When was the last time you found yourself “in hell”? For Adam Graham, frontman for Japanese rock act Joy Opposites, it was last year.
“The creation of this record was hell in a lot of ways,” Graham says with a laugh. “Not in that it was a particularly difficult birth, but just in that we were in a really weird place with the business side of the band and that threatened to swallow everything whole.”
The 38-year-old vocalist and guitarist, originally from Northwich, England, might be referring to Joy Opposites’ departure from Ivy Records although he doesn’t go into details. But he admits that, while a bit chaotic, the experience of “going through hell” resulted in an abundance of artistic inspiration.
“There were times when I didn’t think we’d even be able to get the album out! So it’s a testament to our commitment that we actually came out of the whole situation with this total banger,” he says.
Joy Opposites’ second studio album, “Find Hell,” came out via Hostess Entertainment in November. The tracks on the album were all inspired by infamous hellish experiences.
“Each song is based on a book, movie or comic book that, to me, is about somebody going through a certain kind of hell,” explains Graham, who relishes the thought of diehard fans stumbling across the subtle allusions in his lyrics and figuring out what inspired them.
For that reason, he’s not giving away too many clues as to who the tracks are about, but he’s eventually convinced to give away a couple. “Good Luck,” which also came out on a separate 7-inch, references “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and the track “Sleep” is inspired by the 1990 film “Misery.”
“In that movie the main character has what so many people dream of: absolute adoration from certain fans,” Graham explains. “I think this adoration, this fame, is something that a lot of people think they want, and yet in ‘Misery’ it becomes something really sinister.”
The film’s author protagonist meets “his biggest fan” after she saves him from a car wreck, but she soon becomes obsessive and violent. Graham’s lyrical interpretation reads somewhat cryptically: “Cut off my feet my friend, I won’t be running when the sleep comes calling, over and over and…”
Graham, a 10-year-veteran of the Japanese rock scene thanks to his time in the band Fact, says he places a lot of importance on his lyrics, which are sung in English. Joy Opposites albums include Japanese translations.
“I think it’s really important for Japanese fans to have that with the record,” he says. “It’s such an important tool (in helping) the band present itself, but also for Japanese fans to understand what we’re about.”
Musically, “Find Hell” is a creative blend of tunes that expertly makes use of hard-hitting and adrenaline-packed choruses, as well as melodic and mellow verses that deliver exactly what a rock record should. Fans may also find some of the album’s adventurousness refreshing, such as flashes of what sounds like a nod to industrial rock. Combine this with the distinctly arranged vocal lines of the record — which are enhanced by a particular vocal-doubling technique — and “Find Hell” feels like it belongs in the record collections of every rock fan.
Joy Opposites are currently on a nationwide tour, which prompts Graham to talk about the distinctions between playing in Japan and overseas.
“The fan experience is really different,” he says. “For example, when the band is playing (here) everyone is transfixed. But as soon as the band stops, it all goes quiet. It feels like everyone is just waiting for the next cue to enjoy themselves.”
This aspect of the Japanese concert experience is something Graham wishes would change.
“People here definitely do get wild, but I think they like to be told to get wild. They like to have a band member literally say, ‘Everybody put your hands in the air,’ or ‘Circle pit’ — kind of like conducting the crowd,” he says. “To me that is more entertainer than musician. I’m not into that at all. For Joy Opposites, I want people to enjoy us in their own way. I don’t want to tell people how to enjoy the show.”
Once he starts talking about the concert experience, it seems like Graham has opened the vault, and he expands on numerous ideas about what could be changed at live performances.
“The product that bands are selling, and the way it is consumed, seems to be quite sterile in a lot of ways,” Graham says, adding that, in his opinion, barriers are put up by both Japanese fans and the Japanese media that prevent the scene from “having balls.” He shares a personal anecdote about a Japanese act he knows in which a certain member was caught in possession of marijuana and was subsequently forced to leave the band under threat of the label dropping the group entirely. Graham notes that this environment leads to a situation in which “artists, as well as fans, are afraid of saying and doing things that are edgy.”
“It’s not like I’m a big proponent of weed,” he says, “but it’s not the worst thing in the world.” Graham says he expressed his views on the issue on Twitter, after which Japanese fans of the band (Her Name In Blood) stormed his feed with disapproving comments.
“Right then I realized ‘Guy in rock band smokes weed’ is not a story anywhere, but it is here.”
Graham makes it clear that he doesn’t feel that his success in Joy Opposites has given him free range to force changes in the Japanese rock music scene, but he does try to “offer alternative viewpoints” in an effort to nudge things in the direction of the open-minded mentality that is true to the art form’s roots.
“When I used to go to shows as a kid, I just wanted to watch the band play the songs that, until then, I had only ever heard on the record,” he says. “That was enough for me, and I want that to be enough for other people.”
“Find Hell” is in stores now. Joy Opposites is currently on tour and plays Crazy Mama’s 2nd Room in Okayama on March 1; Music Zoo Kobe on March 2; America-mura Clapper in Osaka on March 4; VanVanV4 in Kanazawa on March 6 and Daikanyama Unit on March 9. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. (Osaka show starts at 6 p.m.) and cost ¥3,000 in advance. For more information, visit www.joyopposites.com.