Interviews

Published on February 22nd, 2016 | by Yoshi

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George Bodman

日本語版はこちら / Read this in Japanese

Storm of Void’s wall of sound is totally unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. When I first saw them perform live, my brain felt numbed by anesthesia, my neurons shrivelled up and blown away in an iron wind.

The sound pressure was dense, thick, as if issuing from a 10-piece guitar orchestra, enveloping me in a slimy bog and binding me hand and foot. A gale of sound was physically blowing from the amps. I couldn’t believe it was just three dudes in front of me generating that incredibly heavy groove.

But most surprising of all was that the guitarist making all that noise was none other than George Bodman, a guy at the core of the Japanese emotional rock and hardcore scene as the guitarist for bluebeard and NAHT since around 2000, as well as being an occasional lyricist for The Band Apart and others.

After the show, George kindly agreed to an interview via email. I asked him about the atmosphere in the scene about 15 years ago, why bluebeard reformed at the beginning of the year 2015, and what the future holds for STORM OF VOID and TURTLE ISLAND.

BNU: Where were you born and raised? What attracted you to music?

Gee: I was born in Tokyo, which is where my mom is from. My family moved soon after, when my mom was called for a job in Nagoya. At first she intended to go there just for a business trip, but my dad suddenly came up with the idea to move there, like, “Nagoya is a better place to raise a child than Tokyo!” So I grew up in Nagoya till I got in to University in Tokyo when I was about 19 yeas old.

My mom is a Flamenco dancer and is still performing on stage and teaching in Nagoya, she is just full on. She was so busy and wasn’t at home a lot of time when I was a kid. I used to be with my dad more often than with my mom.

My dad is an Englishman from West London. Around the Ealing-Hanwell area. He spent all his free time listening to vinyl and playing guitar at home, so my interest in music started with him.

He used to play not only just the classic stuff like Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Floyd and so on but also Trojan Records artists and Stiff Records stuff, like Ian Dury and the Blockheads or Elvis Costello. Or he would play Bob Marley, but he’d also play stuff like Burning Spear or compilations like Tighten Up Vol. 1 & 2. He also loved the Pistols, but not The Clash. He wasn’t a Strummer fan for some reason. But his most favorite was The Ruts. So I learned from early on that if you want to hear real music, just dig a bit deeper.

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My dad had a Greco Les Paul Jr., and I started to mess around with it when I was around 10, which was when I was actually just big enough to carry it on my shoulder.

At first I went to guitar lessons near my house for about six months. Then I learned how to read tablature and some basic chords, but as soon as I discovered how to play power chords, I quit the lessons immediately, and just practiced on my own and played by ear. That’s probably why I’ve never gotten much better after all these years! [Laughs]

It was kind of a rough area (like how every punk venue should be), and everyone hanging out there looked scary as fuck

I had lots of friends, but didn’t have any friends that were into music and it started to get frustrating because I wanted to play in a rock band. And finally in about third grade of Junior High (or 9th grade, when I was 15 years old) I met this kid through skateboarding who wanted to start a band with me.

He was a year older than me but was madly in love with Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Sick Of It All, Mad Bull, that kind of New York hardcore, Youth Crew, Straight Edge stuff, which I didn’t really know at the time. I was listening to a lot of American indie bands such as Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and Melvins, etc. and went to see them at Club Quattro, but all the records and tunes that he played to me was all this Hardcore stuff that I’d never heard of.

A lot of these tunes were all based on power chords with no guitar solos, so I decided to start a band with him because all the tunes he wanted to play seemed to be fairly easy to me, and most of all I just wanted to be in a band where I could play my guitar!

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Bluebeard. Photo (and top photo): Miki Matsushima

Around then he took me to this venue called Huck Finn in Imaike area, Nagoya. And that was where all the hardcore/punk scene was happening in our neighborhood. I’ve known the area since I was a little kid because my dad’s office was around the corner from the venue, but it was kind of a rough area (like how every punk venue should be), and everyone hanging out there looked scary as fuck for a kid. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I could hang out there. And of course we were the youngest ones in the scene and they really looked after us.

Every time I went there I always bumped into this fat nerdy looking kid, who was TT-BOY

I went to see shows all the time, and got deeply into the hardcore scene in Nagoya, till I moved to Tokyo in ’98 or ’99. I’ve got so many stories from those Huck Finn days I could probably write a whole book – but anyway, that’s my background. That’s where I came from.

