24-hour session, the album goes from the slow, shimmering “Leos” to the uplifting rocker “Emil” to the goth-punk track “Isabelle.” The highlight however is “Ian,” a Boris-esque, doom-metal epic, clearly meant to be blasted from the speakers.
“I think the shoegaze sound tends to be monotonous. It’s a genre that challenges your tastes, to see what you can do in that monotony,” says Sasabuchi. “But it’s too narrow, and so if someone goes off in a different direction, it’s not shoegaze anymore. You can’t break out of it. I think ‘Ian’ was a reaction to that.”
The track titles are all names of characters within a conceptual story line for the album, written by Sasabuchi and vocalist Shibuya. Tying together the various threads as if they were chapters in a novel, the songs tell the story of various interconnected people — musicians, lovers and travelers — all dealing with the beginning of the end of the world. The album is actually the conclusion of an idea that first began with a limited edition CD the band sold at shows last year titled “What a Wonderful World,” which shares seven tracks with the new album, albeit as different versions and mixes.
Speaking to Sasabuchi, it quickly becomes clear that he knows exactly what he wants. His attention to detail is perhaps reflected best in the band’s decision to record and release the album as an entirely analog production, something he says he had in mind since CQ’s inception.
“Basically it was a dream of mine,” he says regarding the reason for recording in analog. “I just wanted to do what I wanted to do, on the medium that I wanted to do it in.” He says he went through three test pressings to get the sound of the album exactly the way he wanted it.
“I oversaw the cutting of the test pressing, and when I heard it, it sounded completely different from what we had turned in. I realized that you can’t go in making vinyl the same way you make a CD,” he says with a laugh. “What seemed loud previously sounded alright, so we would add EQ and then ask for another master again.”
With a monthlong tour and a homecoming gig at Shelter in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood on April 29, along with a supporting slot with American shoegazers Astrobrite at Koenji High in May, it seems as though Sasabuchi’s hard work has paid off. With an unorthodox release method, CQ hopes to turn some heads in a digital releases-dominated, fast-paced information age.
“It’s the very beginning of the band. The entrance is crucial,” he says. “No one will pay attention if you just say, ‘We formed a band, we’re playing a show.’ The times have changed. I think you have to approach it in a way that fits the times you’re in.”
CQ’s debut album “What a Wonderful World’s End” and EP “What a Cruel World’s End” will be sold at the band’s shows starting April 3. CQ plays Duce in Sapporo on April 3 (6 p.m. start; ¥2,000 in advance; 011-596-8386); Spiritual Lounge in Sapporo on April 4 (6 p.m.; ¥2,000 in adv.; 011-221-9199); Ell Cube in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, on April 5 (6 p.m.; ¥1,500 in adv.; 0144-35-0501); Pepper Land in Okayama on April 9 (7:30 p.m.; ¥3,000 in adv.; 086-253-9758); Kitahorie Vijon in Osaka on April 11 (6 p.m.; ¥3,000 in adv.; 06-6539-7411); Tight Rope in Nagoya on April 13 (7 p.m.; ¥3,000 in adv.; 052-242-8557); Golden Pigs Black Stage in Niigata on April 15 (6:30 p.m.; ¥3,000 in adv.; 025-201-9981); Globe in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, on April 16 (7 p.m.; ¥3,000 in adv.; 019-622-0250); Live House enn 3rd in Sendai on April 17 (7 p.m.; ¥3,000 in adv.; 022-212-2678); Fukuoka Queblick on April 26 (6 p.m.; ¥2,500 in adv.; 092-725-8785); and at Shimokitazawa Shelter in Tokyo on April 29 (7 p.m.; ¥3,500 in adv.; 03-3466-7430). For more information, visit cqband-jp.com.