When looking at the pedigree of rock quartet Muddy Apes, it’s hard not to mention the term “supergroup.” After all, the band’s members — which consist of bassist Taka Hirose of British rock act Feeder, guitarist Kiyonobu “Inoran” Inoue of Japanese arena-rock band Luna Sea, vocalist Masaki “Maeson” Maenosono of Japanese rock group 8otto, and Feeder supporting guitarist Dean Tidey — are all established and successful musicians, albeit in different scenes, genres and countries. But for the musicians themselves, it’s just about getting together with a couple of friends and making music.
“To be honest, I only knew of Luna Sea by name. I didn’t know what they sounded like,” says Hirose with a laugh while speaking to The Japan Times at a rehearsal space in Tokyo’s Sangenjaya neighborhood. Hirose, who is based in London, just flew into Tokyo a day earlier. “But I thought Inoran was a good guy. He would take Feeder out for drinks when we were in Japan and would take really good care of us.”
Formed in 2012, the idea for the group was planted by Hirose and Inoran, who knew each other through mutual acquaintances. Initially just drinking buddies, the two gravitated toward each other and ended up working together on one of Inoran’s singles. As the two began exchanging ideas, Hirose brought on Tidey, who he had previously played with in Feeder. Hirose then turned to Masafumi “Gotch” Goto of rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation, as well as Takahiro “Dawa” Wada of Flake Records in Osaka, asking for recommendations for singers.
“They both mentioned Maeson from the band 8otto, and they told me he was a singer and drummer,” Hirose says. “His melodies and singing style weren’t the typical Japanese kind of way, and I thought that was interesting. I thought if he sang as just a singer and not a drummer/singer it would be cool, so I asked him if he was interested.”
The group released its third studio album, “Faraway So Close” on June 15 from Warner Music Japan. Unlike previous efforts, which had the members converge at a studio in Tampa, Florida, the new album was pieced together by each member tracking their parts individually, exchanging audio files online and confirming parts through a string of Skype meetings. While perhaps an unconventional way of working, the method is understandable due to each member’s other commitments, as well as their distance apart; Hirose is based in London, with Tidey back in Tampa, Inoran in Tokyo, and Maeson in Osaka.
“We all grew up being in bands, so it was a bit lonely without the actual sound vibrating,” Inoran explains. “But there was an interval between the second album and this one, so when we would occasionally talk we would talk about how we should do what we can as Muddy Apes. It was a period of confirmation for us.”
Despite their distance from one another, the resulting album shows no sign of disparity. Raw and punchy, “Faraway So Close” has the four musicians letting their hair down and rocking out, presenting an alt-rock take on a garage and blues-inspired sound, akin to bands like Led Zeppelin and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, along with blues guitarist Muddy Waters (whom the band is apparently named after). The drums are huge, the grooves are sexy, and the riffs carry the songs, like on the mid-tempo lead track, “How How How” and opener “Comfy.” In the middle of the riffs, tracks like “Red Moon,” an acoustic number, and the slower, ballad-esque “My Loose,” break up the album and provide breathing room.
“We wanted to keep the songs and the sound raw. Not something that’s just verse-bridge, etc.,” Hirose says. “We didn’t want to make things too perfect. This is a side-project for everyone, so we want to have fun and not try to pursue perfection. It was more about pulling back, rather than adding layers on this record.”
“Because we weren’t recording as a band, it was possible to do takes over and over again, and you start to become hard on yourself, for better and for worse,” Inoran adds. “I made sure I didn’t do that, to make sure there was a bit of momentum.”
Perhaps due to their backgrounds, Japanese media and the country’s record stores seem to have a hard time pinning down Muddy Apes in terms of whether they are hōgaku (domestic music) or yōgaku (overseas music). Hirose, however, says that’s besides the point.
“To me it doesn’t really matter,” he shrugs. “If we’re in Japan, we’ll get called hōgaku, but I’ve lived in the U.K. and Dean isn’t even Japanese, so if people say we’re foreign-sounding then we are I guess.”
The idea is perhaps most apparent in vocalist Maeson’s lyrics and singing style, which seemingly meshes Japanese and English together into what Hirose and Inoran refer to as “Maesonese.” Listening to the album, the Japanese lyrics sound like English and the English lyrics sound like Japanese. The band is a mishmash of multiculturalism, which brings interesting cultural differences.
“Everyone’s really loud,” Inoran says with a chuckle. “But as we’re playing I get why it’s so loud. The way music and sound is felt is different. It’s not about listening, but about feeling it. For people over there, music is a lifestyle, while in Japan it’s more about listening to it as software. Over there, it’s about feeling it in the air or water.”
“Or even in beer,” he adds. They both laugh. “If there’s one thing we do have in common, it’s that we both enjoy having a drink.”
Muddy Apes play Shinjuku ReNY in Tokyo on July 15 (7 p.m. start; ¥5,500; 03-3470-0330). “Faraway So Close” is in stores now. For more information, visit www.muddyapes.com.