Wednesday 1 November 2017

SHARKK "Be That Way" Interview

As the drummer with the bands Tropical Death and Looprider, who are themselves releasing the Modern Maze EP and re-releasing the Ascension mini-album respectively on Cassette Store Day 2017, Sean McGee is probably Call And Response Records’ loudest cheerleader for cassettes. However, while he’s an ensemble player in those other bands, he is the leader, producer and sole full member of Sharkk, whose second release, the Be That Way EP, joins his other bands on the Cassette Store Day release roster this year.

Inhabiting a sonic and musical territory that will sound instantly familiar to fans of mostly U.S. turn-of-the-millennium indie rock and pop-punk, Sharkk is a way for McGee to filter and process many of the influences that shaped him growing up. Sharkk’s first, self-titled EP was in many ways about McGee piecing together a story of how he got to where he is now. Meeting up to talk with him about this new release, it’s interesting how much the past continues to inform and shape the way he takes his music forward.

IAN: So I thought this time, we’d go through the album track by track and you could tell me about what’s going on with each song. The first song on the album is Firelight.

SEAN: Yeah. So with Firelight I had a simple punk riff and I felt like I wanted Eugene [Roussin, Tropical Death guitarist/vocalist] to help out. He came over and was like, “I really want to put synth on it,” so we got my wife’s Microkorg out. It was meant to be a simple pop song and it kind of is – it reminded us of The Get-up Kids. I didn’t have the lyrics and so he just said, “Let’s do them now.” My lyrics are usually more personal, but because of the way we wrote it, there’s more fiction. It reminds me of things that happened to me, but it’s not real in the same way. It also has that Eugene, Tropical Death vibe. I’d like to work with him more, maybe make a new project. Eugene has a very unselfconscious sense of humour and I think he sometimes likes the idea of, “It's supposed to be stupid,” but I can’t always go as far down that road as him. Sometimes I had to stop him being too funny.

IAN: I think Eugene likes to write from the point of view of characters, often taking on positions he doesn’t agree with in order to satirise them. What’s this song about?

SEAN: Basically it’s the story of a kid who finally gets the girl. His parents are divorcing and he hears them through the wall. I’m like, “Where does that come from?” Eugene likes to create stories out of the air, out of his imagination, but I like to speak more from experience. I tell people my lyrics are fiction, but actually it’s usually just me talking directly. That’s the difference between me and him: he likes to take on someone else’s perspective in order to say what he really wants to say, but I like to mask my own voice when actually it’s really me talking. This song adds some color to the album though by coming from a different perspective. My voice sounds less confident I think, because I had to think about how to sing it because it’s not my story.

IAN: I sometimes find that I’ll write something and then can’t sing it because the words just don’t sound right with my voice or my delivery.

SEAN: That happened with this song too. I had to change some words because my mouth just moves in certain ways. I had to change words to a different word with the same meaning so they flow out of my mouth. I don’t relate to the lyrics in the same way as with my other songs— my parents aren’t divorced – but I understand sadness! I wish I’d sung them sweeter, but I think maybe I sang them too aggressively because I wanted it to fit in with the rest of the album. Basically I just got to write a cool little punk track with my friend, which was nice!

IAN: OK, so the next song’s Tonight. The lyrics from this one are where the title of the EP comes from really, isn’t it? It’s interesting how the phrase “be that way” changes its meaning when used out of context like that. I initially read it like, “OK then, be that way, I don’t care!” while in the song, the meaning doesn’t sound so confrontational.

SEAN: Right. I mean, here it’s more defiant perhaps, saying, “Be your way, fuck everybody else.” I didn’t realise till later, but the way I use “be that way” in this song, it’s more vague than I originally intended. What I was trying to express is that, for example you have these kids who have a problem – maybe they’re depressed, gay, whatever – and they’re having a hard time because of it. When I sang, “It ain’t so hard to be that way,” what I wanted it to mean is people say “Why are you complaining? Why can’t you just be normal.” And their response is “It’s not so wrong to be that way! Being my way isn’t wrong. Why can’t you understand?”

IAN: The next song, Underground, makes me smile a little because of how much time I’ve spent in what I guess you could call the “underground”. There’s a lot of mixed emotions that come with that: there’s pride but at the same time being underground is in some other ways a mark of failure.

SEAN: Thematically it follows on from the previous track for me. Although beside the fact that these lyrics suck, there is a bit of a question of why is it called Underground? Initially it was a demo title that just stuck.

IAN: It feels like it’s saying something like how because underground is the very bottom – like, it’s below the lowest point really – there’s actually a strange sense of security in that. Like you can’t fall any further. You’re on solid ground.

