Music

Crypt City turns into the alt-rock supergroup we didn't see coming

by Ryotaro Aoki

Special To The Japan Times

Despite what his mammoth bass guitar sound may suggest, rock band Crypt City bassist Kentaro Nakao is comically self-deprecating at times.

“This sounds terrible, but I have no commercial ambitions for this band,” he says with a laugh. His band’s new album, “Chant,” will be self-released on vinyl and cassette only. And it will only be available to buy at shows and independent record stores.

“I don’t want to put this band through the conventional distribution channels and cause anyone trouble,” Nakao says.

Nakao may sound humble, but he is no stranger to success. He is perhaps best known in the music scene as the bassist for Number Girl, one of the most prominent bands of the early 2000s alt-rock boom in Japan. Since Number Girl ended in 2002, Nakao has been busy playing in bands such as Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her and Art-School, and producing groups such as Mass Of The Fermenting Dregs. In fact it could be argued that, for the past 15 years, the 42-year-old has served as the backbone of Japanese alternative rock.

But with Crypt City, Nakao serves as the brain. He started the band in 2009 with the aim of having a frontman that only sings, something similar to The Stooges and The Doors. He recruited his friend, vocalist Dean Kessler, to fulfill that role and brought on Canadian guitarist Seb Roberts and Satoshi Hironaka of hardcore band Skillkillz, too.

“My roots in rock music are mostly from Kentaro,” says Kessler. “I got rid of all my preconceptions of rock music before joining this band.” Kessler, who was a DJ in New York in his teens, didn’t play rock music until his early 20s, and met Nakao through a mutual friend.

After releasing two albums, Roberts and Hironaka left Crypt City in 2013. Nakao recruited former Bloodthirsty Butchers drummer Masahiro Komatsu and Art-School bandmate and Monoeyes guitarist Masafumi Todaka to join the band. Evolving into a sort of alt-rock supergroup, the new lineup took time to re-establish its sound.

“Before, everyone brought what they liked about music to the table, but we were all looking in our own directions,” Kessler says. “Now we all rely on Kentaro. His direction on this album was very precise.”

Written through extensive jam sessions as a band and recorded live on the floor of Fever, a concert venue in Tokyo’s Shindaita neighborhood, “Chant” cites genres like stoner rock, doom, industrial and noise, which are then translated through a tight ensemble with a knack for hooks. Tracks such as opener “Debate” and “Never Ever Care” show off Nakao’s doomy bass sound and Todaka’s slicing guitar riffs, with Kessler’s catchy shouts and grunts propelling each track forward. Rather than being just heavy, the tracks show a band funneling its strengths into a pop music format, with a firm foundation in new wave and punk.

“I was never into metal when I was young. I was a punk rock kid. I hated people with long hair” Nakao says with a laugh, before pointing to his own head of long, black hair. “Pictures of 1970s punk shows and 1990s alt-rock shows looked similar to me. I liked that real feeling.”

Known for its intense live performances on the club circuit, Crypt City has kept a relatively low profile despite its pedigree.

“But it’s not like we’re closing ourselves off,” Kessler says. “It’s just that the Japanese music industry and the way we do things is completely opposite. We want people to hear our music.”

Nakao agrees, adding, “I started this band so I didn’t have to think about the industry. I didn’t want to apologize to anyone if the thing doesn’t sell well.

“This album is me. If people don’t like it, I won’t feel slighted at all. It’s very healthy. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like this. This is my art.”

Crypt City plays Fever with Melt-Banana on Oct. 10 (7 p.m. start; ¥2,800 in advance; 03-6304-7899). For more information, visit www.cryptcity.tumblr.com.