Illnesses. Broken bones. Arrests. Bereavements. Just a few reasons why Fuzzy Logic has been on a six-month sabbatical. You don’t need to know the details. So here’s a rather straightforward comeback column in which I round up a few things and then, in future columns, I’ll get back to introducing you to Japanese bands that you should know about.
I’ve been away, but I haven’t neglected my homework, watching bands like The Saturns, The Ed Woods, Rocket Jack Vader and The Shock shake up livehouses throughout Japan. Expect them to appear in these pages soon.
Shonen Knife — sisters Naoko (vocals, guitar) and Atsuko (bass, drums); with pal Etsuko Nakanishi drumming at shows — have been together 200 years, sorry, 20 years, and I have no qualms in awarding these Osaka veterans the gold medal for being the most consistently great band in Japanese rock ‘n’ roll history. They repeatedly deliver excellent albums, and, if anything, are improving with age.
2003’s “Candy Rock” might have been a little disappointing, but it was always going to be tough to raise the ante after the previous year’s almighty classic “Heavy Songs.” After a year off, new release “Genki Shock” ranks among their best and will be one of the top Japanese albums of 2005. “Genki Shock” surfs a luscious melodic wave between pop-punk and indie-rock. A bit like The Go-Betweens popping some speed pills, cranking up the Marshalls and pretending to be The Ramones.
Last week I called up singer/guitarist Naoko to chat about the new songs and dispel some vicious rumors.
Oh, hi Naoko. This is Simon and I want a “genki shock.” How do I get one?
By listening to our album, of course. Genki means cheerful, as you know. But it’s also similar to denki [electricity]. I was playing with words and I feel that this album will shock people by making them feel really happy.
On the cover of my promo copy it says “Rocks Off!” How do you and Atsuko get your “rocks off?”
I get my rocks off playing tennis right now.
Are you any good?
I hope so. I practiced for four hours today! I usually play with friends, but I have played in amateur tournaments in Osaka.
Have you won any trophies?
Not yet. I always get beaten up! I started playing in October 2002. Playing tennis is good for Shonen Knife. Now I’m more healthy and never run out of energy during our shows.
“Spiderhouse” is my fave song off the album. But I am shocked that such a nice girl like you could be so cruel to animals!
I would wipe away that spider’s web on my balcony every day and the next morning Mr. Spider had built another one. So I plotted to get him with a vacuum cleaner or some tissue paper, but eventually I caught him with a plastic bag and tossed him off my 9th-floor balcony. That’s what the song is about. Yes, he probably did survive. He could make a string to save himself, just like Spiderman.
It seems you like nothing better than to play with your big fluffy pussy too. Hence the Ramones-like rocker on the record, “Giant Kitty.”
I love my big fluffy stuffed doll. I just imagined taking him everywhere with me. And how dirty he would become. But I would still sleep with him.
Talking about sleeping with things? How about the track “Mr. Broccoli” when you sing about wanting to eat this person. Have you ever tried to seduce your vegetable delivery boy?
Hahaha! I never imagined the song to be erotic! But if you feel that way about it that’s fun. I love it when people interpret my lyrics differently. It’s just about wherever we go in America there’s broccoli everywhere and kids hate eating the stuff. I just turned the vegetable into a person! I didn’t like broccoli as a child, but now I love it. Just boil it. That’s the best. Hot broccoli tastes like pistachio. It’s great!
You sing in English and Japanese. How do you decide which language to slip into?
I love American and British rock and that is the language of rock ‘n’ roll for me, but I also want Japanese to understand what I am saying. And as I’m Japanese it is also a lot easier to express myself and have more fun playing with words in my own language. There is an English and a Japanese version of “Genki Shock,” by the way.
Your English is pretty good. Is that because you tour America so much?
We toured Canada and the States this year and played our 500th show as a band in San Jose last March. But, although I majored in English at junior college and took some evening classes, I mainly learned through long letters with foreign friends. And also I learn when I’m doing interviews like this. It’s like I’m having an English lesson for free.
So maybe you should be paying me for this interview then?
Hahaha. You can come to our show in Shibuya for free. That’s your payment.
You got a deal. Thanks Naoko.
I am not a mod in the otaku everything-’60s-rules sense, but now and then I like donning a fitted suit (tailor-made in Hong Kong, I’ll have you know) and tie — much to the amusement of my rocker pals, who give me stick over it and call me a “mocker.”
Rockers and mods used to fight pitched battles on English beaches in the 1960s, but now they are on pretty good terms, especially in Japan, where rocker bands often share bills with mod bands — the common enemy basically being the mainstream, the common aim being rebellion, best achieved through the clothes you wear, the way you walk and talk, and, of course, music.
I love dancing to ’60s music — especially Northern Soul and Jamaican ska — and the best place to do this is at the annual Mods Mayday event at Kawasaki Citta. It was the 25th anniversary of the event a few weeks back and everyone was in high spirits, to say the least. Although some old scores were settled (including one guy invading the stage and smacking the singer of Scoobie Doo as payback for a perceived diss), there were no serious problems and mods, skinheads and rudeboys happily mixed and danced their asses off.
The Hair, Soul Mission and Thames Beat were among those who played live sets, and DJ Frank Popp was flown over from Germany to spin some rare ’60s classics of all genres — but the highlight was The Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. Standing legs askew at the front of the stage in their sharp suits and with venomous snarls beneath their pork-pie hats, they brandished their horns and delivered a real in-your-face hardcore ska performance that had the whole crowd hopping like mad. They play Fuji Rock Festival this year on the main stage July 30.
A Guitar Wolf compilation album covering tracks from the “first era” of the band will be released by the band’s label, Ki/oon Records, on July 27. The “first era” is the 15-odd years in which Japan’s premier rock ‘n’ roll outlaw band was made up of guitarist Seiji, bassist Billy and drummer Toru. Billy tragically died at age 38 on March 31 of a heart attack, but the band intend to continue with a new bassist. The new album is a fitting memorial to one of Japan’s most hardcore, but kind and friendly, rockers. If you want to know what happened at the funeral, the memorial service and the tribute live event, then check the postings I put on the BBS of my Web site.
Guitar Wolf will never be the same without Bass Wolf, but Billy would have wanted everyone to continue rocking.
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