Music

The Abjects: London-based, but internationally minded

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Contributing Writer

It has been exactly two years since The Abjects, a London-based power pop and garage trio, last toured Japan, and since then the one thing that has been constant is change.

Some of that change found its way on to the group’s debut LP “Never Give Up,” such as with the song “F—- Brexit.” As Noemi Santiago, the Spanish lead singer from the all-female lineup, sings defiantly and optimistically on that track, “We’ll travel the world, we’ll come and go, we’ll find our place where we belong.”

The Abjects’ debut LP, released by Texas-based label Yippee Ki Yay Records, details the journey of the past two years. The record was a while in the making, according to Santiago.

One thing that held it up was geography: The Abjects hail from Spain (Santiago, vocals and guitar), Italy (Alice Notaristefano, drums) and Japan (Yuki Ishii, bass), and what unites them all, besides music, is London.

However, during the recording of the album, the band’s members all retreated to their respective corners of the world for a while. Ishii is now back in Japan, but The Abjects are managing to hold it together, hence the name of the album “Never Give Up,” which was released in February.

The eight-date Japan tour kicked off in Tokyo on May 15 and heads to Matsumoto on May 16 before winding its way down to Kansai and circling back to the capital

The last time the trio played together was earlier this year at the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Austin in March, which was followed by a short American tour.

The Abjects formed in London in 2015 when Santiago, who has been in and out of a number of bands, decided to have a go at songwriting. When she had penned a couple of songs she approached Ishii — whom she knew from working together in London — and asked her if she wanted to be in a band.

As Santiago says, the proposition also came with a request: Would Ishii play bass and sing in their new outfit?

Santiago recalled that Ishii’s first reaction was to laugh and say “I can’t play anything.”

Santiago duly reassured her of the songs’ simplicity.

While Ishii was a novice on the bass, she learned hammond organ growing up in Tokyo.

“That helped me find the bass line much easier,” she says. In Santiago, a bass player, Ishii also found a teacher.

“She picked it up super quickly,” Santiago says, adding that the reason she asked Ishii to take up the bass was because, in the process of writing songs, she discovered singing and playing the bass simultaneously was a bridge too far.

“I’m such a terrible person,” Santiago says with a laugh about asking Ishii to step up.

Notaristefano, the third and final member, came to join the band a little while later via a gig The Abjects played at a vintage clothes shop that Notaristefano, a promoter, had organized.

In setting up the The Abjects, Santiagio ultimately wanted it to be an all-female lineup.

“It was intentional,” she says. “I’ve played before in bands with boys and girls, and somehow I’ve always felt more comfortable playing with girls — there was less competition and less bossiness and it was more democratic.

“I just wanted to make a band with my girlfriends, really, and that’s what I did.”

As for musical influences, the trio has catholic tastes that stretch from the obvious such as rock to jazz and electronic.

When it came to giving The Abjects a musical shape, though, Santiago says two bands in particular were strong reference points: The Seeds, a 1960s American rock outfit that helped usher in the sounds of garage punk, and Pylon, an American rock group from the 1980s.

Pylon’s “guitar playing is quite amazing, but the songs are fairly simple,” she says.

Other pioneers such as The Stooges and The Velvet Underground are also huge influences, Santiago says.

In a strange twist, The Abjects’ first gig as an all-female lineup was at an event set up by London-based Japanese promoter and musician Kenichi Iwasa, who founded the popular Krautrock Karaoke night in London in 2013.

Santiago says London is a fun place to start a band. For starters, there’s the diversity and creativity that London offers up in spades. And there are also plenty of opportunities and venues to play.

“There are gigs Monday through Sunday,” Santiago says.

The other side of that, though, is the low financial return of gigging, given the level of competition that comes with so many bands plying the circuit.

“There’s a lot of opportunity in London, but at the same time it’s tough,” Santiago adds.

While the band hasn’t played together since the American tour earlier in the year, the hectic gig-heavy schedule of SXSW helped it enormously.

“You just get so good,” Santiago says. “You’re actually weirdly relaxed and you can do it like it’s nothing. It’s really good to get tight.”

As with previous Japan tours, The Abjects’ members are looking forward to getting to know new bands here. In the past they’ve played with a mix of local power pop, garage and punk bands including Mellvins, The Fadeaways, The 5.6.7.8’s and The Highmarts.

“Playing at home (in Japan) is special,” Ishii says, “especially as a London-based band.”

The current tour features a strong lineup of all-female support groups, such as Tokyo outfit The Vertigos and the Kyoto-based Nice to Meet You.

With The Abjects’ first LP finally out and having had two SXSW deployments, Santiago says that the Japan tour is a chance for the band to “enjoy the ride.”

The Abjects play Give Me Little More in Matsumoto on May 16, Kirchherr in Hamamatsu on May 17, Pop! Pizza in Kyoto on May 18, Three in Tokyo on May 22, Night Wax in Osaka on May 23, Bar Ripple in Nagoya on May 24 and Red Cloth in Tokyo on May 25. For more information, visit abjects.co.uk.