BNU: You used to be in the legendary Japanese emotional rock/hardcore band bluebeard and helped to cultivate the scene. You were also in Naht, one of the most influential bands around. Did the connections with those bands come from sharing the same musical roots or from being friends? Do you see the Japanese rock scene as being a lot different then to what it is now?

Gee: The trigger for joining bluebeard was a dude called TT-BOY [bass]. When I was living in Nagoya I sometimes visited Tokyo to see hardcore shows with my friends at places like Antiknock or the old Loft in Shinjuku, and every time I went there I always bumped into this fat nerdy looking kid, who was TT-BOY. So I started to chat with him and he was super-fun kid, and turned out to be a really good bass player, which is kind a rare to find, so we became good friends and thought we’d start a band.

It took ages for me to leave Nagoya and move to Tokyo, and by the time I finally moved, he’d already joined bluebeard, which was really annoying. So I went to a show to see if they were any good, then it turned out to be one of the best bands I’d seen at around that age. I remember I was so pissed off.

Then after a while, TT-BOY asked me to join the band since their guitarist left, which I knew would happen to me one day. But I was so happy, I answered “Yes” straight away.

At that time I was living in Nishi-Ogikubo in a shared apartment with my old friend Kiyo, who now plays the piano in an amazing three-piece instrumental band called Mouse On The Keys. He was a good friend of mine and we both moved from Nagoya to Tokyo same time and decided to share a apartment for a few years, and naturally that apartment became a kind of a hang-out spot among our buddies back then.

I joined TURTLE ISLAND and started actually composing and working with the arrangement for the orchestra, which changed my life dramatically.

I don’t really know what the current situation is, but at that time a lot of bands like Eastern Youth, Naht, Foul, 怒髪天 (Dohatsuten), DMBQ, and bands that were on labels like Less Than TV and all kinds of band guys were living in Nishi-Ogikubo area, and you’d run into most of them in bars or at the station or at rehearsal studios every day. Especially Seiki from Naht, as bluebeard played a lot with them ― and after I helped them touring with Burning Airlines from D.C., we got to be good friends and hung out sometimes. So when bluebeard broke up, he immediately asked me to join Naht.

Not even mentioning sharing the same kind of music; it all kind of started from a simple connection, like drinking buddies. At least that’s how it all started for me.

For both Naht and bluebeard, I tried to contribute to the bands as best I could, though I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to do back then, and hadn’t discovered my own tone as a guitarist yet, because the “brains” of the bands were Yoshi/bluebeard, and Seiki/Naht. I just played along with their ideas or tweaked them a bit and that was it. I had not enough room nor the guts to put “Me” into it.

Eventually, I got really frustrated with the band and the whole “Emo Scene” that I was surrounded by. Then I joined TURTLE ISLAND and started actually composing and working with the arrangement for the orchestra, which changed my life dramatically.

TURTLE ISLAND hasn’t been lumped into any genre in our more than 15 years of playing.

I’m not the kind of person to put myself in the center of a scene, never. So I can’t comment apart from my personal feelings, but I always find it kind of annoying how all these “categories” try to separate everything and it totally doesn’t make sense to me. When I was in bluebeard, we tried to gig with all kinds of bands and artists and played in all kinds of places other than just live venues to make it more fun and exciting. And TURTLE ISLAND hasn’t been lumped into any genre in our more than 15 years of playing.

But I must say, it was watching our local friends’ bands that was the most exciting and influential to me at the time, rather than going to see some foreign bands or “big name” bands. I can’t list all the names, but bands such as envy, nine days wonder, Slight Slappers, Nice View, or older bands like SDS, CFDL, Out Of Touch, Gauze, and Systematic Death … And if I see some of the guys from those days still playing in a band, I think we have some sort of common respect for each other without actually saying anything. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m a old man, but I do have a few friends from back then that make me feel like, “We’ve been through a lot together!” [Laughs]

BNU: After you joined TURTLE ISLAND, you toured all over the world. Did you find any differences between the audience in Japan and overseas?

