Oreskaband vocalist iCas talks politics and 10 years in the music game

by Ryotaro Aoki

Special To The Japan Times

The first topic that comes up when I sit down with Oreskaband’s singer/guitarist Naoko “iCas” Yoshioka isn’t music or her band, it’s a lunchtime variety show called “Waratte Iitomo!” The finale aired March 31 and she asks me if I saw it, which I hadn’t. She insists that I watch it.

“After 35 years, you’d think that (show host) Tamori would have considered himself as having worked the hardest on that show,” iCas says. “But in his final speech, he thanked everyone else and wasn’t trying to shove his own contribution to the show in our faces. He wasn’t looking for praise. That was cool.”

That “Waratte Iitomo!” was on TV every weekday for 35 years is impressive, but iCas says she can’t get over Tamori’s humility.

“Compared to that, our 10 years are nothing,” she says.

Oreskaband celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. The all-female ska/rock group, consisting of iCas on vocals and guitar, Taeko “Tae” Fukuda on drums, Hitomi “Tomi” Kawamoto on bass, Saki Imamura on trumpet, Marie Hayami on trombone and Mio “Morico” Omori on saxophone and keyboards, formed in Osaka in 2003. The band, whose members were friends at junior high school, have played everything from festivals such as Summer Sonic here to overseas showcases such as South By Southwest and the Warped Tour.

In celebration of its decade together, Oreskaband released a best-of compilation in February titled “Best (2003-2013).” The album covers the band’s recorded history, from earlier singles (“Almond,” “Tsumasaki” and “Jitensha”) to tracks off last year’s “Hot Number,” which presented an evolved, refined sound with songs such as the fantastic R&B-tinged “Walk.” Edgy rock tune “A-Ha-Ha!” was recorded for the compilation.

The band has been touring the country to coincide with the release of “Best (2003-2013),” and the tour’s finale is set to take place at Fever in Tokyo this Friday.

With a decade-long career comes a certain stigma that iCas says works both for and against the band at times.

“When we started, people wondered if we were idols and whether we were an authentic band or not,” she explains. “The idea of us being together for 10 years has helped squash a lot of preconceptions. It allows people to re-evaluate us. On the other hand, people expect certain things from a 10-year-old band. I don’t think my technique is on par with the length of time we’ve been together.”

The vocalist says the message behind Oreskaband’s music has also changed throughout the years. As she has gotten older, she has become more interested in political and social issues, which has influenced how she approaches her music and life in general.

“Society is more complex than I could have ever imagined,” she says. “My personal anxieties and feelings seem trivial, and things like the tax increase are more important. Ska and reggae musicians have always talked about political issues. When the Liberal Democratic Party replaced the Democratic Party of Japan as the governing party, I went to different rallies and there were people in their 50s and 60s taking time out of their lives for their children. People my age weren’t there. I felt ashamed as a 20-something. I felt that if I didn’t get active, things would just stay the same. I felt I really needed to think . . . because I wasn’t thinking about anything before.

“So when I hear musicians go on about their own personal issues and feelings in interviews, I think, ‘So what? That’s not going to change the world.’ Not that I’m playing music to change the world, but I just don’t think their baggage is relevant to society. ‘Waratte Iitomo!’ going off the air is more relevant.”

With Oreskaband’s first decade behind her, iCas looks forward to the next decade as she and her bandmates continue to grow.

“(Ten years from now) I want the band to exist alongside each of our other activities, our lifestyles. It would be cool if we all did separate things outside the band,” she says. “We used to imagine all of us living in separate countries, playing occasional gigs in Japan that would be huge special events. That’s still the dream.”

“Best (2003-2013)” is in stores now. Oreskaband plays Fever in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, on April 11 (7:30 p.m. start; ¥2,500 in advance; 03-6304-7899). For more information, visit