Music

What's in a name? Just ask Cairophenomenons

by Ryotaro Aoki

Special To The Japan Times

When a band changes its name, it sometimes signifies a switch in artistic direction. For indie band Cairophenomenons — previously known as Cairo — the decision was far more practical, even if the new moniker is a bit of a mouthful.

“Our band didn’t show up in any searches on the internet or Twitter,” shrugs guitarist and vocalist Shonosuke Nakamura. “You’d search for it and you’d only get results about Egypt, or other bands called Cairo.”

It’s a particularly modern dilemma. But Nakamura and his bandmates — guitarist, vocalist and keyboardist — Yuichiro Araya and bassist Rinkai Maeno, have been down this road before. The group was originally called SANM, an acronym of the members’ last names, but then the drummer left (ANM doesn’t have the same ring to it). And while Nakamura says the name change from Cairo to Cairophenomenons was simply a shrewd digital-era branding move, it coincided, once again, with the departure of a drummer — Kei Kato.

“After one of our shows he just suddenly told us that he wanted to leave,” says Nakamura, sipping on a cafe au lait at a cafe near Shimokitzawa Station in Tokyo. “So we were in a tough situation for a long time, and nothing really felt good to us last year. Things started to improve once (supporting drummer) Mizuki started playing with us.”

The sudden rupture in the band happened a few months after they released their debut album, “Same As Before,” last January. The lineup change hit them hard, and the band had to fulfill their remaining commitments as a three-piece with an iPod filling in for Kato. They spent much of the rest of 2016 figuring out how to move forward, dropping off the indie scene’s radar almost entirely. However, a supporting drummer was secured around September and, as things slowly began to fall into place, they received an offer from their record label Magniph to release an EP on cassette tape.

The result is the “Cue-EP,” which came out this month from Hostess/Magniph and will only be sold at independent record stores across the country or at Cairophenomenons shows. The four-song EP picks up from where the group’s debut album left off, albeit with more emphasis on production and arrangement.

“When we made the album, it was our first time, and we didn’t feel like the engineer completely captured the sound that was in our heads,” Araya says. “We weren’t unsatisfied with it, but there were things we wanted to do that we couldn’t. So we decided to do it ourselves so those ideas could come across more in the recording.”

Recorded and mixed by Araya, the four songs were captured overnight at a rehearsal space with minimal overdubs; the drums and bass were recorded together, and both Araya and Nakamura’s guitar parts were layered on top afterward. Vocals were done on a different date.

“The beauty of how the sounds lay on top of each other was something I thought about this time,” Araya says. Undeniably lo-fi, “Cue-EP” takes the listener through a 1980s-inspired tracklist of new wave, shoegaze and post-punk: “Maladjustment” is a mid-tempo track that tackles a breakup, the synthesizers of “Worms” are dark and restrained, and closing track “Grayed Ghost” channels mid-’80s Cure, if Boris Williams had been replaced with a drum machine.

The standout, however, is lead track “Boston.” It’s a glistening, mid-tempo jaunt into indie pop that features a nostalgic opening guitar motif. Nakamura says the title is a nod to the Ivy League fashion he’s into.

“There’s a book called ‘Take Ivy,’ and I was really into it when I was younger,” he says in reference to the 1965 fashion photography book by Teruyoshi Hayashida, Shosuke Ishizu, Toshiyuki Kurosu and Hajime Hasegawa. “It shows a bunch of university students, but to me it represents adolescence. We have a song called ‘Ivy’ on ‘Same As Before’ about a boy sitting alone in a classroom. ‘Boston’ is like the university version of that track. To me, Ivy fashion has never changed. These photographs continue to be published and it’s like youth that are just standing still. There’s a loneliness in that.”

The release of “Cue-EP” comes during a continued indulgence in cassettes among Japanese indie kids. They’re cheap, nostalgic and a good choice if you want a physical product to contain your art.

“Rather than a CD-R, a cassette is more like vinyl in terms of something that you can preserve,” Nakamura says. “I don’t think everyone is adamant about releasing their stuff on cassettes, though. I think everyone actually wants to put out vinyl, but can’t.”

With a release party geared up for March 3 at Three in Shimokitazawa, Cairophenomenons are hoping the third time’s the charm. The event — which will also feature Ultrafog, Naoya Takakuwa from Batman Winks, Luby Sparks and a solo set by Taigen Kawabe from labelmate Bo Ningen — is part of the band’s hope to re-establish and define itself in Tokyo’s crowded scene.

“We feel uncomfortable with the music that gets called indie in Japan,” Nakamura says. “We often get labeled as city pop, and that feels strange to us. We want to be able to show people that we’re different … what indie really means.”

Cairophenomenons’ “Cue-EP” is out now. The band plays Shimokitazawa Three in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, on March 3 (7 p.m. start; ¥1,500 in advance; 03-5486-8804). For more information, visit www.cairophenomenons.tumblr.com.