SEAN: What it’s about is that the singer is mad about stuff. There’s this bitterness toward the resistance you meet trying to do what you want, but there’s some irony here. You’re not falling down here in the underground – like, what are you trying to prove? I wanted it to come across as positive though. I wanted it to be a fist-pumping song, but when I think about who’s singing it, which is me, 32 years old and not really amounting to anything, it’s kind of ironic too.

IAN: Haha, well we’ll see about that. The next track is Fuse, and it kind of shifts the tempo down.

SEAN: From my perspective, I hear the voice of someone afraid of growing old and being irrelevant. This song is a feeling I can only recreate in songs. It’s looking back on a past summer love of sorts. The only way I can write a nice sappy love song that kids can relate to is if I remember how I felt back then. This song is saying we’re never going to be able to be together again, so we have to enjoy it while it lasts. That’s what I like about songwriting, and I’ve talked about this with my wife, who’s also a songwriter: it’s a way I can talk about memories, feed off past memories and have it not become something destructive or unhealthy – because they’re nice stories that are good to share.

IAN: Sometimes it feels to me that the nature of rock, pretty much since the 1970s when it reached its maturity as a genre, is to look back. It’s the mainstream popular musical form that deals most powerfully with nostalgia. Some might suggest that makes rock less relevant than dance music or hip hop, but having a relationship with the past and being able to link that in with how you’re feeling or what you’re experiencing now seems like a valuable role for pop culture to play as well.

SEAN: Yeah, that’s why I like it! Deathcab For Cutie’s new album is really his divorce album. It’s looking back nostalgically, but it’s really about now. He’s only going to be able to write that once. I’d have to divorce [my wife] Madoka to write that album!

IAN: Or get Eugene to write the lyrics.

SEAN: It’s also my limitations as a lyricist that I have to have these experiences I can feed off. I’m not a poet, not a storyteller; I just do what I can. Talking about lyrics can be so lame, like, “Look at these great feelings I have!” but it’s also fun just trying to put it down and make sense of it. I was watching a cheesy film with my wife and the girl was saying, “No more secrets, OK?” and my wife asks me “Do you have secrets?” I mean, of course I do! Do you want me to tell you everything? That’s what lyrics are for!

IAN: So the last song on the album is Hanging On, which is another slower paced song but much heavier.

SEAN: I don’t think I could write another song like this. It’s very minimal. I thought about calling it “Cicada” because they’re born, they sing their hearts out and then they die – “Is this really all there is? I don’t want to leave yet.” It’s about death and directed at a dying person saying, “I know I’m never going to see you again, but I don’t want to lose you.” At the same time, the dying person is the one who taught the narrator that they need to hang on. It’s kind of simple. It’s also a nice parallel with the first EP, because the first one ended with Doe, which is saying “We’ll make it there somehow,” but this is ending with death and the message is “Hang on.”

IAN: Are there some themes like that you find yourself returning to again and again?

SEAN: If I could narrow my songwriting down to three themes, which are on the last EP and this one and which I’ll continue writing about, I think they’re firstly these love songs looking back on sweet, naive past romances. Then there’s the fist-pumping “fuck you” songs, and then there’s death – the numbing feeling of “we’re going to die and this is all we have”. Those are the cheesy things that really get me going!

IAN: You always seem to collaborate with a bunch of other people, despite this really being a solo project. How did the various contributions pan out on Be That Way?

SEAN: Basically I wrote the songs, but Eugene was a part of the process of Firelight. He added keys which changed the vibe. Eugene wrote his synth and guitar parts. Yoyo [Looprider guitarist/vocalist Ryotaro YoyoAoki] played on the last track, although I kind of directed him in what to play, then he improvised the noise section at the end. On Underground my friend Machida wrote one of the guitar parts, and he and Eugene also helped record Tonight. Panther Lau was part of the process of Fuse, sending demos of his ideas for parts back and forth. He played guitar and keys. Machida helped on Fuse as well.

IAN: Production-wise it’s also a bit of a change from the first EP.

SEAN: The process was a bit strange, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do a DIY album or a well-recorded pop-punk album. I think it went more the latter way in the end, and because I was heading in that direction, I listened to a lot of pop-punk, especially when I was thinking about lyrics and vocal delivery. I was listening to the song Gone by Pulley a lot when I was trying to make Underground to try to get some inspiration.

IAN: How about the overall texture of the sound – the recording and mixing? I really like the way the music sounds.

