It’s an origin story that sounds like something out of a coming-of-age film: On a whim, four friends decide to enter a battle of the bands-style competition; not necessarily to get signed or to “make it,” but to have something fun to do together in their last year of high school. Except they do get signed, and they do make it.
Originally a high school band covering songs by acts such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Fratellis and Number Girl, Negoto (Japanese for “sleep-talking”) consists of vocalist/keyboardist Sachiko Aoyama, guitarist Mizuki Masuda, bassist Yu Fujisaki and drummer Sayako Sawamura. They were one of the winners of the first Senko Riot Festival, an annual competition limited to teenage acts that ran from 2008 to 2014.
“We were never a band that set out to go pro,” says a soft-spoken Aoyama. “We didn’t know what it meant to be professional musicians, and after we debuted there were times we lost confidence and learned a lot. With this new album, we feel like we can confidently say, ‘This is the real Negoto.’ “
The band released their third full-length studio album, “Vision,” from Ki/oon Records earlier this month.
“Vision” is a continuation of their guitar- and keyboard-driven pop/rock sound: solid, intricate arrangements with catchy, danceable J-pop hooks. The band artfully moves through pop, rock and electronica, exemplified on singles such as the sprinting, handclap-infused rock of “Synchromanica” and “Ammonite!” — a quirky, upbeat love song.
On top of it all are Aoyama’s sweet and soaring vocals, which, combined with their energetic live shows, make Negoto a festival circuit favorite.
“We’ve always enjoyed playing live, but we had a hard time approaching how to become one with the audience,” says Aoyama. “We would write down on paper the feelings we couldn’t normally communicate effectively and tried to convey them using words (in between songs). When the tour was over, we got together and talked about it, and we knew that there were things you could only say with music.”
On the strength of tracks such as “Loop” and “Charon” — the latter was used in a television commercial for mobile phone company au’s Lismo! music service — Negoto quickly gained the attention of both the mainstream and contemporaries across all genres, after their debut in 2010. Their wide appeal has led to performances with a variety of artists, including idol group Momoiro Clover Z, party punks Gekitetsu and neo-psychedelic rockers Owarikara. Playing in front of various audiences, especially those unfamiliar with Negoto, can present a challenge, says Aoyama.
“When we’re playing with a popular rock band, the guys in the crowd will dance. We’re confident in ourselves as a rock band, but women in the audience will sometimes look at us like, ‘Oh, they’re girls.’ So there’s an element of having to overcome that,” she says, smiling. “We are a girl band, but we don’t necessarily think of ourselves in that way.”
“I think there’s been an increase of girl bands since Negoto debuted,” she continues. “We’re not selling ourselves as just a girl band, but you do feel a strength particular to women at those events — a kind of fundamental power, nerves of steel. Those moments are really inspirational. We were born as women after all, so if that provides an opportunity for people to become interested, then that’s great. I hope Negoto can be a gateway from any angle.”
That sentiment is present in “Vision,” a title that reflects both the crystallization of the ideal Negoto hold for themselves, as well as glimpses of what they hope to become.
“We’ve always said that we want Negoto to be a band that provides a musical gateway,” says Aoyama. “The world of music should be free and have no boundaries; the fact that we have different sounds — and can change how we present ourselves depending on the environment — may be one of our strengths.”
Negoto will begin a nationwide tour at Chiba Look on March 24 (7 p.m. start; ¥3,500) and finish at Zepp DiverCity in Tokyo on June 7 (6 p.m. start; ¥3,800). For details on all tour dates, visit www.negoto.com.