Gee: I don’t think TURTLE ISLAND was ever at the center of a scene, and I’m only one of 10 members in the orchestra, so I’m not answering like I represent the orchestra or anything. But I personally have felt that some of the essential differences between Japan and overseas can be seen at the festivals we were invited to play. I mean there seems to be a difference in how audiences and organizers perceive what a “Festival” is.

At least in my experience playing at a few European festivals, audiences don’t seem to care much about “who’s the headliner,” but seem to approach it in terms of how they can get maximum enjoyment out of the experience.

Also, the organizers seem to be more aware that a festival is going to be an experience for everyone, from kids to their grandmom and granddad. I felt it so strongly from even tiny little things such as the decorations, the food courts, and swings and slides in the kids’ playground. I just felt the craftsmanship and their love for the festival from everywhere, and the music is just a part of it.

It’s been four years since TURTLE ISLAND started organizing a festival called “Soul Beat Asia” locally in Toyota City in Aichi prefecture. We curate bands from not only all over Japan, but also from China, Mongolia, South Korea, Thailand, and other countries. Those experiences at festivals abroad are inspiring us to come up with a lot of good ideas. While I’m living in Tokyo I can help far less than the other members and buddies in Toyota City every year, but I realize again that what we’d like to do for SOUL BEAT ASIA is making it a Festival, not a showcase.

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Storm of Void: Photo: Miki Matsushima

BNU: You’re currently in STORM OF VOID with some other extremely skilled musicians, [envy drummer] Dairoku, and Toku [ex-FC.FiVE]. How did that project come about?

Gee: I invited Dairoku and Toku because both of them are my friends. Dairoku and I have been friends for more than 15 years, and I’ve spent some time with envy as their tour manager when they toured abroad, so we’ve always been tight buddies. And we’ve been talking about starting a band together for many years, though all of us have our own bands, jobs, and families, so it never really happened because we had no time.

But then about four or five years ago I got a vintage guitar amp that I always wanted, and at the same time I got an eight-string guitar for free. So I took them to the TURTLE ISLAND rehearsal just to see how they would go, but it sounded too heavy for the orchestra and the other guys banned me from using them! [Laughs]

The instruments we use are the reason we formed [Storm of Void], so that was our concept and that’s why we’ll bring all our gear with us for all of our shows

Around the same time Dairoku got a vintage drum-kit he’d been desperate to have. He took it to envy’s rehearsal, and it sounded too loud, and he got banned from playing it as well!

So we went for a drink one day and we laughed about what happened to us, so I said, “Why don’t we go to the studio right now and make some noise with our dream gear!” So we did, and jammed for a couple of hours, and we ended up making almost a whole tune, which became the first track of our self-titled EP Ice Lung.

After a couple of months of songwriting and rehearsing with just the two of us, I went out for a drink with Toku since he lives literally a minute away from my apartment, and he told me his old band FC.FiVE had broken up, and he always did complain that the other band members never allowed him to turn up his bass amp all the way like he wanted. So I invited him to join us to blast as much as he wants! [laughs]

Although, we don’t let him turn it up anymore either! Poor ol’ Toku. [laughs]

BNU: So is playing these extremely heavy, dense, doomy riffs part of the original concept for STORM OF VOID or did it just happen that way?

Gee: As I said, the instruments we use are the reason we formed this band, so that was our concept and that’s why we’ll bring all our gear with us for all of our shows, at least for all the domestic shows, and I believe that’s part of the experience for the audience to see and hear our gear, not only just what we play. And the reason why we sound heavy is because our gear is awfully heavy [laughs].

In SOV, I bring some basic ideas for the structure or some riffs for a song first, then I’ll work on the beats and arrangements with Dairoku in the studio, and we finishing them with Toku. Basically our taste for songs is pretty similar and we get excited about the same sorts of ideas, so they trust me to make the basis of the song.

We often get asked, “Hey, you guys like metal, right?” but the three of us didn’t actually have much metal in our background [laughs]. We just do what we think and it’s “Heavy”.

The core of our ideas and essential part of SOV is hardcore punk

With the composing process, an academic approach and knowledge of musical theory are hugely useful probably even for our kind of music, too. It’s important to understand what the fuck are you actually trying to create, and that gives us the power to ease the difficulties of songwriting, I guess. But most of the stuff we do is just a fraction of what we’ve learned from our own experience in bands little by little, so excepting the musical thesis, the core of our ideas and essential part of SOV is Hardcore music, I think.

