Music

Thank God it's Wednesday: Kom_I and her band are shaking up Japan's pop scene

by Mark Jarnes

Staff Writer

Kom_I, the lead singer of electro-pop trio Suiyoubi no Campanella, could very well be the personification of the term “free spirit.”

But before we get into her artistic exploits, a few things need to be made clear: She keeps her real name a secret and pronounces her moniker “koh-mu-eye”; her bandmates, Kenmochi Hidefumi and Dir.F favor anonymity to the extent that they won’t appear in music videos or on stage at shows; and the group would like to be referred to as the easier-to-remember Wednesday Campanella in English-speaking media.

Despite these requests, however, Kom_I doesn’t come across as a particularly shy person. In fact, if one thing stands out about this 24-year-old singer and rapper, it’s her curiosity. She asked to come to The Japan Times office for our interview just so she could see the place, and for her photo shoot she runs around the building like a kid in a playground, walking up to anyone she doesn’t recognize and introducing herself.

She comes across the same way in the video for her latest single, “Aladdin,” off the newly released “Superkid” EP. The song is an electronic pop-house track loaded up with club-ready samples and what sounds like a mischievous nod to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” For the video, Kom_I got free reign of a bowling alley after hours, which she explores with the same intensity as the offices at The Japan Times.

“I feel like there’s a certain primitivism in the way that I move and express myself on stage and in our videos,” she says. When asked where she gets the energy she adds, “I’m pretty sure that I sleep more than anyone else on the team.”

This “primitivism” was on display at the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, earlier this year. Wednesday Campanella delivered a highly praised and entertaining performance at the music portion of the festival, with Kom_I jumping into the audience, addressing the crowd in English, and performing from inside a giant see-through ball. The gig was the group’s first overseas show.

“I was 80 percent happy with the set,” she says about the experience. “The last 20 percent was because everyone in the audience looked so pumped already that I didn’t have to do that much! In Japan, one of my motivations as an artist is to try to get the crowd to act more free and be themselves. But at South by Southwest it felt like everyone was like that already.”

Kom_I’s assessment might unintentionally reveal a critique of Japan’s current mainstream music scene. Television remains the most influential medium in getting new artists discovered and a lot of what goes on TV can be a bit tame. That means that while concerts can demonstrate a group’s technical talent, they’re not always exciting.

Wednesday Campanella, however, tries to push boundaries during its performances in Japan. Past shows have taken place spontaneously in the middle of Shibuya Crossing, and at one event Kom_I carved a deer carcass on stage in an attempt to show people where their food comes from. Even a recent appearance on “SMAP x SMAP” had her playing a bloodsucking nurse to SMAP’s megastar members while performing her track “Chupacabra.” It was kind of like if M.I.A. were to do a duet with the remaining Beatles.

“I always want to find the fun in any work I do, so if I can do that and create something that I can be happy with then that’s ideal,” Kom_I says about her performances. Wednesday Campanella made its major label debut in June with the album “Uma” via Warner Music Japan, and though there’s a tendency for many labels to play things safe, Kom_I says she is able to maintain her artistic independence.

“It could be lonely now that we’ve hit the majors, so I like the energy and personal nature of our guerilla gigs,” she says. “When it comes to creativity, I definitely express my opinion throughout the process,”

The title of the group’s latest release and current tour, “Superkid” and “Superman” respectively, are also references to challenging the status quo.

“There are a lot of things in Japan that are too conservative,” Kom_I says. “It feels like there are movements going on in the government that go against what so many people in the country are feeling, so I want for some kind of ‘Superman’ to make a dramatic appearance and change things.”

Right now, Kom_I is the one providing the drama. Despite her increasing presence on TV and in the Japanese music media, she says nothing has changed with regard to her daily routine. She even came to this interview by herself on the train.

“Even after going major, people don’t really approach me on the streets that much,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe it’s because I’m in my own mental space, so it’s hard to talk to me.”

A mild-mannered young woman that nobody notices by day and a flamboyant pop star by night? Maybe Japan isn’t getting a Superman, but a Superwoman.

“Superkid” is in stores now. Wednesday Campanella’s Superman tour will hit Eight Hall in Kanazawa on Nov. 11 (7 p.m. start; ¥4,000; 076-232-2424). From there the tour will head to Nexs Niigata on Nov. 12, Zepp Nagoya on Nov. 16, Drum Logos in Fukuoka on Nov. 19, Nanba Hatch in Osaka on Nov. 23, Zepp Sapporo on Dec. 2, Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo on Dec. 7 and Music Town Oto Ichiba in Naha on Dec. 22. For more information, visit www.wed-camp.com.