SEAN: It was recorded by Graeme Mick, who has also worked on recent Tropical Death and Looprider releases, and it was mixed by Mike McGovern, who I worked with before on my split cassette for Cassette Store Day 2016. Carl Saff mastered it. You know Epitaph Records? I think their stuff is really nice sounding. I wanted to be like this. I was talking to Graeme and played him Millencolin’s No Cigar and he was like, “Yeah, we can totes do this.” I think that level was a bit out of my reach really, but Modern Baseball and the album Holy Ghost was maybe more like something I could get close to.

(We start listening to the song Wedding Singer)

SEAN: It sounds organic, like some kids in a room. If you hear overly produced pop-punk, it sounds terrible, but if you hear well-produced, organic sounding stuff, it sounds great. I think that’s what I wanted on this album: in a way to sound like a band, I guess.

Be That Way is available from SHARKK directly via Bandcamp or from the Call And Response online store. For more information about SHARKK, there is a Facebook page here.

Monday 27 March 2017

Looprider "Umi" Interview

With the release of Umi, Looprider’s third album in less than two years, Ian from Call And Response and Ryotaro from Looprider met up for one of their biannual discussions about music and band life. A single, largely instrumental, 25-minute long song, the album sets itself up as a challenge to the listener, but as some reviewers have already pointed out, it’s a rewarding one.

We start out reading the transcript of an earlier interview with Ryotaro’s former bandmates Tropical Death, laughing at lame attempts by Ian and Tropical Death guitarist/keytarist/vocalist Eugene Roussin to stoke some kind of fake Blur/Oasis-style rivalry between the bands.

IAN: With these interviews, we often seem to have a few musical reference points that we can use to kick off the discussion. Last time, when Ascension came out, you even brought a stack of CDs for me, so what song should I listen to to understand your album this time round?

RYOTARO: From another band?

IAN: Well, obviously. I’ve already heard your band.

RYOTARO: Maybe Mono, or Yes, Close to the Edge

IAN: OK, Close to the Edge. That’ll keep us going for a while. It’s eighteen minutes long, so you beat it by seven.

RYOTARO: There are other songs on that album though! No, but really the reason Umi was 25 minutes is because in Tokyo, bands always play for 25 minutes. That’s a typical live set, and I wanted to make something we could play as one set.

IAN: It’s interesting that even an album that you worked the studio so hard to make is still tied to the format of a live performance. I’ve always thought that’s the reason the mini-album format dominates in Tokyo indie scene.

RYOTARO: I think that’s a fair assessment. I mean, the 25-minute thing was only partly because of doing it as a live set. I also just thought it was a cool idea. And another thing was if we ever did a one-man show, the encore could be Umi.

IAN: A 25-minute, one-song encore!

RYOTARO: I just thought it would be funny. That’s where most of my ideas start from!

IAN: Close to the Edge has more vocals than Umi as well.

RYOTARO: Yeah, it has maybe three minutes of vocals or something. I knew I wanted to do this kind of record when I started the band though. It’s a natural place I wanted to go to.

IAN: So even at the time of your first album, My Electric Fantasy, you were already thinking this direction?

RYOTARO: I had some of it written. Not all the sections in their current form, but I had the concept.

IAN: You’ve also been pitching it as a kind of semi-concept album

RYOTARO: Yeah, about the sea, the ocean.

IAN: And also the origin of life, right?

RYOTARO: Well the artwork is this long piece, and it starts dark and gets lighter as it goes up, and the album’s the same. It starts chaotic, and then it gets brighter. I described it to the band as like you're rising out of the water, into the sky, and out into space, like the Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That was kind of an afterthought though — it just seemed that way to me after it had been put together.

IAN: So it wasn’t called Umi from start?

RYOTARO: The first demo I think was called Autumn, because I wrote it in autumn. The first part I wrote was the quiet part after the opening section.

IAN: You guys also don’t have as much glitter as Yes. No spangly cape.

RYOTARO: That might be a way to go.

IAN: I don’t think you can really go there until you’re already playing stadiums.

RYOTARO: It was a really hard album to make, though.

IAN: Why was that?

RYOTARO: We couldn’t learn it as one song, even though it’s supposed to be listened to in that way. It was written in parts and then we learned and practiced it in parts, but it had to seem like one song. Then there was the double drummer thing, plus all these layers of guitars and other instruments we don’t usually use.

IAN: Like what?

RYOTARO: Well, there were bells, keyboards, synths.

IAN: I always thought you didn’t like keyboards.