BNU: When I saw Storm of Void’s live performance, my mind was completely blown by the sound pressure from the monitor speakers (I couldn’t believe it was from the same speakers the other bands were using!), and the deep, thick, and heavy guitar sound almost like a baritone guitar. Could you tell me the secret of making your sound?

There’s no secret to it. If there’s something, I just believe it’s the magic of electric guitar and amp.

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BNU: We heard some good news about bluebeard’s reunion last year; not only your fans but also the entire scene got excited. How was that decided? And you also announced that there will be no more bluebeard shows forever. Could you tell me the reason?

Gee: I just did it for the money, and it’s done.

BNU: Nowadays, it seems that the importance of self-promotion using SNS, web media, streaming services, and so on is getting bigger and bigger. I know there are pros and cons about streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, but what do you think about it?

I’ve never made enough money to make a living out from selling my own music through my carrier, and so I don’t have anything against streaming music and the changing form of media. I’m totally positive about it. Probably it’s only some major artists (in Japan) that are protected by JASRAC [Japanese copyright collection society] or the old-system music business firms that complain about it? They use the mass media to loudly present the issue as if it’s “a vital problem of the whole music industry,” but for our kind of musician, that doesn’t depend on “how many units or copies you sold,” it doesn’t really matter.

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Turtle Island

For any bands like us, it’s normal to have jobs and to live life doing things other than music, because all the money we get from gigs or selling merch is spent to keep the band rolling, like paying for merch printing, gas, studio, whatever. But like I said, I think it’s not just negative. No one can stop you from making and playing music however the situation changes. For those who make their living with music, it may be a big problem with reduced income, and I wish all the best for them. But for those like us, all this SNS and streaming is just another way or easy tool to manage your music in a DIY way, if you want to.

No one can stop you from making and playing music however the situation changes.

In addition, maybe as a reaction to those streaming services, it’s interesting to see that Record Store Day is becoming bigger and bigger every year and it’s cool to see Japan (or at least Tokyo) is starting to catch up on that as well.

Again, if you are making music to earn money or fame, you should try harder to build up a system to solve the problem as professionals. But other than that, I think it’s pointless to discuss about it coz there’s no one stopping you from making and playing music however the fuck, so we might as well just shut up and keep playing!

BNU: What kind of music have you been listening to recently?

Gee: I listen to everything. But a lot of the time it’s electronic music. I like dark, cold texture. Like Burial, Autechre, Squarepusher, Ryoji Ikeda, and etc., I just have so many. I’m also into Grime. It’s a UK street music that is kind of a mix of hip hop, drum ‘n’ bass, and dubstep. I believe it’s purest UK rebel music since the ’80s UK hardcore punk, the great invention of East London. I love the strong, heavy bass sound and mechanical, merciless, cold urban beat that high-quality Grime or Dubstep has. At the same time, I listen to Frank Zappa and Melvins all the time! [Laughs]

BNU: Is there anything other than music that you are influenced by?

Unconsciously, but guess I’d be inspired by everything in my daily life. My family, my work, craft beer, making new friends, traveling …

BNU: Lastly, what are you working on, and what’s coming up for you? Do you have any plans to tour abroad?

First off, we’re now making a STORM OF VOID full-length album. Hopefully we can get it out there by this summer, but there might be a few guest vocalists on this album. Speaking of vocalists, I never intended SOV to be a purely instrumental band, so we always thought we might invite guest vocalists or I would sing, possibly. But anyway, we’d like to complete it step by step until we are satisfied, so it might take a while, and I believe it’s going to be a pretty heavy album, and hopefully it’ll give us more chances to do shows in and out of the country when it comes out.

TURTLE ISLAND is also making a new album as well. I don’t know when it will be released since we are a very busy group of people, and it’s very hard to schedule time to get everyone together, but once we are ready it’s very quick so it shouldn’t be too long.

We’re hosting a free festival in Toyota city, Aichi, May 27th~ 29th, and it’ll be called “SOUL BEAT NIPPON 2016” this year.

Check out the Storm of Void website here. See more on Turtle Island at their website here. Follow Storm of Void on Facebook and Twitter for tour details and news. 


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