I've been keeping radio silence for a while because I've been a little busy with various projects. One of these is a band called Hinemos, which is archaic Japanese for "all day long." Most Japanese people, I'm told, wouldn't understand the word.
We have been practicing every Sunday since we formed in February. The band members are some of the first Japanese friends I have made here. Playing in a band is a pretty good way to make friends because there's motivation beyond just hanging out. We're trying to accomplish something together and the socialization is a happy byproduct. We go out for sushi or to a Japanese pub after practice and we're probably going to Fuji Rock Festival this summer to see a reunited My Bloody Valentine.
We played our first show on Saturday. It was good fun; it's been a while since I played a show. I wasn't particularly nervous. I was rarely nervous before shows in Minneapolis, either, just excited. Although maybe I should have been nervous this time, because our set wasn't finalized until a couple hours before the show; we were still writing songs that afternoon. We cut it close.
On Friday we practiced until midnight in our usual studio near a scummy drainage canal that runs through Shibuya. We met again on Saturday in a studio in sleepy Nishiogikubo, where our show was to be held, and for three hours we tweaked songs, planned our set and rehearsed. In the end we still didn't have enough material for a full set, so we threw in a disco-fied cover of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army", which went down better than we had any right to expect.
Our music is spazzy, funky psychedelic rock. It's not like my previous Minneapolis band, Born Under Punches, but it's not too far removed, either. Junichi (vocals and accoustic guitar) usually takes the lead: he writes lyrics and usually decides chords and song structures. Jun-chan (bass) and Ito (lead guitar) are content to follow Junichi, and I just do what I do. At times I have to tone it down a bit; Junichi veers towards the J-pop side of things and that's no place for a free-form jungle throwdown. But luckily the members all cool and have good taste in music, and they are willing to indulge me in my more out-there moments, and even work my ideas into songs at times.
It's easy for me to go along quietly with Junichi's lighter pop moments, even if it's not really my style. I care a lot less about this band than I did about Born Under Punches. This time around there's no pipe dream of getting signed some day. I can't even practice drums regularly. Once a week with Hinemos is all I can manage right now. I've considered buying a silent practice set but I don't think it would be anywhere near the same as the full drum set right in my basement in Minneapolis. I'm not sure I have time to practice rigorously, anyway. Not like I used to.
I used to be almost spiritual about practice. An hour a day was barely even a warm-up. The second hour was where things started to get interesting, and it wasn't uncommon for me to play three or four hours some days. In those days, once a week would have hardly seemed worth bothering about. What would be the point?
Somehow, even though I took about eight months off, I haven't lost everything. I was surprised at this. I am rustier than I used to be, true, but I haven't lost it completely and I can see that it would come back if I had the opportunity to practice seriously. I would like that opportunity, though it may never come again.
Anyway, I'm OK with being a bit rough right now. I'm not studying jazz anymore and I don't have the impossible ideal of perfect musicianship to torment me. If anything, I'm more inspired by punk right now. I feel like playing dirty, ragged music and my current level of ability is fine for that. I can't really explain this urge. Maybe I'm angry about something, or maybe I've got some crazy energy to dissipate. Whatever the reason, I want to send out a musical middle finger to the world right now and I don't need to spend forty-five minutes practicing paradiddles to do it.
I'm not sure if Hinemos is going to be the right venue for that urge. The guys are cool, but pop-minded at the core, and I want to get a lot more experimental than that. But for the moment I am content to play J-pop and wreak a little havoc where I can. It's a good way to meet musicians and to feel out the Tokyo rock scene. I can get into my art-scum drum-and-bass at some later date. This is a way to dip my toes into the pool.
So now I have played Tokyo.
I haven't listened to the recording yet, but I think it went reasonably well. It was fun, which is the main thing for me. Quiet, reserved Ito went crazy onstage. Junichi warned me that he would, but I couldn't quite envision it. Lo and behold, not three minutes into the first song our bespectacled, polite guitarist was thrashing on the floor like a maniac. The memory still cracks me up. Dude flips a switch, live: during the last song he got so excited that he ripped off his glasses and threw them across the stage. After our set he spent five minutes searching for them, the darkness of the club hiding his red face.
Rock clubs are rock clubs, whether in Japan or the US, and the atmosphere was the same as lots venues in Minneapolis. Lots of black, band stickers and duct tape. Some details were a little different, though. For one, all the bands were very friendly. I'm used to bands giving each other a cold up-and-down when they meet for the first time, but on Saturday everyone greeted us ("good morning!") when we walked in. Everyone was bowing to each other and saying "onegaishimasu!" (very loosely translated, "I beg a favor of you!") all the time. I can see why Japanese bands rarely take the rock world by storm: there's something about constantly bowing and apologizing that just doesn't seem rock and roll. It's almost like they don't get it.
Sometimes I think someone should point this out to a few of them. Japanese musicians are often very precise; as with everything else, they practice doing things perfectly. I can respect that, given my studies in jazz. But they seem to forget that a lot of the music they really like wasn't made by people who tried to do everything perfectly. The classic rock, jazz, punk and reggae that they revere so much--these weren't created by people who shared their quiet appreciation of pristine form.
Punk, for instance, is popular in Japan. You can't "study" punk, I don't think. You can't approach it reverently, carefully and respectfully. It's the antithesis of those things: you drink a fifth of rubbing alcohol and turn the amp up until the neighbors start shouting. Even jazz, the domain of talented, dedicated musicians, is the sound of things going wrong. There's a beauty to earnest imperfection which the Japanese might not always understand.
It's like watching hand-drawn animation. It's never going to be as pristine and flawless as computer animation, but there's an appeal in watching the effort of human labor. The person behind the animation comes through in every wobbling line, every jumpy movement.
(Of course, to a creative person CG can be as expressive a medium as hand-drawn animation. And Japanese musicians can be as sloppy and exuberant as Americans or Britons or Slovenians. I'm generalizing.)
Stil, sometimes I want to shake them out of their careful, proper rituals. I want to throw all the effete, prim attention to appearance and form out the window. To hell with the appreciation of beautiful movement, the reverence for well-executed ritual. To hell with harmony and grace. That stuff, as one of my readers might say, is for wieners. Some days I agree.
Like my cocktail studies. I love learning the Japanese way, but at times I just want to say, "fuck it." Who cares if my pinky is extended, or if the barspoon clinks against the pitcher? Who cares if I hold the bottle by the neck or by the body? Throw some booze into a shaker, shake the hell out of it, and serve. Plug in that damn guitar and wake up the damn neighbors.