Cairo breaks with its past for dreamy debut, ‘Same as Before’


Special To The Japan Times

While talking to the members of indie rock band Cairo, I can’t help but feel their sense of excitement. After all, this is their first interview ever.

Explaining the ideas behind their debut album, “Same as Before,” the four guys, who are all in their early 20s, are a bit self-conscious of their answers at first. As the conversation rolls along, though, it becomes clear that they’re not unsure of themselves, they just put a lot of thought into everything they do.

The quartet is made up of guitarist and vocalist Shonosuke Nakamura, bassist Rinkai Maeno, guitarist and vocalist Yuichiro Araya and drummer Kei Kato. The band originally formed in 2013 under the name SANM, which used the first letter of each member’s name. Kato replaced the “S” guy and the band officially changed its moniker to Cairo this month to coincide with the release of “Same As Before,” which is out via record label Magniph.

“We were careful not to make our first album too pop, nor too underground,” says Nakamura, who also writes the songs. “I wanted to make it a romantic album.”

Nakamura says they were heavily influenced by the now-defunct Kyoto indie band Hotel Mexico, along with U.S. acts like Deerhunter, DIIV and guitarist Matt Mondaline of Real Estate.

Contrary to the album title, the nine-track release is a bit different from the SoundCloud demos the band put out during its SANM days, which were more jangley and twee pop. “Same As Before” is washed out and relaxed, with shimmering guitars and a reverb-drenched sound that draws from the band’s dream pop and shoegaze influences. Highlights include the title track with its sparse guitars and relaxed rhythm, as well as groovy slow-burner “Softwall.” The band uses basic rock instrumentation mostly, but the beat-oriented “Night Vision” provides a change of pace by incorporating synthesizers and drum machines into the mix.

“We tried to not make it a ‘greatest hits’ of our independent days,” Nakamura says. “It would have been easy to just collect our existing songs, but we wanted to put out something new.”

Much like contemporaries Ykiki Beat and Batman Winks, the band focuses on a Western indie sound, plays smaller clubs and maintains a DIY aesthetic, which includes making their own cassettes and curating a Tumblr page.

“The main reason for that is cost,” Nakamura says. “When thinking about how to effectively spread our music without spending much money, we naturally gravitated toward the Internet and not doing pay-to-play shows.”

Like other young bands, Cairo circumvented Japan’s notorious pay-to-play system by gigging at smaller, more affordable venues in Tokyo like the Ruby Room in Shibuya Ward and Pool in the Sakuradai area. These venues, while relatively affordable, often have limitations regarding equipment and volume, but that has never been a problem for Cairo.

“It’s not like it’s a problem for us if the audience can’t hear the singing,” Maeno says. “It’s not that kind of music.”

With Cairo’s music being as lo-fi, laid-back and reverb-drenched as it is, it was inevitable that the band would fall prey to the recent music media trend of tagging similar-sounding bands with the “city pop” label, an umbrella term used to refer to any band with a chilled vibe and a nostalgic, romantic flavor. Nakamura says he was conscious of this.

“This is hard to explain, but I wanted it to be majime (serious),” he says, as opposed to the city pop aesthetic of care-free partying. “That was a wall we built so we wouldn’t be connected to that scene.”

His bandmates chuckle at the vagueness of his explanation. Guitarist Araya pauses for a moment and adds, “I think it boils down to whether you had a hard time with girls in high school or not.”

Nakamura laughs. “After gigs we weren’t able to talk to girls, but other bands would have girls at their after-parties,” he says.

“I think how you present yourself is reflected in the music you produce,” Araya continues. “It’s not about what’s better. It’s just a different presentation.”

“Same as Before” is on sale now. Cairo plays Pool in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, on Feb. 20 (6 p.m. start; ¥2,000 in advance) For more information, visit