A ride on the subway drastically changed Tokyo band Moscow Club’s fate. After the quartet used crowdfunding site Indiegogo to finance its first full-length album, the members felt it was a good point to end a project that had transformed from a hobby into something taxing.
“We just left it after that. We didn’t do anything,” the group’s lead singer and synthesizer player Kazuro Matsubara says. “But we realized, if we didn’t do anything, this Moscow Club experience would just fade away.”
Then Matsubara found himself on the Tokyo Metro. While waiting at Tameike-Sanno Station in February 2014, he heard the stop’s melody and was inspired to write “Celine,” a twinkling song packed with a sense of romantic longing.
“If I hadn’t made ‘Celine,’ we wouldn’t have made an album,” Matsubara says while sipping a beer at a cafe in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, referring to “Outfit of the Day,” Moscow Club’s first album in two years. Despite the hiatus, the band has maintained the genre-hopping sound that caught attention online a few years ago: zigzagging between indie-pop guitars and longer Krautrock moments.
Most importantly, however, “Outfit of the Day” revisits a promising moment in Japan’s indie-rock scene. The list of collaborators in the liner notes are a who’s who of creators that were releasing great material in the earlier part of the decade.
“Two years ago, I thought the Japanese band scene online was opening up to the overseas market,” Matsubara says, adding that platforms such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp made it easier to connect with potential fans abroad. Moscow Club certainly benefitted from them. The group — which also includes bassist Kazuya Torato, drummer Yuma Horiuchi and guitarist Mao Otake (who also plays in the band Mitsume) — started uploading songs onto Bandcamp in May 2011. The members’ knack for writing sticky indie-pop plus a desire to play around with other styles (dance on “Pacific 724,” sci-fi synth-pop on “Fahrenheit 451”) won them attention from a lot of music blogs.
That ended up leading to the initial decision to step away from the project.
“We really liked what we did; performing at club events at midnight, with drunk customers everywhere,” Matsubara says with a laugh. But soon the idea of disappointing people who came to shows specifically to see them weighed heavily on the members. Plus, the time needed to take the group to the next level wasn’t possible while they remained salarymen.
After collecting nearly $6,000 to release debut album “Station M.C.C.B.” on vinyl in June 2013, the group stopped all activities, leaving behind a pile of demos that were never released.
Moscow Club signed to Fastcut Records to release “Outfit of the Day.” Both Matsubara and Horiuchi say, after years of doing everything themselves, the chance to work with a proper imprint was a bit of a challenge, but it allowed them to connect with Amanda Akerman of Swedish band Alpaca Sports, who provides vocals on “Celine.”
There are other non-Japanese guests on the album — Alice Hansen of the band You’ll Never Get To Heaven appears on “Carven” — but the domestic collaborators far outnumber them. Ryota Komori of the frantic Miila and the Geeks plays saxophone on one song, while members of Kyoto’s now-defunct Hotel Mexico and Tokyo artist Elen Never Sleeps helped out with songwriting.
Those acts were all at peak visibility at the same time Moscow Club was last active, during a stretch of time when Hotel Mexico was appearing on English music blogs, and the still-active Jesse Ruins and Sapphire Slows were making their debuts. Moscow Club hoped to get even more Japanese bands some attention via the “C86” compilation, which highlighted a lot of the country’s underground indie acts. One element unified them all: they sang in English and avoided playing up their nationality.
“Most of the time, I think foreign listeners find out music is from Japan and they kind of judge it — we wanted to remove that from the beginning,” Matsubara says. It’s an issue he and his friends talk about frequently — how Japanese music tends to only get attention if it meets certain criteria associated with the country (think descriptors like “kawaii,” “crazy,” “anime” and “Harajuku”).
“Sometimes I think if we weren’t Japanese, more foreign media would write about us. We would be looked at differently,” Matsubara says.
Tokyo’s indie scene has changed dramatically since Moscow Club took a break. Matsubara says acts are focused more on the domestic market, but still use the Web to get noticed — which has worked. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing, they just have different goals than us.”
“Two years ago, a lot of bands shared the same idea as us,” Horiuchi adds. “But major labels came in and signed them, and their attitude changed. They got comfy.”
“If we had been written about in Pitchfork two years ago, it would have been a big deal in Japan,” Matsubara says. “But nowadays nobody seems to care (what is being said overseas). The goal is to be talked about in Japan.”
Nobody in Moscow Club is changing the band’s ambitions with “Outfit of the Day” — this is still ultimately a hobby, and the band are in no rush to play live shows yet (“maybe February next year”). The album, however, is the welcome return of one of the capital’s most talented groups, and also a bit of a time capsule in the country’s indie-rock scene from when the prospect of international attention was very real.
Thank God for that station melody.
“Outfit of the Day” is in stores now. For more information, visit www.wearemoscowclub.blogspot.jp.