RYOTARO: Oh, it was a, what would you call it, a "knobby synth”! Not a keyboard synth: a modular synth. We worked with [engineer] Graeme a lot. I really have to talk about how important he was to this album. He’s the guy who’ll do whatever the album needs. Not everyone thinks like that. I remember saying, “If we need the throw a piano from the second floor of his house to make the album sound better he’d probably do it.” He was a good foil and he became really invested in the record, as much as I was, and hopefully we both learned a lot about recording and how to put together something like this. And also just hanging out with him, having coffee and biking around, talking about Werner Herzog, the feeling of all that is on the record — I don’t know if anyone else can hear it, but it's there! We did it in the summer and there are cicadas, so he recorded some of them and if you listen really carefully, you can hear it. It brought a kind of character that I don’t think I would have got if I’d just asked a typical studio guy. It would have been more calculated and cold, I think.

IAN: Alright, so maybe now’s a good time to listen to Umi then. Usually I like to listen to a few other songs for a while before going into the album we’re talking about, but since we’re talking about the recording process.

RYOTARO: You want to wait?

IAN: No, Close to the Edge is as long as eight normal songs anyway. As long as nine songs on your last album.

[Umi comes on the stereo]

IAN: There are some Eno-ish bits near the beginning that remind me of the instrumental tracks from My Electric Fantasy. On that album, because everything was so disparate, so diverse, it was hard to know where they came from, and that’s partly what made that such an interesting album. But here, hearing this helps makes sense of what was happening then — it contextualises it.

RYOTARO: Yeah, I wrote some of this album at the same time. The Boredoms were a big influence in this bit.

IAN: Although you do it with 98 fewer drummers than they did! Was it difficult working the twin-drums thing? When you play parts of Umi live, you do it with Sean on drums and Haruka hitting a floor tom.

RYOTARO: It was designed to work with just Sean, but the other drum is important to add a layer you can’t get with just a floor tom. Visually it’s exciting, seeing two drummers play in sync. I didn’t realise how much of a pain in the ass it would be, but it’s been worth it.

IAN: So the visual impact is also important. That again seems to reflect the way you see a link between the recording and the live rendition of it.

RYOTARO: When I’m writing the music, I like to visualise the band actually playing it, yeah.

IAN: In some ways, I think there’s a disconnect growing between live and recording. They’re consumed so differently, especially with the way so much music is listened to quietly on tinny laptop speakers and crappy Apple earbuds. To make music work like that, musicians and producers seem to have gravitated towards sounds and styles of working that don’t play to the strength of a live environment.

RYOTARO: Yeah, but at the same time, I’m suspicious of the idea that live is the only authentic version of a band. Live and recording exist in parallel.

IAN: Sometimes something that’s interesting on a record can also be interesting live, but there’s still a disconnect in how they’re interesting. Like, in some music, especially pop music, so much of the music happens inside a computer that to make it work as a live thing, a whole kind of theatre abstracted from the music needs to grow up.

RYOTARO: I think rock people tend to be more enamoured with atmosphere, with how it feels, rather than if it’s played well, if it’s catchy or whatever. They enjoy the swagger, that sort of thing.

IAN: The attitude, maybe? Although you don’t see so much “attitude” in the Japanese indie scene.

RYOTARO: I think people are more neurotic. More “brainiac".

IAN: Also, because of ow small the scene is, if you give it all that rock swagger, people just going to think, “You wanker! You were just down here a minute ago, drinking at the same bar!” With Looprider, you’re obviously very enamoured with “rock” as a thing, but I guess you have to walk a line between acknowledging that you exist in this indie world but not downplaying your ambition to rock.

RYOTARO: Yeah. I don’t want it to be arty: I want it to rock. You get what I mean right?

IAN: I noticed you like rock!

RYOTARO: But some people are so shy about liking rock: they don’t want to admit to liking Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones.

IAN: I’m not sure I agree with that. I think I’m the only person I know who actually doesn’t like those bands — certainly in Japan. I wonder if the shyness more in how they don’t let it into their own music.

[Looking at the album covers in his iTunes, Ian notices that the Looprider albums don’t show up in chronological order, and this annoys him.]

IAN: iTunes insisting on listing them alphabetically kind of bugs me. I want to see them in the order they came out.

RYOTARO: Maybe I should make a narrative around it, like in Star Wars where the release order wasn’t the same as the narrative order.

IAN: You often seem to decide the meaning of things you do after having made them.

RYOTARO: It’s interesting though. Lots of people think the girl on the album covers is the same girl. I never really thought about it that way.

IAN: It’s a more interesting reality if they are all the same girl. Now you bring it up, I’m already starting to imagine a richer world by thinking about how she might be the same. It’s interesting how on this album it feels like you can start to hear everything from the previous ones. You talked before about how the fourth was where everything was supposed to come together, but it seems to be happening here already. They already make a trilogy.

