The quirky sounds of indie music find a voice in Boys Age

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

Around 50 people are watching Kaznary Mutow of the band Boys Age thrash his guitar on a Friday night at Shimokitazawa club Three. He’s in the middle of a 10-minute-plus psychedelic freakout, locked into an intense slow-burning session with drummer Takamasa Kobayashi.

It’s a bit jarring, because for the past 30 minutes the Saitama duo had been playing breezy rock and catchy mid-tempo tunes. Mutow wears denim overalls, a baseball hat and plastic sunglasses, a playful outfit suitable for a guy who spends the bulk of Boys Age’s set grinning and singing like he has a bag of marbles in his throat. But the goofy charm has vanished during this final stretch. It’s a focused switch, fitting for a band who has spent the past four years going off in all sorts of directions.

“I observe everything around me,” Mutow says. “It’s like I’m a desert, and I immediately absorb any drop of water. All the music I hear becomes part of me.”

Since 2011, Boys Age has been one of Japan’s most prolific indie acts. Mutow (25) and Kobayashi (26) have uploaded a steady stream of material to their SoundCloud and Bandcamp accounts. They’ve released albums and EPs via labels in many different countries, including California garage-rock imprint Burger Records. Their songs are just as scattered, the pair capable of woozy synth rock, lazy Sunday folk rock and instrumental psych burners. Despite dozens of releases, newest full-length “Calm Time” marks the first time a Boys Age release has appeared on the sale racks of retail outlets across the country.

The two have known each other since elementary school, though they didn’t become close until junior high.

“I bought a copy of Weezer’s first album from Takamasa for ¥400, and then we started getting along,” Mutow recalls. They started doing karaoke together, belting out songs by The Rolling Stones and Queen. Boys Age officially started in 2011, though Mutow says the initial sound took shape in high school.

Early on, Boys Age primarily took its influence from U.S. indie-rock outfit Yo La Tengo.

“I think at first we were a bad version of them,” Mutow says. “But we learned from their adventurous spirit, how they experiment so much.”

While Boys Age has dabbled in all sorts of styles, the one unifying element has been Mutow’s voice, which sounds garbled and watery.

“I don’t like my voice, it sounds like I’m puking,” the singer says. “I’m OK with it when I sing in a low voice, or like I’m whispering in someone’s ear. I’m trying to like it more, though, since so many listeners enjoy it.”

Kobayashi stays mute regarding the lead vocals. “He has never said anything about my voice,” Mutow says.

The two men’s partnership has resulted in a steady stream of new material, all posted online.

“It is so easy to just upload music to those sites,” Mutow says, adding that he hopes to reach as many people as possible, and he is OK with listeners hearing it for free.

That approach has attracted the attention of many artists overseas, including American leftfield artist R. Stevie Moore, who reached out to Boys Age on Facebook. They collaborated on a split single earlier this year.

The pair has for the most part, however, bypassed interacting with the local music scene.

“The Tokyo indie scene — and really the Japanese indie scene — doesn’t really inspire me at all. That said we don’t really interact with it, though I feel we are too musical for it,” Mutow says. “When people are into the indie scene, they often like it because it is instinctively cool. It doesn’t matter how musically skillful they are, and that’s fine. Fashion is important, too.

“I try to change the way I play music all the time. I also always try to change the way I sing, even at recording sessions.”

“Calm Time” sounds, fittingly, calm, but the concept behind it comes from a video game with the same name, wherein players control a murderer tasked with killing innocent people (the lyrics on the album borrow many ideas from the game’s dialogue).

“The game was really philosophical to me,” Mutow says, although they toned down the homicide in favor of a more sexual vibe (“I thought that would make it a bit more pop”).

Despite the album title, Boys Age isn’t spending too much time chilling out after the release. The duo already has a new digital album slated to come out in June titled “The Inner Moon” via Virginia label Citrus City Records.

Mutow explains the short space between releases by noting, “I’m always humming, and I’m not really good at being social, so I’m always making music in my room.”

“Calm Time” is in stores now. Boys Age plays Shinjuku Marz in Tokyo on May 28 (6:30 p.m. start; ¥2,000 in advance; 03-3202-8248). For more information, visit www.the-boys-age.tumblr.com.