The members of Ogre You Asshole are bracing for something. At least, that’s what the title of their seventh album, “Handoru o Hanasu Mae Ni” (“Before Letting Go of the Handle”) suggests. (The album’s official English title is the less tense “Everythingsomethingnothing.”)
“It’s not really an emotional state, like dread or excitement, but just the dry feeling that something may happen,” songwriter, singer and guitarist Manabu Deto tells The Japan Times from the Tokyo office of the band’s label, P-Vine Records. “It’s like the Leaning Tower of Pisa; it’s about to fall, but you don’t really feel anything.”
Deto is joined by his bandmates — guitarist and songwriter Kei Mabuchi, bassist Takashi Shimizu and drummer Takashi Katsuura — who insist that the Leaning Tower metaphor isn’t a reference to the band’s future. Regardless, the album shows a newly found restraint not seen in Ogre’s earlier work. After being together for a decade, with experiences touring the United States and working with labels both major and independent, the band has amassed a dedicated following in Japan and a small fan base abroad, with notable musicians such as The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr among them.
In fact, Ogre’s earlier guitar-driven sound had them being hailed as Japan’s Modest Mouse.
“We were doing the band in that sort of vein when we started, but from around 2011 we started getting into 1960s and ’70s psychedelic and soul and AOR,” Deto says. “Our sound now is a result of us absorbing all that.”
The 10-track “Handoru,” which came out Nov. 9, follows the completion of a trilogy of records: “Homely” (2011), “100-nengo” (2012) and “Papercraft” (2014). According to Deto, the title for Ogre’s latest came to him after the songs were written. The album art, a minimalist representation of a swimming pool and diving board, was also designed by Deto.
“The cover is that moment before you jump into the water,” he says. “That moment is sometimes more terrifying then when you’re actually in the air, falling. I thought that feeling was in all of the songs.”
Ogre opted to step away from working with long-time producer You Ishihara (formerly of rock band White Heaven) for “Handoru,” who had been with the band since 2008. The members instead decided to self-produce it, something they hadn’t done since the group’s debut more than 10 years ago.
“We weren’t thinking about whether to do it with Ishihara or not do it with him; we were just writing songs,” explains guitarist Mabuchi. “As recording grew nearer, we started to feel that we wanted to try something where we shouldered the responsibility ourselves. So we talked to him and told him that we wanted to do it. He understood.
“There was a lot of pressure without him. We were cautious throughout the process, looking at things from different angles, working on it bit by bit.”
Songs such as “Nakushita” and “Atama no Taiso” reflect the band’s quirky funk, soul and AOR interests. Citing a range of artists — from R&B singers Timmy Thomas and William DeVaughn to modern indie acts Deerhunter and Ariel Pink — the album falls in line with a recent trend toward retro sounds in indie rock, as well as giving off elements of Japanese folk and 1970s new music, something akin to groups like Happy End and Off Course.
In terms of production, the group went with a more restrained sound on the tracks to create tension and a feeling of anticipation.
“We wanted to record the drums dry,” Mabuchi says. “Rather than have a live atmosphere, we wanted something that felt like there was no band there. We didn’t want people to see in their heads a band playing. Performing live will be a different story though.”
While Ishihara was not present during the recording sessions, the band’s other longtime collaborator, engineer Soichiro Nakamura, was. Nakamura, whose recording credits include albums for Yura Yura Teikoku and Boris, provided the band guidance in terms of sound and mixing. With Deto and Mabuchi handling production and songwriting duties, Shimizu and Kastuura had the task of supporting them both musically and emotionally.
“I think the record is very much those two. It’s a very organic record,” Katsuura says.
“They don’t produce with the same mindset of writing. I think it was a challenge for them to divide those two roles (in their approach to the album),” Shimizu says. “There must’ve been a lot of inner conflict. You have to keep looking at yourself objectively.”
The end result is an intense exercise in self-reflection that is being well-received by the band’s equally intense fan base.
“We don’t really think about who we want to listen to us; we just make what we want to listen to,” Mabuchi says. “But we want people who are really into music to listen to us, and we do wonder what they’ll think of it. But we’re not concerned about reaching the masses or anything, at least not initially.”
“Handoru o Hanasu Mae Ni” is in stores now. Ogre You Asshole embarks on a nationwide tour starting Nov. 26 at Hook Sendai (5:30 p.m. start, ¥3,500 in advance; 022-716-8633) and continues to Saitama, Sapporo, Nagano, Ishikawa, Yamanashi, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Nagoya, Osaka, Nagano and will finish up in Tokyo at Liquidroom on Feb. 4, 2017 (7 p.m.; ¥3,600 in adv.; 03-5720-9999). For more information, visit www.ogreyouasshole.com.