Club music usually gets you pumped up for a night out. Music about clubs? Those songs are just as likely to focus on the come down from the good vibes: There’s Robyn being ignored in the corner on “Dancing on My Own” or Morrissey going, standing and leaving on his own in The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?”
Describing their music as “sad boy disco,” Tokyo duo Elleh (pronounced “LA”) seems to identify with the Robyns and Morrisseys of the world. Vocalist Satoru Teshima says the inspiration for his and Bob Willey’s songs is that moment when “you’re waiting for the first train home, all your friends are gone … and you’re left alone with all your feelings and the music.”
It’s that loneliness that lingers at the heart of Elleh’s songwriting, but Teshima also says that the duo’s newest EP, “Anthems Part III,” is still its “most accessible and poppiest album to date.”
Teshima, 29, first met Willey, 40, at a club event in Osaka six years ago. At the time, Willey was making music as part of the Kansai-area indie band Ice Cream Shout and creating electronic tracks under the moniker of Cloudy Busey.
After Willey mentioned an interest in producing, Teshima played him some songs he’d written for fun. Eventually, Teshima moved to Tokyo for work and Willey followed a year or so later, in part to give Elleh a serious try.
The pair has released two other “Anthems” EPs (“Door to Tomorrow” on “Anthems Part I” in particular shows off their knack for a good melody), but the housier-sounding “Anthems Part III” is their first release on a label, the London-based Rare Cut Records. Though the trilogy has come to an end, Teshima says there are plenty of tracks leftover that are more in the vein of Fleetwood Mac. Sad boy disco is obviously a broader genre than it might imply, but then again so are Teshima’s influences.
“I was really into those artists who used their voices as instruments like Imogen Heap and maybe Kate Bush,” says Teshima, who cites Bush often when talking about where he finds inspiration. He adds, however, that he recently went through what has become a now-annual bout in which he listens “to nothing but Radiohead for two weeks.”
Also on regular rotation in his phone’s music library is the album “One Night Stand,” produced by psychedelic jam band Mariah with actress Naomi Akimoto on vocals. He’s also listening to synth pioneer Haruomi Hosono, Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice and, of course, Robyn.
It’s tempting to think that Elleh gets most of its sad boy vibe from the music Teshima listens to, but he says it primarily comes from living in Tokyo. There’s a loneliness here that is akin to the feeling when you’re “hanging out with your best friend and they have to leave and your house feels really empty all of a sudden,” he says. There’s this “kind of guilt or concern that the whole wide world is happening out there … so why am I at home doing nothing?”
In a city of 13 million, that’s a rather isolating thought, until you give Elleh, Robyn and The Smiths a listen and realize you’re not as alone as you think.