[Ashes in the Snow by Mono comes on]

RYOTARO: I’d never thought of it like that. It helps make the band more cohesive though. I’m very committed to the idea of these four people: our next one will be the first album that’s just the four of us — no guests, no elaborate production, just four people in the room, playing. Hopefully that’ll finally bring it all together.

IAN: So who was on this album?

RYOTARO: There was me, Haruka, Sean, the bassist was a different guy from Wookie, who plays with us live, and then there was Kazuya, who’s the drummer from Day And Buffalo and Start of the Day, and then Eugene from Tropical Death.

IAN: Who was talking shit about you in the interview I did with his band!

RYOTARO: He loves me! So what this album has helped to is that it makes it easier for us as a band to see what we’re going for and helps tie everything together. The idea of a guitar band that mixes shoegaze and metal in a Japanese and American context. There are different things on each album, and with just two, the first might seem like us and the second a detour, but by changing again for the third one, it establishes the second as not just a detour.

IAN: It tells people you’re on a journey.

RYOTARO: And it tells people it wasn’t a joke. Also, putting them out in a short timespan was important.

IAN: Yeah, you made three albums in one and a half years. Most bands wait three years between one album and the next.

RYOTARO: I think this is one of the ways you and I are similar: We keep having ideas and want to see them to end. I'll get dispirited and think, "Why am I doing this?” but then I'll see film or something and, “Oh, maybe if I do that!”

IAN: And the same cycle of disappointment continues!

RYOTARO: I’m getting into the habit of putting out stuff quickly. This is more for the band — well, more for me — just to keep it exciting. To me, albums are a record of that time, so why wouldn’t you want to make as many of these records as you can?

IAN: That’s why they call them records.

RYOTARO: Touche! But this really is a record of that time, and of the relationships that have been born and evolved as the band has grown into being a real band. Like, our bassist couldn’t play, which had an impact on the shape the album took. And then there was the drummer Kazuya, who I met through Sachiko, who I worked with on Ascension. It’s the first album Haruka’s on. And also working with [engineer] Graeme and being in Fukiage out in Saitama for a long time. When I listen, I can still smell his house and remember biking around Fukiage. It’s a record of time, with everything in flux, so it’s interesting moment in time. It’s going to be interesting to see how it looks later when hopefully we’ll have albums with the four of us.

IAN: Bands often lose by waiting so long before making their first album. They lose that record of themselves in development — of themselves in flux.

RYOTARO: If someone told me to make this album now, I’d tell them no.

IAN: Pretty sure I told you not to in the first place, but you didn’t listen!

RYOTARO: Another thing is that I just don’t think a lot of bands don’t really consider what the stuff they’re doing will look like 10 or 20 years down the line.

IAN: Maybe they’re more concerned with the immediate problem of, “Is anyone going to actually care enough to buy this now?"

RYOTARO: But when I’m fifty, it’s not going to matter how many records we sold or how many people came to our gig. What’s going to matter is what we made — what we have to show for ourselves. I think that’s what being in a band’s about though.

IAN: What do you mean?

RYOTARO: A band will go through a set of experiences, meet people, go places, and then the band will have an opportunity to preserve that in some form, which is a record usually, and that record will be a catalyst for the next step, which is more experiences, meeting more people. That’s all a band does, so why wouldn’t a band want to keep records as much as they can.

IAN: Lots of bands just stop. They get the record and then, “OK, that’s done. What next?” and they split up.

RYOTARO: Well, that’s their problem.

Tropical Death "Thunder Island" interview

This interview was carried out on a Sunday evening in October 2016, at Tropical Death Guitarist Eugene Roussin’s apartment in Tokyo. Bassist Shingo Nakagawa, Drummer Sean McGee and guitarist “Tete” are also there, as is Ian from Call And Response Records, who’s doing the interview. The Thunder Island cassette EP had just been released on Cassette Store Day, the band were fresh from a rehearsal and already a few beers ahead of Ian. Barack Obama was still president of the United States of America, and no one seriously believed Donald Trump was going to win the upcoming election for his successor.

[As Ian arrives, Eugene and Shingo are already deep in discussion, trying to agree on an official history of the band]

EUGENE: Our show at (the event) Hot Freaks was the last one with Yoyo (Ryotaro Aoki, now of Looprider) in it, right?

SHINGO: So when did the band start?

IAN: You sound like criminals trying to get your story straight before a court appearance.

[All members go outside to smoke. Ten minutes passes.]

[We start listening to Looprider’s forthcoming album Umi]

IAN: So shall we start by talking shit about your ex-guitarist?

TETE: This is cool.

EUGENE: Shut up, Tete!

TETE: This sounds like Luna Sea.

