Pirokalpin gets a taste of the majors and opts for indie

by Ryotaro Aoki

Special To The Japan Times

Getting signed to a major label is a goal many bands aspire to, but what happens when your contract ends halfway through the making of your sophomore LP? You start your own label and put it out yourself.

That is what guitar pop band Pirokalpin did with its new album, “A New Philosophy.” Released through its newly established imprint, Miracle Oasis Music, the album contains songs written during the band’s tenure at Universal Music Japan.

“We had a lot of songs we were working on, but we couldn’t release them immediately,” says singer-songwriter and guitarist Chieko Matsuki. “We were worried that if we waited too long people would forget about us, so we decided to start our own label.”

“We decided on releasing the album before setting the label up,” adds guitarist Shinjiro Okada. “We were hoping to find someone to work with as we were getting the release ready, but we ended up not having enough time.”

Named after Pilocarpine, a drug used to treat glaucoma, the band formed in 2003 after Matsuki placed an advertisement online looking for band members. Matsuki and Okada, alongside drummer Rui Aranai, gradually caught the attention of the music scene, releasing a string of EPs and singles through independent labels by the end of the decade. The trio was signed to Universal in 2012. Despite releasing its first LP the following year, the group’s contract abruptly ended in 2014.

Influenced by J-rock bands such as Asian Kung-Fu Generation, along with British bands like The Smiths and Suede, Pirokalpin continues its guitar-pop sound on “A New Philosophy.” The opening track, “Be Free,” features a faint tremolo guitar in the background, paying homage to Okada’s shoegaze influences, while lead track “Hakoniwa No Sekai” (“Garden World”) is a four-on-the-floor rocker, propelled forward by Matsuki’s soaring vocals.

It’s Matsuki’s distinctive vocal style that makes Pirokalpin’s sound stand out; a straightforward, projecting style of singing that she says was influenced by the musicals and Disney cartoon songs of her childhood. It wasn’t until she first heard British band Echobelly, however, whose singer Sonya Madan possessed a similar vocal style, that she felt comfortable with her voice in the context of a rock band.

The album also showcases the band’s impressive production values. Engineer Eiji “Q” Makino (Bump Of Chicken, Spitz), who worked with the group on its previous releases, was tapped to record and produce the album. Pirokalpin’s commitment to sound is also reflected in its decision to include high-resolution, 96 khz/24 bit digital downloads with the CD, a novel approach to the new digital format.

“It felt like a conflict of interests when you want people to buy the CD, but then there’s also this higher quality version out there,” Okada explains. “We decided to include it in the CD so we could offer it to our listeners without worrying about anything.”

With a tour across the country scheduled to run through July, the band seems eager to start fresh. The members aren’t bitter about their major-label experience, instead they sound refocused and grounded about their forthcoming musical activities.

“We were told a bunch of things based on the idea of whether our music would sell or not. I think it was an important experience, but I’m still not so sure of a lot of things, of whether it was a good idea that we did what we were told,” Okada says. “When you’re on a major label, you’re not allowed to think, you’re not allowed to question. I think questioning issues and solving them is much more human-like way of doing things.”

“I was always looking for approval when playing music, approval from someone else other than myself,” Matsuki says. “I wanted to become free of that, to reach another level, a new philosophy.”

“A New Philosophy” is in stores now. Pirokalpin plays Club Riverst in Niigata on June 14 (5 p.m. start; ¥2,300 in advance; 025-250-0430); Quarter in Aomori on June 19 (6:30 p.m.; ¥2,500; 022-222-9999); Club Cocoa in Hakodate, Hokkaido, on June 20 (4:30 p.m.; ¥1,500; 013-845-2002); Colony in Sapporo on June 21 (5 p.m.; ¥2,000; 011-614-9999); Live House Enn 2nd in Sendai on June 23 (6 p.m.; ¥2,500; 022-222-9999); Rocktown in Osaka on July 4 (6 p.m.; ¥2,500; 06-6357-3666); Ellsuze in Nagoya on July 5 (5:30 p.m.; ¥3,000; 052-320-9100); Club Quattro in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on July 10 (6 p.m.; ¥3,000, 09-5730-9999). For more information, visit