SHINGO: It was 2014, April, that I met Sean for the first time. Yoyo introduced us and he gave me a card that just said “Sean, Drummer”. Yoyo wanted jam, so that might have been the first time the band started to exist in its earliest stages.

EUGENE: Before that, me and Shingo used to hang out and get wasted and make stupid music. I lived in this party house and we used to just go to the studio and do absolutely nothing.

SEAN: So we decided to jam and Shingo brought in Eugene. We were just jamming, then at the end of the session, Shingo was like, “When are we rehearsing again?” and we were like, “‘Rehearsing’? So are we a band then?” and we sort of followed along.

EUGENE: The first time we really became a band was when we wrote the skeleton for Commence, and there’s a bit of audio in recording we made in the studio where Shingo’s saying, “That’s like tropical death metal!"

SHINGO: At that time, I’d been out of The Mornings for a while and I wanted a real band. We started doing it and we all felt it was cool, that it worked.

IAN: The way you talk about it sounds a bit like describing a sexual encounter.

EUGENE: He just grabbed us by the pussy! I was playing in Human Wife at the time, and our drummer was leaving so I needed a new band. It was pure selfishness.

SEAN: And we started writing songs.

IAN: So how did Tete come into the picture?

SEAN: Yo, Shingo, tell him how you brought him in.

SHINGO: Well, there’s this convenience store in Kunitachi that I always go in to buy booze, and I started to recognise him. He just looked like he was either on drugs or he was a musician.

TETE: I’ve never seen Shingo come into that convenience store sober.

SEAN: He was like, “Are you a guitarist?” and he said “Yeah,” so we recruited him.

EUGENE: The first time I saw him, I thought he wasn’t a real guitarist. I was still looking for someone who’d be a replacement for Yoyo, but it’s actually worked out better and he suits the band.

TETE: You thought I was shitty at first?

SEAN: No, we were just worried!

IAN: So he helped you become yourselves as a band?

SHINGO: It balanced us out.

SEAN: For me, the first thing was that he had to do Yoyo’s part so we could play the songs for the shows. Then, when we started writing new material with Tete, the new material was different but just as good.

EUGENE: Yoyo has a lot of things he wants to do with a band, and he’s already doing that with Looprider. There was a gulf between that and what we would necessarily be able to write now. You Fucking Changed, Man is a very Yoyo song — I love it, but we couldn’t write that now.

SEAN: Tete’s very creative in a different way though.

SHINGO: We talked about a lot of 80s bands like Ippu-do, Strawberry Switchblade, Cocteau Twins…

SEAN: Luna Sea

EUGENE: But at the same time he needs to finish post-hardcore University.

SEAN: But he’s finished his thesis now. He came up with this killer post-hardcore riff in rehearsal today and Eugene graduated him top of his class.

SEAN: But the reason we recorded the EP was because Yoyo was leaving.

SHINGO: We wanted a document to help us pass on to the next stage.

EUGENE: There was also a full year where we did fuck all because we couldn’t find a guitarist.

SEAN: It set a fire.

IAN: And Tete “kept the fire burning”?


[We start listening to Fugazi Repeater]

EUGENE: During that period, Shingo freaked out a bit because he felt the band wasn’t serious enough.

SHINGO: Looprider was kicking off so Yoyo was really busy, but I wanted a serious band of my own.

SEAN: We had to organise ourselves and realise it was worth doing, even if it’s not always fun.

EUGENE: When Yoyo left, I lost confidence in our ability to get things going and we lost a lot of momentum.

SHINGO: I was talking about quitting for a while.

EUGENE: So when did you feel we really had something and it was worth continuing?

TETE: At the start, I was doing my own version of the songs, and at some point I felt I needed to just learn the songs properly.

EUGENE: For me, it was when we played Shingo’s wedding and I thought, “We can do this!”

SEAN: For me, it was when we were working on new songs with Tete, and I suddenly thought, “This is great. This kid’s good. We sound different, but we still sound like TD!” Plus we had an EP coming out, and I like it when bands actually do shit and get stuff out. And Eugene’s very sexy.

EUGENE: Who has a very small penis.

IAN: Small hands?

EUGENE: I said penis and I meant penis. But for me, the moment it came together was the second practice with Tete, when he plugged a Strat into a Marshall amp. I’m very small-minded like that.

SEAN: OK, if we’re being honest, I never lost confidence in the band and felt like I wanted to quit, but I did have one day where we were playing Commence and I didn’t like what Tete was doing with the intro, and I thought, “Well, we’ll probably get another guitarist." Then the second rehearsal he nailed it and I thought, “Oh, we’re good!” When we started doing new songs, I was like, “Yeah, now that’s it!”

TETE: With Commence at first I was doing my own thing, but now I’m doing what the original does.

SHINGO: Now I think we’re in a balance.

[Eugene’s girlfriend Anna comes into the room]

EUGENE: Who’s even interested in the minutiae of TD’s history anyway. Even Anna doesn’t care.

ANNA: I already know it!

[Everyone goes outside to smoke. Ten minutes passes.]

IAN: I’ve interviewed Yoyo a couple of times now, with the last two Looprider releases, and it seems his way of handling a band is quite different to yours. With him, the vision seemed to come first, and then he got musicians together to help him realise it. With you guys, it feels like the band comes first, and then then the music sort of emerges organically from that combination of people.

EUGENE: Well, the way we make the music is usually that I’ll come up with riffs. I’ll be like, "Here’s basic idea," but I don’t want to finish it myself, so I bring it in, then you guys take it, work with it, filter it through your own thing, and the result is songs that I’d never have been able to come up with myself.

SEAN: Yeah. That’s what I like about TD.

EUGENE: In my old band, I wrote all the songs myself, and now everything I write myself sounds like that and I hate it. Now, we all work on it and it comes out much better.

SHINGO: With me, a lot of it is that I just don’t like people telling me what to do.

SEAN: It’s not just that, it’s the organic process of all of us working together.

EUGENE: There’s no example I can think of where a solo artist was better than the band. The Beatles? Paul’s solo stuff is good, John’s is good, but none of it’s as good. You could say Neil Young, but I Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu is better than anything Neil Young’s done solo.

[Long pause]

SHINGO: Bjork? Cornelius?

SEAN: Is that a solo project or is that something else entirely?

EUGENE: I’m taking back my Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young comment then, since Neil Young was never the main thing in that.

SHINGO: Namie Amuro? She’s better than Super Monkeys.

SEAN: Kyosuke Himuro’s better than Boowy! No, just as good. Don’t write he’s better, but he’s just as good.

EUGENE: Morrissey and The Smiths.

IAN: Go stand in the corner. Maybe Julian Cope though. His solo career’s longer, deeper and richer than The Teardrop Explodes, and I think that can add up to something better once you take it as a whole.

EUGENE: Anyway, a band should be about collaboration. You’re not session musicians. If you just want guys who play everything you tell them to, you’re not a band.

SHINGO: That’s why I quit The Mornings. They started making music on a machine and I couldn’t do it.

[Blondie, Parallel Lines comes on]

EUGENE: Can we write a song like this?

IAN: What you’re saying about music needing to be something everyone’s creatively invested in, isn’t that partly a function of the way no one makes any money from playing in a band? Like, why would you do it if you’re not getting some creative satisfaction out of it?

SEAN: Yeah.

EUGENE: I’m not going to even say that. I’m just not going to play in a band where I’ve told them what to play. Because if I trust them, it’s going to be better than if I do it all myself.

SEAN: Totally.

EUGENE: I’m not saying that way’s right or wrong. It’s just that I don’t have that image in my head. I envy people who have that fully-formed image in their head, but I have 25% of the image in my head and I need people to fill it out with their own thing.

IAN: Just to be clear, you’re not talking about Ryotaro, right?

SEAN: We’re not talking about Yoyo! We love Yoyo! I love playing in a band with Yoyo!

SHINGO: Do not write this up as if we’re slagging off Yoyo! 

[Everyone goes outside to smoke. Ten minutes passes.]

[Blondie, Picture This comes on]

EUGENE: Can we write a song like this?

IAN: So, Tete, the EP was already recorded when you joined the band. What was your route into it? What was your impression of it? What did you like, or what did it remind you of?

TETE: The first song I heard was the Mir cover, 100nengo (from the compilation album Small Lights - A Tribute to Mir). There was a lot of things going on and a big difference between, say, New Age and Murder in the Streets. They’re not a hardheaded band: they’re open to a lot of different things.

IAN: Was there anything in your own background that you found could help you get into what they do?

TETE: With Murder, I liked that Eugene wasn’t playing guitar: he was playing keytar. I realised that they’re not a pure guitar band. I didn’t want to be in a band that had a very specific kind of music, who wanted a very specific kind of guitarist. The fact they did all kinds of music made me feel, “Oh, I don’t have to be this kind of guitarist.” I felt that had a freedom to have my own voice, free from too much expectation of how I should be as a musician.”

[Blondie, Pretty Baby comes on]

EUGENE: Can we write a song like this?

IAN: You’re saying that a lot.

EUGENE: This is pretty much the ideal band that I would like to be in.

IAN: You changed your name from Tropical Death Metal to just Tropical Death.

EUGENE: So obviously we knew about Eagles of Death Metal at the time, and there was that similarity hanging over us the whole time. Also, all our friends hated it — well you did and Graeme (Graeme Mick, engineer who recorded and mixed Thunder Island) did. It’s not a real band’s name: it sounds like a joke. The catalyst for changing it was the Bataclan attack. The first mail I saw that morning was Graeme who just wrote “Bataclan Death Metal”. Next, there was one from somebody replying to our Craigslist ad for a guitarist saying, “Are you serious?”

SEAN: And I remember at the time, I thought, “Man, I don’t want to end up having to explain this in an interview…" which is what I’m now doing anyway!

EUGENE: The crazy thing is the way the news cycle works, no one would even think that anymore. They’re all about Donald Trump. We’re in the same situation now now: I wrote this song Summer of Sin earlier this year that talks Donald Trump sexually molesting girls, and now it turns out it’s actually true and it sounds like we’re trying to get on that bandwagon. I was actually thinking about Brexit and the whole tribalist thing, and because I’m American my mind naturally turned to Trump.

SHINGO: So are we a political band?

EUGENE: What I like about Black Flag is that they’re also funny though. The lyrics I write aren’t overly political. There are lots of horrible things in the world and I’m not confident that people are going to be able to overcome them. So what do you do when things are depressing? You have fun! But I also want to show the emptiness of that approach to dealing with the world. I don’t want to be overly political — I couldn’t help it with Donald, but there are lots of things in the world — capitalism has become just vultures picking on bones, marketing and the means of manipulating people has become so refined. People don’t give a fuck, they can’t concentrate on anything anymore, and in that context we have all these problems cropping up and being taken advantage of by governments and corporations, and people can’t even comprehend that anymore because of a hundred years of the refinement of this machine. I’m an economics major and I used to think we we could control it, but I think it’s beyond that now. It’s just taking something, using it up and then throwing it away, and that’s all there is now. Even looking at it from a pure economics theory perspective, it’s just opportunism and there’s no externalities built into the model. Tropical Secrets is a jokey song about a bunch of dudes going to Southeast Asia, but at the same time, the point of it is about exploitation of resources in Third World countries, so what’s the most extreme version of that? Selling your people.

SEAN: I’d rather lyrics have meaning than just be about nothing.

EUGENE: I don’t want to make overtly didactic political statements because I’m not doing anything about it — I can’t change anything. I just feel kind of hopeless about a lot of things and that’s my way of expressing it.

IAN: The tape jacket, with a picture of a dude’s crotch with sexy swimming trunks, was that political?

EUGENE: That was Shinya, the designer, who does this thing called “Tough Guy Attack”. One of the first designs he made was a girl in a bikini, but Anna was like, “Why does it have to be a girl? Why can’t it be a dude?” So that was down to her, and her hyper-feminism.

[The Tropical Death EP comes on, starting with Murder in the Streets]

SHINGO: How did we write this?

EUGENE: We were just jamming.

SHINGO: I was really into disco-punk at this time.

SEAN: How did this heavy breakdown happen then?

EUGENE: That was me. I said, “Make it sound like Envy!”

SEAN: Well I fucked that up for you then!

EUGENE: This was round the time Ferguson happened. The lyrics of this song are way over the top though, because I wanted to have a song about a dystopian future that had a keytar in it.

[Commence commences]

EUGENE: I like the way that with this one you guys came up with it and I just came in and added something rather than me taking the lead.

SHINGO: This song is one where if you listen to the original session, it was all there right from the start, but then later we did the octaves.

SEAN: We talked about just being an instrumental band for a while.

SHINGO: I still think that could be cool.

IAN: That’s a terrible idea.

EUGENE: I think the vocals should be there to add another texture.

TETE: I like the mini-shoegazer part in the middle here.

SEAN: It’s a little too fast. We don’t play it this fast when we play live, because I don’t want it to.

IAN: And you’re the drummer so you get to decide how fast everyone plays.

[New Age comes on]

SEAN (to Eugene): This was your song.

SHINGO: It’s Yoyo’s favourite.

EUGENE: I can’t just write a song though, I have to wait for it. I don’t know where it comes from.

SEAN: It sounds really big.

EUGENE: It has to, because it’s called New Age! It’s a straightforward song.

SHINGO: I hardly do anything in this song. I remember an interview with Kim Deal, where she’s saying about musicians who don’t have the confidence to just play something simple and not make it complicated.

IAN: I think this is the song where someone listening to this album thinks, “Oh, this band can write a proper song”.

[You Fucking Changed, Man plays]

[Everyone sits in silence for a while and just listens. Eventually Sean speaks.]

SE: This was the problem child, but it turned out right.